Untitled is a masterful example of Sigmar Polke’s images of the opium dens of Quetta, one of the most important photographic series of the artist’s versatile corpus. In its remarkable conjunction of different media and delicate use of colour, Untitled is a brilliantly expressive record of Polke’s travels in the region. The journey provided extensive creative inspiration for Polke: the artist took a large number of photographs which documented his experiences, and he was inspired to return to these images at a later date, leading to a remarkable group of works which Paul Schimmel has described as "some of the most visually exquisite and most carefully crafted photographs in his entire oeuvre" (Paul Schimmel, 'Polkography' in: Exhibition Catalogue, Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sigmar Polke Photoworks: When Pictures Vanish, 1995, p. 59).
Polke had begun using photographs towards the end of the 1960s, extensively developing his investigations into the potential of the medium during the 1970s: his experiments within the genre during this decade saw him manipulate his own negatives and prints in the same way that he had manipulated the raster pattern in his paintings. For Polke, the various technical stages involved in developing and processing the traditional photographic image each became an arena for experimentation which, like the raster printing pattern, he sought to exploit to his creative end: having understood the limitations of faithful photography, Polke became fascinated by the miraculous effects he could achieve by departing from the rules. As Brice Curiger explains, "Polke utilizes a wide range of possibilities: manipulating the negative, multiple exposure, projection onto photosensitive material (usually paper), solarization, interim exposure, sandwiching negatives… Other methods Polke uses include collages, painting over, 'drawing' with photosensitive emulsion, exposure by means of moving light sources on the unexposed material; working with intended and accidental blurring; distension, screens, manual damage, smudging. These steps are not performed according to any strict rules, but are the result of spontaneous impulses or, as the case may be, of exact calculations, and are consistently motivated by a keen interest in the discovery and the search for new levels of meaning" (Brice Curiger, 'Cross-Fire Photography' in: Exhibition Catalogue, Baden-Baden, Staatliche Kunsthalle, Sigmar Polke, 1990, p. 46). Polke’s experiences of his trip to Afgahnistan and Pakistan in 1974 encouraged him to pursue this artistic line of enquiry, resulting in the creation of Untitled and its counterparts which feature fascinating forms of technical experimentation. Furthermore, in the Quetta series we see made manifest Polke's attempt to find equivalence between printing techniques and the perceptual and psychological effects of opium. In these works, Polke formed a working method that linked the subjects that interested him and the means by which they were realised, forging a series that can be considered of major significance within his oeuvre.