Martin Klimas destroys a lot of clay to make his art. Combining the silence of Eadweard Muybridge’s horse pictures with the association-rich composition of a still life, Klimas breaks recognizable objects so they become something else, and stops us just at the moment of transformation.

Klimas was born in 1971 in Singen, Germany. All images courtesy Martin Klimas and Foley Gallery; all images copyright © Martin Klimas, all rights reserved.

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Take us a few steps into your process—I assume producing these images requires an extraordinarily controlled environment?

Yes, the shooting environment must be controlled and kept consistent. The lighting is clear and direct, head on. My background is neutral, but bright enough so that the shattering object completely stands out. I drop the figurine from the same height in complete darkness while the lens of the camera is open. When the figurine hits the ground, the sound triggers the lights to go off for a fraction of a second. I do this procedure many times or until I find the one frame that is just right. I keep just one such picture for every figurine. Every attempt yields a unique outcome, so I need to look for the one that best expresses a transformation of the figurine into a new form.

The degree of stillness in your pictures is remarkable, to the point of it being the first thing I notice, followed by the recognition that these objects are being blown apart. Are you trying to convey something at rest or something in motion?

In my pictures you see the world through the eye of a high-speed camera. This way of seeing provides for us something that we normally cannot see, this moment of transformation can really only be imagined by us. I provide a way for us to see this action differently. It is an in-between state. A state where rest and motion can exist together. I hope this situation can be applied and give us thought in our everyday world.

I wonder, when you look at your own finished work, do you see what you’ve just destroyed, or what you’ve made from the transformation?

The aspect of destroying is not the most important one in my work. Let’s say it is a catalyst to unleash and study this transformation. The hardest part of my work is to smash so many figurines until I find one that truly is showing me something new. I am in that sense a sculptor, but I have only a 5000th of a second to build my sculpture.

When looking at your work I think of Jackson Pollock, for the sureness of the line, and also some Impressionists, for the composition of a still life. How much of what results in your pictures is by chance and how much by design?

When you mean the concept of automating the process of working and only to install a set way that produces the pictures—yes, that is comparable to Pollock. But my big teachers are Eadweard Muybridge and Harold Edgerton. The part “by chance,” it is a real photographic image because there is not manipulation in it and it shows a singular moment. The “design” part is the selection, the size of printing, the colors and the framing. Anything prior to that is left up to chance.

What are you working on now?

You have to wait but I will see it soon.


Rosecrans Baldwin co-founded TMN with publisher Andrew Womack in 1999. His latest book is Everything Now: Lessons From the City-State of Los Angeles. More information can be found at More by Rosecrans Baldwin