974 was the first project I did after graduating. I got myself into a car and drove around the country for months, summer and winter. I was quite a novice in photography back then, and I thought it would be a good idea to shoot at everything which aroused my discontent in my chosen fields, sociology and photography, and put it all into one project.
The idea was to drive through Austria, a small state of 8 million inhabitants, and take a portrait of one random person per 8000 inhabitants, thus achiving a reliable representation of the Austrian populace. Why would I do that, apart from a slightly manic personality trait?
I was kind of bored by the perceived selectiveness of social documentary photography which in my eyes, itself is a complete clichè very often. So I tried as much as possible to stay away from kitchy photographic representation, by using a small camera with alot of depth of field, not applying too many Gestaltprinzipien (but one) and getting rid of photographic technique as far as possible. That was handy because I wasn’t a very good photographer at that point anyhow. Additionally I did not choose the people I photographed but waited at more or less unspecific points for the first person to show up. Most of the time I got permission to take a photo.
The outcome should have been a critique of superficial truth production in the social sciences; a critique of pseudo empathy produced through photographic technique. As an installation it might have been a critique of navel-gazing in the Austrian public sphere, simply by producing the biggest navel of all time; a critique of the omnipresence of kitschy Austrian images; a critique of the selectiveness of social documentary photography; a departure from the oh so prevalent road trip photography at that time; and probably also a comment on the banality of being, a critique on the concept of perceived individualism (I really had my fair share of Foucault back then)
At the same time 974 was something completely different: personally it was a mapping of the country which I didn’t know too well before that experience. But it also turned out to be a documentary project that really shows the people and the land in Austria. Austrians and their country looked like that in 2009, and even if there is no deeper poetic meaning behind that, it is a truth on its own. So in the end I discovered photography as a tool for producing truth, even if this truth is simply too much to look at. Oh, and I found out what people mean when they say, if you take a portrait you very often mirror yourself in you subject.
This project has never been shown. It now rests in a shoebox, which is hidden away in a Billa bag somewhere in my studio. Maybe the chosen aestethic of functionally vernacular „look where i am“ photography defined the fate of the work. The title was changed from 1000 to 974 because I never really made it to photograph 1000 people; 974 is close enough though.
In retrospect I found out some basic principles of the art-photo community as well as the popular culture. I didnt want to make that project a Pop project, thus the photographic aesthetic and the voicelessness of the people – this is not HONY and I didnt want to push it in this direction at all (apart from that HONY didn’t exist back then). The art photo world also didnt receive this project well – maybe it has something to do with this approach of detached objectification which is a scientific approach and not an artistic one, let alone an empowering one which usually has to be the case in documentary photography.