ZOOM article (International Photography Magazine) Nov./Dec. 1998 Issue, pages 44-49.

BRANDTNER & STAEDELI

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Theirs was a one-way ticket from Zurich to San Francisco, from the straitlaced, diligent European heartland to eclectic, innovative, prosperous California. For these two young Swiss photographers it's been a journey accompanied by the sweet smell of success. Their photographic style is marked by a refined and well-studied gaze across the contemporary landscape of this vanguard western state, coming to rest on the universe of its images. Within the American context, California has always been seen as a kind of "promised land," a place where anyone can fin the magic ingredients necessary to reinvent himself.

But miracles had little to do with the west-coast success story of Brandtner & Staedeli as even in their native Switzerland, after graduating from art school, the pair had already developed an impressive transatlantic client list that included Visa, BMW, Jeep, and Philips Electronics. They had also been commissioned by the government to photograph an antique Swiss railroad, an image now found on the new twenty franc note. Though their old-world images were as successful as the current production, the work tended to be more "traditional" in its approach to commercial market demands, and this was precisely the problem once the photographers had reached their new home. The cultural gap became glaringly clear to them after they had their first meeting with Deanne Delbridge, a respected marketing consultant and development creative. "Come back to me when you've developed a style that's really yours," Delbridge told them, "something that's artistically more innovative, that makes a different and more personal kind of statement. "They spent some time shuttling between the executive suites, but the bottom line didn't change: come back after you put together a new portfolio. Your style is too conservative and technically oriented, which might be great in Switzerland, but it's not going to cut here.

Brandtner & Staedeli stuck it out, and when they returned to Delbridge some time later, their approach to the medium had undergone some major retooling. "It came as a complete surprise to me," Delbridge remembers, "it usually takes at least a couple years to cover that much ground, but Josh and Peter did it all in three months." As is apparent in the pictures published here, the new portfolio was to have both an incisive and highly personal cut, characterized by well contrasted, sepia-toned black & white images, a far cry from their preceding work, all of which was in color. They made more determined choices about the subjects being framed, and let their imaginations run loony with multiple- and over-exposures. They also began collaging together disparate elements from varying original shots into rich final images, suspended in a surrealist landscape or an open-ended flashback. Having found what they feel is (for the time being) their ideal expressive channel, they've decided not to push things into the digital realm. "I love working with computer," Staedeli explains, "but this isn't the type of work i want to do with it. Computers have a thousand proper applications, though they still can't give me the photographic quality I'm looking for."

Daniela Finocchi, Zoom Italy

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