Christopher Williams (b. 1956 in Los Angeles, CA) is a photographer and conceptual artist. In the late 1970s, he studied at the California Institute of the Arts under John Baldessari and Douglas Huebler, among others, and became one of the most important conceptual artists of his generation. Since 2008 he has headed the department of photography at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. His works have been exhibited at prestigious institutions and fairs, such as the Kestner Gesellschaft, Hanover (2018), La Triennale di Milano, Milan (2017), ETH Exhibitions, Zurich (2017), Whitechapel Gallery, London (2015), the Art Institute of Chicago (2014–15), Museum of Modern Art, New York (2014), Bergen Kunsthall (2010), Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden (2010) and Bonner Kunstverein (2009).
Hazelnut milk chocolate, yogurt, peanut, white chocolate with whole nuts, marzipan, nougat—a stack of Ritter Sport chocolate bars cut in half. Michelin-brand car tires, dishwashers, cooking pots, a department store window, a cluster of juicy, bright red apples. And also cameras, lenses, photographic equipment and tools for the darkroom— photographed as perfectly and precisely as shots for a product catalogue. But the American photographer and conceptual artist Christopher Williams does not take commercial images. Instead, he cites and deconstructs the motifs of our consumerist society and the ways they are represented in commercial product photography in a working process that is laborious, painstaking and attentive.
Williams makes deliberate use of dissonances and subtle shifts in meaning. The model Zimra Geurts, Playmate of the Year in 2012, appears to have stepped out of a classic advertisement; sun-kissed and with a naturally healthy complexion, she seems blissfully happy, sitting in a beach chair with her swimsuit half-lowered and her shapely breasts displayed to the camera. But the BALCAR banner and lighting equipment visible in the studio background reveal the photo production process, suggesting how advertising corrupts our perception of photography. In Mustafa Kinte (Gambia) from 2008, the model seems to pose in a natural fashion for the bespoke shirt manufacturer Van Laack, gazing at the viewer with a Makina camera held in his hands. By doing so, he is turning the tool around on us as though we were the object, and not the viewer. He thus reverses the relationship between camera and subject. The image with the illuminated signs advertizing services in the shop window of Ursula Schweyen’s dry cleaner’s seems like a classic documentary photograph. We remain uncertain, however, as to whether it is authentic or staged. Here, too, the fundamental question is how our idea of reality comes about, and how its historical and cultural relativity can be deciphered behind the chosen form of presentation. In Williams’s art, the world of shiny surfaces is always full of subtexts. The elaborate titles of his works are part of his art and expand on the deconstruction process. Meticulous details on the objects photographed, places, materials, sources, processes and the names of the photographers reveal the production process and highlight the contradiction between reality and what a photograph depicts. Williams often uses professional photographic studios and existing production situations to make his pictures. In doing so, he calls into question photography’s artistic value and the role of the photographer as author, while also reflecting our mechanisms for perception.
For the exhibition at C/O Berlin, Christopher Williams will exclusively assemble selected archival material, architectural elements, and b/w photographs that represent his artistic atlas of images and his expanded understanding of the pictorial and exhibition space.