After Lunch Trying to Build Railway Ties


Annette Kelm ( German, 1975 )

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General Description

After Lunch Trying to Build Railway Ties (2005) features a patterned fabric backdrop that playfully echoes the still life scene in front of it. The palm trees and colors of the pattern echo the eucalyptus leaves in the glass of water, with a topsy-turvy quality that gives this photograph a sense of playful whimsy. As with many of Annette Kelm’s works, the documented objects invite a process of unpacking through which the object’s history and its associated narratives are revealed. For example, Kelm shot After Lunch Trying to Build Railway Ties while living in Los Angeles. The work’s title references the importation of eucalyptus trees to California from Australia in the early 1900s, to be used for railroad ties. Ironically, this experiment in imported plant species ended in failure, as the soft wood split from the rail spikes and tended to throw the tracks. Regardless, the trees (which are now considered an invasive species) are ubiquitous throughout California, despite the long-forgotten story of their failed introduction.

This use of fabric enables Kelm to mix cultural registers, using lowly, mass-produced, industrially-printed fabrics in works of “high art.” The fabrics she uses can be seen as just one more found object, taken from its usual context and redeployed by the artist elsewhere, and they serve to mask and/or eliminate the horizon line in her photographs, radically flattening the composition. Scale becomes difficult to recognize, and the space one is accustomed to finding in the photograph transforms.

Kelm's works appear to follow conventional forms of the photographic tradition: still lifes [2016.16.5], portraits [2016.16.2], object photographs [2016.16.3], architectural, and landscape photographs in medium-sized formats, based on conventional studio and landscape practices. However, she undermines the promise of objectivity by adding props that seem surreal or subjective. This work is no exception; its heavily saturated, lush colors project a painterly, otherworldly quality.

Adapted from

Gabriel Ritter, DMA unpublished material, 2016.