Portrait of the Edition Reuss publishing house from the renowned German photography magazine PROFIFOTO
Vision and Daring Photographic Art
The books in his catalog are innovative, instinctively accurate, sometimes provocative, consistently aesthetic, and always impeccably crafted. They’re unmistakable creations from the viscera of the publisher Matthias Reuss. Though this Munich-based publishing house has enjoyed steadily growing global success since its founding in 1996, its sheer existence is practically a miracle by German standards – a miracle that manifests the visions of Matthias Reuss in remarkable, unprecedented photos which prove that Reuss has the rare courage to be artistically daring.
His successful career as a solo publisher began at the 1996 Frankfurt book fair, where he debuted Bodyvision, which went on to reap critical acclaim in Germany and abroad.
Matthias Reuss is probably the only publisher in the photo-art field who personally creates the designs and layouts for all his books. This gives a clear, unmistakable, and personal touch to each volume. Expressing a leitmotif of his work, he says, “I’m an adventurous, inquisitive person.” Matthias Reuss is a photo scout, publisher, designer, and producer all combined in a single individual who can truly say, “My books are myself and I am my books.”
Classical nude photography and erotic subjects are without a doubt the focal points of Edition Reuss. The courage to take artistic risks and the boldness to explore extraordinary thematic perspectives are evident, for example, in three books which together comprise a sort of trilogy of postmodern human iconography. Unforced physicality and casual matter-of-factness distinguish the portraits of pregnant women in Schwanger [Pregnant] (1998), the photos of fathers and their children in Family Nudes (2001), and the pictures of young adults in a recent monograph of nude portraits by photographer Ralf Mohr.
The Latvian photographer Ralf Vulis, whom Reuss discovered, portrays his models in an entirely different way. His girls are naked, direct, brazen, and unashamed. Crazy Sexy Girls became a bestseller soon after its first publication in 1997. This lastingly popular book was reprinted five times in ensuing years. Vulis definitively attained international cult status with the appearance of 100 Naked Girls on a Chair (2001), a documentary, serial, total artwork in the genre of contemporary photography. His portraits of nude girls sitting simply on a chair even made it onto Geo’s renowned “Top Ten” list of illustrated books.
Time and again, Matthias Reuss succeeds in his quest for unconventional and ambivalent themes. These include, for example, Shaven Angels (1999, 2000, 2002) and Sexy Sports (2000), two books that are highly in demand and have a distinctive brand image. Reuss also has an uncanny ability to discover unknown talents. These include photographers like Carlos Batts of Los Angeles, whose rude images in Wild Skin (2001) and Crazy Sexy Hollywood (2003) shine a mercilessly revealing searchlight on the insecurity and surrealism of America’s glitter world, and Florida-based photographer Mark Yasenchak, a specialist in underwater photography with a degree in fine arts whose captivatingly beautiful images in Underwater Love (2003) are unprecedented in the photo-art genre.
The fascination that radiates from depictions of the human body is as old as humankind. The inclination to invent phenomenological categories, on the other hand, is considerably more recent. The currently valid moral code of a society and epoch within its cultural context determines whether a portrayal of the nude body is considered to be art or pornography, perversion or normality. Categorical judgments of this sort are entirely impossible sometimes: for example, in Edition Reuss projects such as Conserving (2000) by star photographers Daniel and Geo Fuchs or Fetish Theater (1999) by Alex Tex. Conserving presents large format hexachrome images of scientifically preserved fishes, animals, and human beings. These pictures are overwhelming, fascinating, repulsive, and shocking: none but the viewer can decide whether they’re are art, science, or necrophiliac fetishes!
Courage to take risks for the sake of artistic expression, commitment to the quality of the illustrations (irregardless of whether their photographer already has a famous name), and tremendous innovative potential have earned Edition Reuss a place on the cutting-edge of Germany’s leading photo-art publishers. Edition Reuss sets itself unambiguously apart from ordinary publishing companies, which typically avoid experimental or innovative imagery and thus tend to be stagnant, conservative, and timid. Retrospectives and repetitions are not Reuss’ style. Just the opposite: he sails full speed ahead with the boldness of a discoverer, his course set towards the experience of the sensual through the medium of the book. Like Chris Paul Emiel Dercon (the new team director at Haus der Kunst art museum in Munich), Reuss belongs to a younger generation of art-makers who are catalyzing a renewal in the art world. Though it was Dercon who said “I am very interested in amateur art,” the statement could equally well have come from Matthias Reuss.
Matthias Reuss takes plenty of time for his productions. Some of his projects are years in the making. He cultivates personal contacts with many of his photographers. The publisher himself, as well as his artists, authors, and readers, all benefit from this patient approach. Amateur photographers can rise to stardom and acquire an international following. Many photographers whose work appeared in books from Edition Reuss now exhibit in museums and galleries around the world. Critical opinion is divided: some reviewers are enthusiastic, others are appalled. Their disagreement, however, is a telltale sign of the quality and originality of the productions, which are inevitably surprising, always controversial, and notoriously difficult to imitate.
The more than thirty volumes that have thus far appeared in this publisher’s catalog are a consciously staged demonstration of a formally reduced aesthetic that grants maximal freedom to the viewer’s imagination. Photo art from Edition Reuss repeatedly invites its viewers to embark on adventurous journeys into the unexplored worlds of images that await discovery in their own minds. Curiosity and interest are two qualities that Matthias Reuss and his audience share. Although the secret formula for the success of Edition Reuss is “less is more,” we certainly hope that the near future will bring us “more” rather than “less” from Edition Reuss.
Jan-Hendrik Stevens (ProfiFoto)