Joachim Schmid calls himself an accidental artist.
’Frankly I don’t have a clue why I developed a sensitivity toward things,’ he told me when we met at his home-studio in Berlin. ‘There was no art, no literature, no music in my upbringing.’
Yet today Schmid — who I profile this month elsewhere on the site — is the country’s leading practitioner of ‘found photography’. ‘I started buying photographs not to accumulate a collection but rather as study material,’ he said to me to explain his beginnings. ‘I wanted to understand why we take photographs. Eventually I had over 100,000 prints which I put in a big, empty room and began to sort. In the process of looking I saw patterns, motifs, themes. The material itself began to pose questions.’
In his found photographs — most of which were bought for pennies at flea markets — Schmid discovered a common cultural record that was overlooked by museums. In his work as both creator and critic, he argued against prevailing, conservative notions of ‘art photography’, favouring instead a broad, encompassing critique of photography as a form of cultural practice.
‘Rather than “found photography”, I prefer the term “adopted photographs” as in an adopted child who is given a second chance, and in time will take on a life of its own,’ he pointed out.
The fundamental richness of Schmid’s photographic raw material – along with his sardonic wit – derails any attempt to read his work as pure anthropology or social science. Instead — by organising and recycling pictures into ordered arrangements — he creates witty and perceptive insights into our collective fascination with documenting our existence. Indeed, as well as an ‘accidental artist’, Schmid can be considered an archaeologist of the ordinary and everyday, asking us — the viewer — to reconsidered ‘unworthy’ photographic material.
‘My work is like my entire life, I don’t have a plan,’ he said. ‘I expose myself to a situation, and see what comes out of it. But in the end I like to think that I have managed to get some of those “everyday” photographs into museums … by the back door.’