Kilian Breier (born in 1931 in Saarbrucken) is one of Germany’s most important contemporary exponents of the “non-appliance based” school of photography. From his earliest artistic work in the 50s up to the present day he has worked within the conditions and with the opportunities that “camera-free” work dictates or provides. In this endeavour – and this seems to me vital to the understanding of his work – he has neither been driven by a strict concept of what his work should be, nor given himself over to free experimentation, but has trodden a middle path between the two. Breier’s generative photography, with its minimal use of traditional photographic form, is based on a systematic and methodical approach – following a rational principle of visual examination – using rows, for example, to create a structured, rhythmic moment. But it also remains open to “mistakes” or chance, which are an integral part of the work and which can be traced back to the reaction of the material during the actual creation of the work.
Breier advocates the emancipation of traditional technique from the individuality and materiality of the conventional photographic process. He is for the opportunity to direct picture form in a more conscious way. The cause of this questioning of the fundamental medium and material–specific characteristics of photography was definitely the realisation that camera-free photographic art enables a direct reproduction of reality in the picture, while motive-dependent camera work automatically entails a “portrayal” of reality – a problem that has accompanied photography from its very beginning. Breier’s complex artistic work is guided by the questions “What is the medium?” “What is time?” and “What is chemistry?” (Thilo Koenig) and according to Meinrad Maria can be grouped into five periods:
Photograms and chemical graphics first appear in the 50s. Already in the early photograms we can see the artist’s desire to structure, which later manifests itself in the development of the grid pictures with mathematically regular structures and which takes Breier into the circles of the Dusseldorf ZERO group in the 1970s. The ZERO group aimed to objectivise picture technique and to work directly with light as part of the structuring of the picture. This approach has always been important to Breier, although Breier tries to stress the process of creating art and alongside the light factor always makes the time factor important – a fact which brings him closer to the kinetic school of art. Therefore it is only logical that Breier continued to work on chemical graphics in the 60s, because, above all other things, these pictures were no longer static or “finished”. The chemical treatment of the surface of the photographic paper with fixative causes effects which lie to a certain extent outside the artist’s control, because of the constant oxidisation process which the paper undergoes when exposed to light. Alongside this process lie the artist’s attempts to spy out light – luminograms are formed, which represent systematic explorations of light effects in photography.
His elevation to the position of professor of photography of the faculty of fine arts in Hamburg in 1966 led Breier into a broad field of media and communication work in the 70s, which nevertheless did not prevent him from pursuing his own photographic work. The chemical graphics remain central to his camera-free work through the eighties and into the nineties. As always the decomposition and process of change which the photographic paper undergoes fascinates him as an expression and documentation of the effects of time. Experience and memory are the central concepts, which underlie these works. They open up for the viewer a real and visual experience of the metamorphosis that Breier’s photographic surfaces undergo above and beyond the basic abstract composition.