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Museum der Moderne Salzburg opens an exhibition of photographs by Marion Kalter
Chasseneuil, 1976, gelatin silver print, courtesy of the artist, © Bildrecht, Vienna, 2022.



SALZBURG.- The photographs of Marion Kalter (Salzburg, AT, 1951) are always about people. As a young journalist, she was already interested in human subjects, such as the authors Anaïs Nin and Susan Sontag and the artists Joan Mitchell and Meret Oppenheim. Kalter’s encounter with the artist, musician, and performer Ted Joans proved to be decisive for her life and career as a photographer – Joans was an important figure in the American Beat Generation, which was centered around Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, and was a charismatic jazz poet. Kalter got to know Joans in Paris in 1974, where she was attending courses at the Académie des Beaux-Arts after having studied painting and art history in the United States. Kalter became close friends with Joans and accompanied him through Paris with her camera, going to the American Cultural Center and to galleries and readings at the bookshop Shakespeare and Company. She also went with him on trips to North Africa.

This immersion in the art, literature, and music worlds of Paris could be described as Kalter’s artistic awakening: she developed participatory observation into an intuitive artistic strategy – the art of being there and capturing the zeitgeist. Her photographs of well-known personalities in the Parisian art and culture scene testify to an open, curious photographic eye, aware of both what was “staged” and the game of chance involved in the pictorial exploration of unintentional events and situations.

It is thus no coincidence that one chapter of this exhibition, and of its accompanying publication, is entitled “Cadavre exquis.” With this title (which translates to “exquisite corpse”), Kalter refers to a famous parlor game that the Surrealists developed, in 1925, with the purpose of testing new ways of associative thinking. A sentence or drawing is created by several people on a piece of paper, which is folded so that no one sees what those before them have contributed. The resulting unpredictable combination of words, ideas, and images evokes a strangely hybrid, dreamlike visual world in which chance and collective authorship are united. Kalter refers to the law of chance as a creative concept, and assembled an impressive gallery of personalities whom she encountered at the time: Berenice Abbott, Gisèle Freund, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Agnès Varda, Michel Leiris, Francis Bacon, Annette Messager, John Cage, Chantal Akerman, Claude LéviStrauss, Marguerite Duras, Meret Oppenheim, and many more.

Kalter became acquainted with other photographers, including David Hurn, Mary Ellen Mark, Marc Riboud, and Ralph Gibson at the legendary Rencontres de la photographie in Arles in the mid-1970s and, at times, also acted as their translator. She saw photography no longer as solely a medium for recording reality but as a pictorial means of expression, interpretation, enactment, and personal memory.

The exhibition Deep Time is also a search through Kalter’s childhood: an investigation of how she has tried to gain a better understanding of her origins and family history and an exploration of how she has tried to reconstruct them visually. There are historical photographs on display, as well as images of objects that she liberated from suitcases and documented after the death of her parents. These sensitively staged photographs, which capture different layers of time, bring Kalter’s complex family history to life. Her parents met and married in Salzburg after the Second World War and moved to the United States after Marion Kalter was born. The family returned to Europe a few years later, and Kalter grew up in France, which remains her primary place of residence. In the late 1970s, when she was still a budding photographer, Kalter began a series of staged self-portraits at her family home in Chabenet, in the heart of France. They are characterized by a melancholic longing to reclaim the physical place, the time that had lapsed, and the life story of her late mother, all through the medium of her deceased mother’s papers and belongings – that is, through the poetics of things. It was at this time that Kalter was given her first commissions by the magazine Le Monde de la musique. This work regularly took Kalter back to her native city and made her a sought-after chronicler of the Salzburg Festival.

Kalter’s uninhibited delight in experimenting with the coincidences of life has over the years created a dense meshwork of images. It finds a provisional final chord in the present exhibition with her documentation of a journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway in 2017. She traveled to Beijing in the footsteps of her great-uncle Oscar Aaron, who had been compelled to make that same journey in 1940 to escape being murdered in Germany. Once again, a memory that must not be lost was what prompted Kalter’s journey – this time along the route taken by a man escaping persecution.

Curators: Barbara Herzog, Kerstin Stremmel










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