Beat Streuli

Anonymous Intimacy

When studying Beat Streuli's photographs, one or two viewers might be tempted to think "I could do that, too." Or, to put it a little more bluntly: "Why are these photographs hanging on the wall there supposed to be so much better than my own snapshots?" Streuli is not surprised by such responses. He is not afraid of contact with the broader public. And one of the things he particularly likes about photography is that, unlike media which rely on complex technology, it is easy to use and easy to view. Millions of hobby photographers cannot be wrong.

But what exactly are the photographs hanging there on the wall? Most of them are of people, shots Streuli has taken over the past ten years on the shopping streets of the world’s big cities: in London, Tokyo, New York, Sydney, etc. Contemporary social portraits, a heterogeneous mix of people, repeatedly featuring the local urban youth. The photos look as if they have been staged, but actually they have not. Streuli does not approve of working with models, preferring to use a telephoto lens instead. Although he is not really hidden, he does work from a distance. And people do not notice that they are being photographed.

Admittedly there is an element of voyeurism involved here. The camera allows us an insight into other people's lives – specifically because Streuli only presses the shutter release when the people think no-one is looking at them. To be more precise, when they let the mask of their public persona slip in order to be alone with themselves for a moment. The photographer is fascinated by the thrill of the quotidien. And in his portrait work he endeavors to find it in the tension between public anonymity and complete self-absorption.

Nothing is more interesting than reality, or so Streuli's pictures seem to say. But it would be wrong to think that it is possible to capture this reality simply by taking a picture. "If you hang a real snapshot on the wall, you'll notice the difference," explains Beat Streuli. "Hundreds of thousands of chance elements will get in the way and prevent reality from looking realistic." Indeed, just as the photos are the product of careful reflection, so, too, their presentation is the result of compositional deliberation. Streuli opts for large-format projections, poster work, and video installations to heighten the natural quality of the images. And increasingly frequently, he also exhibits them where he originally took them: on the street.

Biographical information

1957

born in Altdorf, Switzerland

1977-1980

Schule für Gestaltung in Basel and Zürich

lives in Brussels