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Dr. phil. in art. Birgit Wudtke

Fine art photography in the age of digitalisation. Artistic strategies in the digital and post-digital phase

Supervisors: Prof. Dr. Michaela Ott, Prof. Silke Grossmann, Prof. Dr. Verena Kuni
Thesis defence on 15.10.2015

In this research project, new interpretive patterns will be created for the identification and recognition of contemporary photography. Following more than twenty years of far-reaching technological changes in this sector and a progression of digitalisation that permeates all dimensions and every aspect of our lives, the analytical parameters must be readjusted. Due to the encoded computer graphics, nearly all known theoretical reflections on analogue photography will become obsolete. An extended vocabulary with new differentiations is necessary in order to be able to analyse (digital) images that appear to be photographs. Using a timeline, which simultaneously shows the technological innovations (photo editing software, filters, image formats, cameras etc.) and the subsequent works of art, the methods and strategies of selected artists will be classified according to a timescale and critically examined. The artists of this traditional period work with the compulsion of a technological transformation that is changing all areas of life and (visual) communication long-term. The current development of contemporary photography will be analysed in this research project using significant theories on photography. This leads to the question of what the future of photography will be. The descriptions of selected artistic methods serve as an orientation for the research, as do the author’s own experience as an artist and an image editor (artistic practice, artist book: untouched touched retouched).


untouched touched retouched, artist book, January 2013, Materialverlag HFBK Hamburg

Fotokunst in Zeiten der Digitalisierung. Künstlerische Strategien in der Digitalen und Postdigitalen Phase. (Fine art photography in the age of digitalisation. Artistic strategies in the digital and post-digital phase), graduate thesis, August 2016, Transcript Verlag Bielefeld

Vilém Flusser’s call to »play against the apparatus«, has become more topical than ever since the computer industry has aggressively usurped the optical technology and the art market is being swamped with artworks that appear to be photographs yet leave us in doubt. The author decodes the programmes and meta-programmes of the »apparatuses« with the help of selected theories and artistic approaches, from the perspective of a practising artist experienced in writing. She ventures a reinterpretation of »fine art photography« in the 1990s. She presents works which, when the structures that produce the image are examined more closely, are no longer photographs at all but rather digital collages, computer graphics or renderings of three-dimensional graphical models. The analyses chronologically follow a timeline that comprises the transitional period of digitalisation from 1990-2010 through to the so-called »post-digital phase«.
»Computers are huge instruments for the projection of alternative realities, previously unforeseen worlds. However that all makes little sense as long as we do not know what the point of it is.« (Flusser 1990)

Personal background:

Birgit Wudtke, *1973, lives and works in Hamburg. In 2000 she graduated in Photodesign from Hamburg University of Applied Sciences followed by a Masters degree at Bergen Academy of Art and Design. In Bergen she worked as an assistant at the academy, helping students in the photography class realize their own projects in the computer lab. She also gave lectures on digital editing techniques and the introduction of digital manipulation to contemporary fine art photography. This was followed by a post as a workshop assistant at the Kestnergesellschaft Hannover and lectures on digital photography and graphic design at the Hongkong Art School and the Hongkong Academy of Visual Arts. Birgit Wudtke worked for several months as an artist in residence in Iceland (Straumur Arts Center, SIM Artist Residency) and Hong Kong (Art and Culture Outreach Unit at Foo Tak Lau). She has participated as an artist in numerous group exhibitions and projects by different artist groups, as well as in magazine projects (PLOTKI, NEID, Gruppe 18, Der Flaneur). From 2005 to 2012 she was active in the artist network TheBeetoBeeNet, as a co-founder, with presentations at the Berliner Kunstsalon, the gallery Hulahoop Hongkong, the gallery 21m1 Stavanger (European Capital of Culture 2008), Künstlerhaus Sootbörn, Künstlerhaus Frise and Kunsthaus Hamburg. Most recently, the TheBeetoBeeNet participated with a project in the touring exhibition of the JCE Biennale d'Art Contemporain. The work of the artist network was described in 2011 in the publication Metamorphosen/Künstlerinnen in Hamburg mit Werken seit 1968 (Metamorphoses/Women artists in Hamburg with works since 1968) by Ursula Meyer-Rogge.
In 2011 Birgit Wudtke began with her research project at the Hochschule für bildende Künste Hamburg, which was supported in 2012 with PhD funding from Pro Exzellenzia. This was followed by the thesis defence in Autumn 2015. A publication will be issued by transcript Verlag Bielefeld in Summer 2016 entitled Fotokunst in Zeiten der Digitalisierung. Künstlerische Strategien in der Digitalen und Postdigitalen Phase. (Fine art photography in the age of digitalisation. Artistic strategies in the digital and post-digital phase)


Studiengruppe Prof. Dr. Anja Steidinger, Was animiert uns?, 2021, Mediathek der HFBK Hamburg, Filmstill

Unlearning: Wartenau Assemblies

The art education professors Nora Sternfeld and Anja Steidinger initiated the format "Wartenau Assemblies". It oscillates between art, education, research and activism. Complementing this open space for action, there is now a dedicated website that accompanies the discourses, conversations and events.

Ausstellungsansicht "Schule der Folgenlosigkeit. Übungen für ein anderes Leben" im Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg; photo: Maximilian Schwarzmann

School of No Consequences

Everyone is talking about consequences: The consequences of climate change, the Corona pandemic or digitalization. Friedrich von Borries (professor of design theory), on the other hand, is dedicated to consequence-free design. In “School of No Consequences. Exercises for a New Life” at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg, he links collection objects with a "self-learning room" set up especially for the exhibition in such a way that a new perspective on "sustainability" emerges and supposedly universally valid ideas of a "proper life" are questioned.

Annual Exhibition 2021 at the HFBK

Annual exhibition a bit different: From February 12- 14, 2021 students at the Hamburg University of Fine Arts, together with their professors, had developed a variety of presentations on different communication channels. The formats ranged from streamed live performances to video programs, radio broadcasts, a telephone hotline, online conferences, and a web store for editions. In addition, isolated interventions could be discovered in the outdoor space of the HFBK and in the city.

Public Information Day 2021

How do I become an art student? How does the application process work? Can I also study to become a teacher at the HFBK? These and other questions about studying art were answered by professors, students and staff at the HFBK during the Public Information Day on February 13, 2021. In addition, there will be an appointment specifically for English-speaking prospective students on February 23 at 2 pm.

Katja Pilipenko

Semestereröffnung und Hiscox-Preisverleihung 2020

On the evening of November 4, the HFBK celebrated the opening of the academic year 2020/21 as well as the awarding of the Hiscox Art Prize in a livestream - offline with enough distance and yet together online.

photo: Tim Albrecht

Art defies Corona: Graduate Show 2020

With a two-month delay, the Graduate Show took place this year on the 19 and 20 September. More than 140 students showed their artistic graduation projects, from painting to sound installation.

Exhibition Transparencies with works by Elena Crijnen, Annika Faescke, Svenja Frank, Francis Kussatz, Anne Meerpohl, Elisa Nessler, Julia Nordholz, Florentine Pahl, Cristina Rüesch, Janka Schubert, Wiebke Schwarzhans, Rosa Thiemer, Lea van Hall. Organized by Prof. Verena Issel and Fabian Hesse; photo: Screenshot

Teaching Art Online at the HFBK

How the university brings together its artistic interdisciplinary study structure with digital formats and their possibilities.

Alltagsrealität oder Klischee?; photo: Tim Albrecht

HFBK Graduate Survey

Studying art - and what comes next? The clichéd images stand their ground: Those who have studied art either become taxi drivers, work in a bar or marry rich. But only very few people could really live from art – especially in times of global crises. The HFBK Hamburg wanted to know more about this and commissioned the Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences at the University of Hamburg to conduct a broad-based survey of its graduates from the last 15 years.

Ausstellung Social Design, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg, Teilansicht; photo: MKG Hamburg

How political is Social Design?

Social Design, as its own claim is often formulated, wants to address social grievances and ideally change them. Therefore, it sees itself as critical of society – and at the same time optimizes the existing. So what is the political dimension of Social Design – is it a motor for change or does it contribute to stabilizing and normalizing existing injustices?