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Beat Streuli's paradise

Jan 25, 2001

Downtown is where Beat Streuli sets up his camera which by virtue of its long focus lends an air of stalking to his candid portraits - mostly of young to medium-aged women. The occasional men, the bright sunny daylight and the busy social context seem summoned up to dispel the impression that he simply celebrates the sophisticated urban self-aware sufficiently sexed individual - an image that alludes to a certain class of media selects while attempting to decouple it from the any defining context in which these creations are usually seen (interiors, constellations and narrations in ads and topical reports). Many could be either student, tourist, or young professional - this is the only ambiguity I can detect. Life is vibrant, has strong colours and contrasts - in one word, it can offer a lot. The authenticity fake: a very positive message. Here some excerpts from an interview:

'I began to wonder once more what it is that actually makes me pick someone specific among the hundreds of people walking by, in the short moment before they vanish into the crowd again. It's a very quick and intuitive, not a premeditated decision, where I think I need, say, ten teenagers and a couple of older people, because my work is not conceptual in this sense.

Is not this type of intuition the reverse side of an unrecognised ideological fix? Face matters - place does not. Face is young and preferably intriguing ('they must rather have that 'special something' which makes them different - and beautiful'), space flattened out or dark urban backdrop. Ethnicity is a statistical matter, class is played down.

I find it hard to argue with a statement such as this one: 'I give visitors lots of things to look at and lots of images of people among which to choose what attracts their attention the most. I am interested in a certain generosity.'. The critic complaining about generosity looks mean. But the direct, emotional and generous stance is as clearly calculated as any more negative, politically-charged or enigmatic approach.

Streuli about the type of space in which these photos are taken: 'These areas are also a stage where the circus of human comedy or tragedy can take place. I think it is easier to look at things against a neutral background, and this is why I hardly ever take pictures in poor suburbs where the social problems are obvious, because in such surroundings people could become just figures reduced to their social role.'

So this means in neutral spaces they are reduced to their neutral role? That of puppets in the play called humanity? The public space entails a degree of competition - to look collected, able, beautiful - and in some shots the strain this role-playing causes, or some degree of distraction or digression, becomes visible. These are, I think, the better images.

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