Photographs of the Oberammergau Passion Play 2010
Exhibition at the Bayerische Nationalmuseum, Munich
Curated by Ira Stehmann
October 13, 2011 through April 15, 2012
Christopher Thomas, born in Munich in 1961, is one of the most renowned advertising photographers in the world. He was celebrated and became famous as an artist for his portraits of cities: Münchner Elegien (Munich Elegies; 2001–5) and New York Sleeps (2009).
The exhibition presented here features thirty-three color photographs from his extensive cycle Passion. The photographs were taken during rehearsals for the Oberammergau Passion Play in April and May 2010. In accordance with a vow pledged in 1633, every ten years amateur actors from the community perform the play of the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Christopher Thomas was fascinated by the events in the Bible, a story that, as he puts it, “contains everything that moves us deeply as human beings.” Hence he focuses his camera on the expression of profoundly human emotions and religious feelings such as hope, suffering, astonishment, horror, and joy.
The photographs do not depict scenes from the play such as the famous crowd scenes but rather individual protagonists, their faces and individual forms: singers from the chorus, merchants, soldiers, a few of the disciples, Mary, Jesus. The essential is grasped and apprehended through the dedication of these individuals. The emphasis of the world of human emotions is further emphasized by the reduced spectrum of colors, manifested in warm, subtly modulated shades of gray, black, and brown against a muted, dark background.
Christopher Thomas has succeeded in capturing in his photographs the incredible energy and emotion of the performance. At the same time, he created timeless impressions of the Passion that are influenced by the classic paintings. Very deliberately he brings to mind the great Passion cycles of Western painting, such as the Crucifixion scenes of Holbein the Elder, Caravaggio, Zurbarán, Rembrandt, and others. The rich collections of the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum make it possible to place Christopher Thomas’s Passion photographs in the context of Jan Polack’s Passion altarpieces from late medieval Munich. The aura of the artworks in museum’s so-called “Kirchensaal” (church space) complements the Passion of Christopher Thomas.
The works presented in this exhibition, which was conceived in collaboration with the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, were selected in consultation with the artist and his gallerist, Blanca Bernheimer. They are being shown in a museum for the first time. Passion was published as a book by Prestel in Munich.
The photographs exhibited are archival pigment prints on fiber-based paper mounted on aludibond, each measuring 33 x 40 in. (sheet size), in a limited edition of 7.
- Ira Stehmann, curator of the exhibition