Schiele’s Ghost – Recalling Egon Schiele and The Wounded Woman
I was born in Vienna, but grew up in Neulengbach, a small town in Austria approx. 30 km west of Vienna, where also Egon Schiele has lived and worked and finally was arrested in 1912 for his erotic drawings and paintings, especially of young teens. And maybe, because of his excessive lifestyle with his girlfriend and Muse ‘Wally’…
The trial court with the infamous ‘Schiele-Cell’ still is there and now houses a tiny Schiele museum. The town Neulenbach is dominated by the historic fortress ‘Burg Neulengbach’. Located at the foot of this fortress (sometimes it is also called a castle) is the old main-square surrounded by a church on the one side and the district court on the other side. In between was the primary school building.
Burg Neulengbach – Austria
One day, while I attented the elementary school (around the age of 6 or 7 years), our teacher took us over to the Schiele Cell explaining to us what will happen when one pictures nude women, etc. But I just noted in my mind: “Well, you become famous?”
Egon Schiele -zelle
My first contact with the arts was done in a jail. Not a good omen, hugh?
A quick personal note on this Schiele imprisonment: Egon Schiele did run an open studio and everybody could drop in. And for sure he was a little rebel. And he did all the things parents usually forbid their children. And therefore he always also attracted young people, who joined his studio doing their blahblah there.
Egon Schiele was arrested due to a rumor to have an affair with a 14 years old girl. And when they came to his place to arrest him, the police also seized around 125 drawings which they considered pornographic. Waiting for his trial he had to stay 21 days in the cell. The the charges of seduction and abduction were dropped by the judge. Egon Schiele only was guilty of exhibiting erotic drawings in a place accessible to children and sentenced to 3 days of imprisonment.
Remember, all that happenbed back in 1912 in Austria’s ‘countryside’. Nowadays, 100 years later, if faced with the same rumors and cases, the media would prejudge and kill you and Guantanamo Bay is calling. So ,I see it as a failry mild judgement and just shows up the very liberal state of Austria. In other words, one can nearly do all and everything in Austria – as long as it is done in the name of art. Which is good!
Decades later I photographed a personal project entitled ‘The Wounded Woman Story’ where I liked to cover the life of Aisha, who also was my personal ‘Wally’ at this time. We started the shooting in an old abandoned room located on the flat roof of an old factory. The room had windows on all 4 walls and we got soft light with soft shadows. No reason to distract her ‘flowing act’ with flash settings, etc. Despite the fact that I never use a flash…
But I had no idea how to start and how to cover her life in a few photographs. Maybe it was the old room who reminded me on a cell in a jail. I really don’t know, but Isuddenly I had Egon Schiele in my mind and I asked myself: “Well, how would Egon have done it”?
Milos Forman had Goya’s Ghosts, and I recalled Schiele’s Ghost. The rest was easy, the cam shuttered and shuttered, and in 30 minutes her life was captured.
Because the story was important to Aisha and we thought it also could be helpful for other women (for sure she is not the one and only wounded woman out in this world) we contacted several (mainly female) magazines to run it. As usual many never replied. Some replied, stating: ‘Well, the story is nice, images are nice … but in no way we could run the images in our magazine.” Ok, no images, no story!
Again, just Austria’s leading female magazine had no problem (see statement above) and did run it. In addition, now and then an image out of this series is banned (e.g. on Facebook) and sometimes the photographs are critized as being to offensive. Although no nude is in any image. 100 years after Schiele. Well, I have no problem with that. Actually, I even like it. Her former life was dominated by sex, abuse and violence. The criticism just shows me that I was able to express this facts in the photographs. Expressionism houses the word ‘to express’.
Series: ‘The Wounded Woman Story’