With the same sober directness with which for instance Irving Penn, Robert Mapplethorpe and Richard Avedon photographed personalities and captured their innermost being, Hebeisen approaches wild animals in large-sized studio portraits. They confronted the photographer posing before a neutral backdrop, recumbent, luring, flying or ready to attack; now they captivate the attention of the onlooker with their individuality, dignity and beauty. At the same time, having been removed from their natural habitat, these beasts appear artificial, unreal, quasi samples of endangered species. Hebeisen emphasizes this aspect in the exhibition by confronting the portraits with two African landscapes void of animals and people. The beasts seem to have become exhibits. Much like a stuffed hunting trophy, contact with humans has robbed them of their power and independence.
Contrary to Penn und Avedon, Peter Hebeisen focuses on a hyper-realistic visual language in this cycle by heightening the perceived reality and questioning the actual wellbeing of animals within the present world. His photography of animals is staged, not ostensibly documentary, not discretely observant. Following meticulous and intense preparatory work and always with the resulting image in mind, he successively summoned lions, monkeys, a crocodile, storks and a hackled up eagle with their trainers to highly specialized studios. Peter Hebeisen endeavoured to create a situation in which the animal felt at ease, in which he could meet it and in which it would reveal its nature to a certain extent.
Peter Hebeisen's digital reworking is pronounced. He does not feel constrained to adhere to reality, but by way of aesthetic manipulation he extracts and creates a sculptural realization of the motif. Hebeisen places himself in an art historical tradition and a tradition of craftsmanship. With painting, in particular, he feels a great affinity. This becomes apparent in the way he seemingly moulds the animals from a dark background.
Peter Hebeisen's work strongly ties into a conceptual framework. He works in series that are thematically independent from each other. Between 1989 and 1993 he thus created Feindbilder. Flüchtlinge in Europa (A concept of the Enemy. Refugees in Europe), a number of sensitive black-and-white portraits of refugees he had visited in centres for asylum seekers. In his latest project, European Battlefields 1912 - 2000, Hebeisen photographs supposedly idyllic vistas of important European sites where key battles took place.
Biographical detail: From 1980 to 1981 Peter Hebeisen attended the sculpture class at UNR, Nevada. Between 1981 and 1984 he completed an apprenticeship with a photographer in Berne and attended the School for Applied Arts Berne. In the years 1979 to 1986 he assisted numerous internationally active photographers in New York, Zurich, Paris and Milan. Since 1986 Peter Hebeisen has been living and working in Zurich and Paris as an independent photographer und has made himself a name as a commercial photographer. Artistic projects of his own, which he has been realising parallel to his contract photography since 1990, have been presented to the public in one-person and group shows since 1995.
Photographer: Peter Hebeisen
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