Magical clarity: There is an outstanding artistic stance at the heart of the work of Hiepler, Brunier. Their images are not just about technical finesse. Their choice of subject and detail as well as their sense of how light can portray a mood make for pictures with a heightened sense of reality. Looking at these pictures we don’t have the feeling, even when focusing on a particular element, that we are simply seeing a set of details. Their composed images are characterized by formal balance and a subtle equilibrium. Even when gigantic conveyor belts are truncated, the picture maintains a complete, formal coherence. This autonomy makes for the kind of artistic “added-value” that Renger-Patzsch, referring to his images of industrial architecture, described as a kind of poetry: “The absolutely correct reproduction of form, the fineness of tonal gradation from the most pronounced highlights to the deepest shadows lends a technically skilled photographic image the magic of direct experience.” There are no narrative moments in the work of Hiepler, Brunier. The “experience” these images give us is a result of the magical mood contained in the locations themselves. These pictures do not suggest a specific reading and they remain emotionally circumspect - Hiepler, Brunier do not make judgments. Their goal is to show what’s there. Their tools are depth of field, panorama and night photography. Their mastery of focus is phenomenal. Every centimeter of the area depicted is as clear as if it were being viewed through a magnifying glass. This lets them show us, in one and the same picture, the gigantic round tower of a cement plant against a wide landscape, with the dented, corrugated iron roof as clear and razor-sharp to our eyes as the rice fields in the far distance. This kind of panorama view brings the boundary line between nature and industry into focus, while the night images, like x-rays, separate the industrial structures from their environment, making them seem like phantoms. Hiepler, Brunier have here created images which hide nothing, embellish nothing, and reveal nothing but the facts, in complete, total clarity: the smooth functioning of immense industrial production centers as well as the interplay between technology and nature. These images are more than just updates of the Straight Photography of the early 20th century, or of its more documentary continuation in the New Topographic Movement of the 1970s. They display neither a pathos of objectivity á la Renger-Patzsch, nor are they inspired by the “awe of the object” as Paul Strand once was. With their magical clarity they also differentiate themselves from the stereotypical minimalism of Bernd and Hilla Becher.
True pictures: Photography, once the most demonstrative medium for the facts of reality, is today generally suspected of being a lie. Any photographic reality can be manipulated, whether, as in the past, via retouching, or as now by means of a computer. Digital images, furthermore, betray no sign of manipulation. The line between reality and virtuality is a thin one. The blurred nature of modern photography is more than just a contemporary attitude, it is the symptom of the malleable sense of reality in our overly media-dependent society. Since all images can be manipulated, deciding if something is true or not is less a question of fact than of our willingness to believe in it or not. Both Grob and Hiepler, Brunier on the other hand have shown in their reporting on the real world that, with the precision of their gaze, they can still equate photographic art with reality. In the exhibition “Industrious, Marco Grob & hiepler, brunier,” this question of reality is put to the test. It brings the portraits of the workers and the images of the production facilities together, first at the Museum of Fine Arts Bern and afterwards in the former Holcim works in Holderbank. The unbelievable precision of these pictures is most clearly seen in the large, baryta paper prints. In black and white, they become both hyper-realistic and abstract. In the larger format, their suggestiveness is magnified. The reality which they reflect is condensed, as through a concave mirror, until it reaches such an intensity that we are forced to consider a new kind of magical precision in the depiction of reality by contemporary photography.