Peter Piller is a photographer who lives and works in Hamburg and teaches in Dϋsseldorf. He has created a huge archive of over 7,000 found images from digital and predigital print media, which he groups, after prolonged scrutiny for recontextualisation, into new sociological and simple descriptive categories.Read More
Because they come from niche magazines or advertising, he removes any superimposed or juxtaposed text so that the images can be taken at face value, devoid of any explanation of their original purpose. Accentuating the geometry and colour of their layout, Piller inserts them into unexpected groups for exhibition or book publication.
Creating image archives like this for future selection and re-sorting is a method used by several artists, such as Christian Marclay, Patrick Pound, or John Stezaker. Piller leaves interpretation of his inkjet treatment of collected images open so the viewer can discover meaning for themselves.
Piller had his tertiary education at the University of Fine Arts, Hamburg, 1993–2000. Since 2018, he has taught at the Düsseldorf Art Academy as Professor of Fine Arts.
'Umschläge' (Covers) (2011–2012) reproduced the front and back covers of an East German military magazine published between 1956 and 1990, with text removed. The magazine began in the mid-1950s, so the photographs' fashion content and colour quality are obviously dated.
The front cover displays military hardware or soldiers posing with newly available weapons, while on the back are images of women posing at home, in the office, or in parks. The females are conservatively dressed and any hint of salaciousness is avoided. Women were not permitted to become soldiers until the current millennium, long after Germany was reunited, so these images were clearly pitched at men: perhaps a reminder of their family responsibilities at home, but also an indicator of heteronormative values and the presence of institutional homophobic anxiety.
'Erscheinungen' (Apparitions) (2016), is quite a contrast, being decidedly more sexually suggestive, whilst not overtly pornographic. Piller documented suggestive images of female bodies and faces placed on the ends or sides of truck trailers that he discovered parked at rest-stops and gas stations on German autobahns. They appealed to male trucker fantasies of women always being sexually available. Plus they indicated a 'boys' club' mentality of ownership of 'hot' images: a showing off within a community of driver rivalry—a braggadocio.
Other areas of research involve aerial photographs of suburban houses in their sections. Piller's 'Von Erde Schöner' (Prettier from Earth) series (2002–2004) is based on images made in 1979–1983 when an adventurous firm tried selling such 'godlike' views to the owners of new properties on the edges of suburbia, where urban sprawl met the rural landscape.
Other series, such as 'Unangenheme Nachbarn' (Unpleasant Neighbours) (2003) and 'Suchende Polizisten' (Policemen Searching) (2000–2006) show unexploded bombs from the War, and the police looking for something untold. There are the types of everyday image that are so common individually you barely notice them. It is only when presented as collections that you do.
Sometimes, using his own photographs, he documents trips along rural roads ('Fotografenauto' (Photographer's Car), 2000–2006) and around abandoned factories. He has also produced scribbly pencil drawings, rendering days working in an office ('Bürozeichnungen' (Office Drawings), 2000–2001) in precise detail, describing his experiences in exacting, unemotional language. His books have affinities with the much earlier publications of Ed Ruscha.
Peter Piller's website and archive can be found here.
Peter Piller's solo exhibitions include different degrees of completeness, Barbara Wien, Berlin (2021); Geduld, Capitain Petzel, Berlin (2019); Erscheinungen, Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York (2016); Umschläge, Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York (2013); and Tatsächliche Vermutungen, Capitain Petzel, Berlin (2012).
Piller's group exhibitions include Trautes Heim, Allein, Schloss Kummerow, Germany (2021); Peter Piller - Richard Prince, Weserburg Museum of Modern Art, Bremen (2021); and 11th Shanghai Biennale: Why Not Ask Again? Arguments, Counter-arguments and Stories, Power Station of Art, Shanghai (2016).
John Hurrell | Ocula | 2021