In his seminal book Camera Lucida (1980), Roland Barthes famously claimed photography’s equivalence, if not superiority, to painting, given the allusion it creates to that which is not seen. Arnold Odermatt’s images in this exhibition evoke Barthes’s idea, as they depict the aftermath of automobile accidents in moments of uneasy solitude. The pictures were taken during the artist’s twenty-year tenure as a police photographer and officer in Switzerland, and as a result, many of the works have an unsurprisingly deadpan, documentary tone. This quality is enhanced by titles that link the jarring events exclusively to their location. In many cases, the wrecks are severe and vehicles are portrayed entangled with their surroundings, ripped from their frames, or impossibly trapped. Despite this violence, the images break from sensational reportage in the acute absence of the cars’ passengers. The perpetual lack of people in Odermatt’s photographs imbues the works with that implacable sense of inquietude that Barthes saw as a hallmark of the form.
The photographs vary widely, from the narrative Hergiswil (all works cited, 2010), in which police survey and record an accident, to the ominous Emmetten. Here, a Volkswagen appears lodged on its side near a grove of trees, seemingly after sliding down an embankment. Although at first it appears that the photograph is exhibited on its side, the horror of the scene becomes clear on further examination, and the viewer is left to ponder the evoked yet unseen victim and action.
— Britany Salsbury