Hein Gravenhorst – Generative Photography 1964-1968


The exhibition “Generative Photography 1964-1968” of the artist Hein Gravenhorst is presented by the auction house Lempertz from 24th September 2020.

Opening times

25 September – 30 October 2020
Monday – Friday from 10 am to 3 pm, and by appointment
+49 30 2787 608-0

On the opening weekend of the EMOP, 3/4 October, open from 11 am to 4 pm

Hein Gravenhorst and his photomechanical transformation

Unexplored for half a century, the photomechanical transformation of Hein Gravenhorst is presented for the first time here and now in a solo exhibition. Considering its status, this is a small sensation and worthy of a gallery which has increasingly devoted itself in recent years to the pictorial tendencies of photography. It is an aesthetic programme that gives preference to the form-giving qualities of photography over the depictive and representational, and within the framework of the history of this genre, the photomechanical transformations of Hein Gravenhorst are of central importance.

They belong to the key works of Generative Photography, a movement in the 1960s which introduced the algorithmic programme and a strict methodically serial pictorial concept into the history of photography. Hein Gravenhorst is an exponent and leading representative of this style, and as one of the four artists of its first manifestation in Bielefeld in early 1968, is counted as one of its founding fathers. This background may support the presentation of his works here and now, initially claimed as a “sensation”, but it is based mainly on the artist’s works, through which a radical, strictly numerically oriented pictorial concept becomes a pleasing, sensual experience.

“Photomechanical transformations developed under the aspect of the programming of aesthetic structures, the production of which can be formally described according to the understandings of a superior, rational aesthetic, the process of which is based on two principles”. This was Gravenhorst’s dry introductory statement to his photomechanical transformations in our Lichtreflex Translation – Rotation, 1965, the first jointly released and self-published work– not only taken, but made, they are constructs of their own making: “You do not take a photo, you make it!”. This realisation has become a trend, a ‘turn’, and has led to a cultivation and artistic appropriation of precisely this transformation process, not only visually but also conceptually. The term ‘image processing’ has replaced the earlier term ‘image manipulation’ for the same process, i.e. the creative intervention in a photographic process formerly aimed at visual fidelity. The vision of the ‘creative’ pioneers has been fulfilled and the photographic process itself has become a topic, a subject of its own kind. The ‘medium’ of photography is ‘object’ and a discursive subject of artistic and scientific forums. 

Hein Gravenhorst’s photomechanical transformations can now be considered a significant model of this movement. With their geometric clarity and transparency, they set a historical sign. They were created with the most technical means of that time, with optics, chemistry and a sophisticated “state of the art” cartoon mechanism in which the computer did not yet play a role. They are unique works based on analogue multiple exposures on a photochemical image carrier. Their aesthetic concept is self-evident and exhibits intrinsic conclusive designs. Their development process can be comprehended step by step. There are no metaphysical shadows.

The art historical classification of Hein Gravenhost’s photomechanical transformations, however, is still pending. Perhaps the current exhibition can serve as a stimulus.

Author: Gottfried Jäger


Cf. Bernd Stiegler (Ed.), Gottfried Jäger. Abstrakte, konkrete und generative Fotografie. Gesammelte Schriften. Paderborn 2016.

Generative Fotografie. Arbeiten von Kilian Breier, Pierre Cordier, Hein Gravenhorst und Gottfried Jäger (curator), cat. leaflet with essays by Herbert W. Franke and Gottfried Jäger, Kunsthaus Bielefeld 1968.

Hein Gravenhorst and Gottfried Jäger (ed.), Generative Fotografie. Portfolio with 16 picture sheets, essays and artist’s biographies and an essay by Herbert W. Franke, “Grundlagen der kybernetischen Theorie der Kunst”, letterpress printing, A4, edition 400, self-published, Bielefeld 1969.

Cf. Max Bense, Aesthetica. Einführung in die neue Aesthetik, Baden-Baden 1965.

Alfredo Jahr, Poster-Installation, Nederlandse Fotomuseum Rotterdam 2013; ditto Folkwang Museum Essen 2014.

Copy cf.: Henrike Holsing and Gottfried Jäger (ed.), Lichtbild und Datenbild. Spuren konkreter Fotografie, exhibition and catalogue, Museum im Kulturspeicher Würzburg 2015.