Photographic Installation by Thomas Heinser

January 31 – February 28, 2020

Susan Sontag famously wrote, “All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.” Thomas’s Heisner’s photographic installation, Proof, points to a slightly different conclusion. By showing 330 images of people of all ages (some of whom are the same person at different ages) time doesn’t seem to melt as much as slip and slide, swoop and circle. Confined in a large grid, the individual portraits read like a musical score, allowing us to experience time’s essential relativity.

Babies can recognize their parent’s faces within a few weeks and process all faces almost as efficiently as adults by the age of four months. What begins as necessity, to understand who can and can’t offer nurture, becomes for many a lifelong fascination with essentially the same question – who is this person before me? Heinser’s prowess as a photographer rests on his ability to know there is no stable answer. What he captures beneath the distraction of mutability is something both exhilarating and unnerving – our identities are not fixed even in the course of a sitting. Taken together, Heinser’s portraits offer proof we each contain multitudes and that any one of them may peek out at any time.

Tracy Wheeler 01 2020


Haus1 Berlin

October 10 – October 13, 2019

A demonstrable occurrence. A pre-final print. To check something against a record of fact.

Juxtaposing these two bodies of work creates an exercise in contemplation, in considering the relationship between portraits of earthly bodies and human ones. 

The territory of these bodies ranges from the contours of the one-off time frame land portraits—a single timeline within the trajectory of a landscape’s shifting identity—and the evolution of the personal portraits, a sub series of the same individual embodying different selves over time.

Time’s trajectory, and its stillness, is a common denominator here. There is the sense of reassurance that human, and earthly, life persists, through and in spite of tragedies and fallbacks, fires and ash, and adolescent struggles. The anthropomorphic elements of land can also work in reverse, can make us rethink the way minute changes are etched on the bodies of these adolescents. We feel gratified and reassured to view a grid of portraits, resembling a table of elements, reflecting a vocabulary of change and recalling the Beckers’ typologies—and a reliable record—proof—that we’re still here.

Do these images reinforce or resist photography’s truth telling function, its reliable documentary?

Doreen Schmidt, curator

Salz und Asche / Werkschau

25 Zoe Street, San Francisco, California

June 15 – June 16, 2019

“Salz und Asche / Werkschau” is a parallel show in San Francisco to the photographer’s Düsseldorf exhibition of the same name. Heinser’s most recent work will also be shown.

Salz und Asche

Der Raum Düsseldorf Germany

June 6 – June 9, 2019

“Salz und Asche” is Heinser’s first exhibition in Düsseldorf and includes recent and past California aerial observations of San Francisco Bay Area’s rare salt evaporation ponds, landscapes transformed by recent fires throughout the state, and beloved coastlines of Sonoma and Marin counties. Heinser’s photographs are reminiscent of non-representational oil paintings. The images have a beguiling beauty but it is a beauty that is disturbed. Man’s interference in the ecosystem has left deep wounds and scars on California’s landscapes.

After The Fire: Butte County Benefit

SFJAZZ Center San Francisco, December 12, 2018
HanaHaus Palo Alto, December 10, 2018
25 Zoe San Francisco, December 7-9, 2018

“After The Fire” is a series Heinser created to help raise funds for fire victims of the Camp Fire in Butte County, California. Exhibitions at SFJAZZ Center and HanaHaus organized with the German Consulate General San Francisco and the Goethe Institut San Francisco. The series includes aerial photographs of Northern California landscapes and communities devastated by fire including Paradise, a town in Butte County almost entirely destroyed. The images are at once beautiful and haunting.

About Fire

Haus 1 Berlin, Germany

September 28 – October 3, 2018

“About Fire” is Heinser’s third exhibition at Haus 1. The series includes aerial photographs of California landscapes transformed by recent fires in Mendocino, Lake, Yolo, Sonoma, and Ventura counties. His pictures unfold the aesthetics of abstract paintings: clear, objective, minimalist. The serene beauty of these images however cannot be separated from the dark times captured within them. Heinser presents a mirror to a land where the causes and symptoms of man-made climate change are leaving behind deep scars.


25 Zoe San Francisco, California

May 31 – June 2, 2018

“Werkschau” draws on a complex visual palate, influenced as much by nature’s elements in flux as man’s seeming disregard for them. The series includes aerial captures of California landscapes transformed by fire, drought and rising sea levels. Charred hillsides, active coastlines and rare salt evaporation ponds are at once evidence of environmental impact and at the same time create abstract renderings. Seemingly close-up captures create the look of a painting’s detail of what appears thickly layered, paint-cracked impasto.

About Water

Haus 1 Berlin, Germany

September 29 – October 1, 2017

“About Water”  is Heinser’s second exhibition at Haus 1 and chronicles the visual effects of Californina’s ongoing drought. Burnt land and trees and water-deprived farms and fields in the Central Valley are visible from above as signes of a changing climate. These decidedly water-less and often abstractly graphic  images are thoughtfully juxtaposed in the show with those of the clouds, fog, mist and salt ponds of San Francisco Bay, a reminder of the power of water as a concentrated resource.


Museum Voswinckelshof Dinslaken, Germany

April 30 – June 20, 2017

“Getzeiten” or “tides” is Heinser’s second exhibition at Voswinckelshof Museum located in the photographer’s hometown. The series includes aerial motifs of dry fields, salt flats, and fertile landscapes in California, during a recent drought. The pictures are in color and printed large. Black and white photographs from the series “Conduits”are also exhibited and show aerial photographs of traffic arteries and intersections of humans and architecture.  Some pictures seem to be paintings, others graphics with hard lines and structures.


Haus 1 Berlin, Germany

October 20 – October 23, 2016


Kunsthaus Lempertz Köln, Germany

September 20 – October 15, 2016

“Reduziert” or “reduced” is the photographer’s first exhibition in Köln and features aerial perspectives of California’s changed geography due to fire, drought and man’s actions. Scorched landscapes and climate-vulnerable salt ponds question the ethical tenets of putting land up for sale in various ways, with land treated as a commodity. Heinser provides a stark and somber view that is often abstract from geographical identification, subtle and still.


Gallery 16 San Francisco, California

February 5 – March 18, 2016

“Reduziert” or “reduced” is the photographer’s third show at the Gallery 16 and features aerial perspectives of California’s changed geography due to fire, drought and man’s actions. Scorched landscapes and climate-vulnerable salt ponds question the ethical tenets of putting land up for sale in various ways, with land treated as a commodity. Heinser provides a stark and somber view that is often abstract from geographical identification, subtle and still.  

Actors & Directors

Goethe Institut San Francisco, California

September 28 – October 22, 2015

“Actors and Directors” is Heinser’s second exhibition at San Francisco’s Goethe Institut. The celebrity portrait series features actors and directors from the 2014 and 2015 Berlin & Beyond Film Festivals. Sparse and intimate settings allow Heinser to create compositions that are minimalistic, almost graphic portrayals of the person he is photographing. The images invite an unusually close glimpse into the eyes of celebrity.

…And Everything In Between

DZINE San Francisco, California

February 27 – Aug 28, 2015

“…And Everything In Between” is a large-scale aerial photography series, representing a minimalist’s observation of the conversation between natural and human development. In an artist talk, Heinser shares methods and inspirations for the abstract compositions he achieves with aerial photography. The artist confronts and expands the idea of landscape as subject in the 21st century, contemplating the in-between territories that exist in the periphery of vision and consciousness, and yet are directly in front of us.

Still / Life

Goethe Institut San Francisco, California

February 21 – March 28, 2014

“Still / Life” is a portrait collection that reflects the stark and graphic stillness that has become Heinser’s signature view. The portraits are photographed close-up, with minimal lighting against dark grey backgrounds. Wardrobe is likewise unfussy yet specific. The effort toward the minimal reduces the information allowed into the frame. All images are formatted square and encased in wood frames, specifically designed by the photographer.


Gallery 16 San Francisco, California

September 6 – October 31, 2013

“Blickwinkel2” is Heinser’s second exhibition at Gallery 16. Aerial views of runways, roads, bridges and byways capture at once a graphic landscape and a more organic abstract viewpoint. Straight lines from manmade structures intersect with nature’s made curves to create a sometimes figurative or even sensual “Blickwinkel,” where more can be seen than just the evidence of what is captured in the photo.


Voswinckelshof Museum Dinslaken, Germany

January 27 – March 3, 2013

In “Blickwinkel,” Heinser shows a collection of forty-five prints in three categories. Though different in subject matter, the images all present the photographer’s particular, organized view of aerials, portraits and vineyards. Whether shooting digital or film, all aerials and portraits are formatted square. He opts for authentic, naturally lit, non-retouched photographs whenever possible. In his vineyard photographs, he organizes the landscapes with a graphic approach, juxtaposing the humanity of agriculture with structure.


Gallery 16 San Francisco, California

April 9 – May 14, 2010

Translated as “over-view or view above” Überblick is the artist’s photographic exploration of nature and structure. Inspired by his work photographing aircraft, people and architecture, Heinser captures the beautiful and graphic intersection of these worlds as viewed from above. He shows bridges and other structures and their surroundings in U.S. and Europe, bringing man, steel, land and sea together in a rich, graphic landscape.

Circus Portrait

Herbst Theater San Francisco, California

November 21, 2008

“Circus Portrait” takes a still-life look at the larger than life, supernatural talents of the circus artist. Heinser photographed these artists over several months while they were in study at The San Francisco Circus Center, a non-profit performing arts school which brings diverse communities together through training, staging and public productions. The photo series shows the tremendous physical strength, focus and soul of the artists.

Growing Up, An Ongoing Portrait Series

San Francisco, California, 2003 – Present

Exhibited at FCB SF October 4–28 2007

“Growing Up” is an ongoing portrait series that began in 2003 and continues through today. Inspired by his own regularly-occurring family portraits while growing up, Heinser photographs the same people individually over time, beginning with childhood. Simple styling with black or white shirting and a grey background ensure the portraits are about the person he is photographing and their sincere expression of life at that moment. He arranges compositions of torso and space that are graphically beautiful, reflecting the quiet repose signature to his work.