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Nothing but Blue Skies

It is common to hear it said that we live today in a world of images, where the volumes of photographs that are produced each day do as much to confound our attempts to understand things as they actually serve to enlighten us. There was certainly a strong sense of this torrent of imagery at the Rencontres d’Arles Festival in the South of France this year, which overflowed with exhibitions, many of which were exhaustingly enormous. The sight of so many huge shows had me wondering whether the practice of some curators has unwittingly come to reflect this abundancy of photography in the world, with exhibitions growing ever larger in response. As viewers are we so used to gorging on the masses of imagery avaliable online that we are simply no longer satisfied with small selections of the images, or is it the need for such careful curation in fact more essential than ever?

With these thoughts already playing on my mind one particular exhibition at the festival had a particular impact on me. Nothing but Blue Skies which has been curated by Mélanie Bellue and Arles festival director Sam Stourdzé considers artistic responses to the attacks of September 11th 2001. Without necessarily accepting the often repeated claim that this was ‘the day that changed everything’ these attacks undeniably acted as a form of a watershed, making unavoidably clear some of the changes which had been brewing over the previous decade. One of those changes was a recognition that the prophesied ‘end of history’ anticipated by the collapse of Soviet communism had not occurred, that ideological war continued albeit in a new form, one where conventional media are at risk of becoming the unwitting mouthpieces of the competing armed factions. The other obvious sense in which 9/11 was a key marker was as a moment where it became evident how ubiquitous digital photographic imaging had become, that cameras existed in the pockets of so many of the bystanders who watched these attacks, and that photography was indeed an essential part of their effect, in magnifying the sense of terror that the attacks created to a profound degree.


Joan Fontcuberta, GOOGLEGRAM: 11-S NY, 2005. GOOGLEGRAM: 11-S NY, 2005. September 11 plane crash snapshots. The photographs have been refashioned using photomosaic freeware, linked to Google’s Image Search function. The final result is a composite of 8,000 images available on the Internet that responded to the words: ‘God’, ‘Yahve’ and ‘Allah’.

As if to reflect this idea of the magnification of terror, Nothing but Blue Skies opens with a room plastered from floor to ceiling with newspaper front pages from the day after the attacks, which have been collected and rephotographed by Hans-Peter Feldmann as the series 9/12 Front Page. Global headlines scream of a ‘World under attack’, an ‘Apocalypse’ and ‘40,000 dead’ accompanied by photographs of the towers at different stages of the attack, from moments after the impact of the first plane into the north tower through to it’s final collapse an hour and a half later. This display is simple but remarkably powerful, both a reminder of the diverse media responses that follow in the wake of any atrocity, but also hinting more darkly at the ways that the media themselves unwittingly became complicit in carrying the shock wave of terror out across the world from its epicenter in Manhattan. In the mass replication of images of the burning towers we see evidence of an attack intended to be an irrepressible spectacle and pyschic trauma as much as a strategic or material blow.

A similar display follows in the next room, but uses audio-visuals as its medium. Guillaume Chamahian’s Breaking News consists of a babel like tower of televisions which visitors can crawl into, within which they are bombarded with global news reports from the day of the attacks. Panicked reporters and newscasters yell over footage of planes hitting the twin towers or sit uncertainly in their television studios, unsure of what they are witnessing or how to respond to it. A sculptural theme continues throughout the show, in the same room is Mounir Fatmi’s piece Save Manhattan 2, a model cityscape made of VHS cassettes roughly laid out like New York’s central island. The black innards of these tapes spill out onto the floor around the sculpture like the cloud of dust that was left behind following the collapse of the twin towers. Like many in the exhibition this work also seems to speak to the rapid onwards evolution of electronic and digital media, which has left the often grainy and pixelated imagery of the attacks looking increasingly date-able as products of the first decade of mass digital imagery.

Mounir Fatmi, Save Manhattan 02, 2005. Courtesy of the artist and of Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg–Le Cap.

Mounir Fatmi, Save Manhattan 02, 2005. Courtesy of the artist and of Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg–Le Cap.

Proceeding deeper into the show the works become more meditative, more about picking through the psychic ruins to ask how these attacks could have happened, what they might mean, and how to move forward. Waalid Raad’s series Cotton Under my Feet is a response to the artist’s inability to remember the colour of the sky on the day of the attacks, a cold blue which has become in many ways as iconic as the image of the towers themselves. His response has been to collect images of the New York skyline before digitally cutting away at them, removing everything in the image but the blue of the sky. In the crude digital cutting there is a strange violence, with jagged pixelated edges hinting at what is no longer there. In some cases what has been removed is clearly identifiable as the outline of a building, in some cases of the twin towers themselves, and in one image towards the end of the series the white outline of an plane recalls the moment before a second airliner hit the south World Trade Center tower, a moment frozen by a thousand waiting lenses.

Continuing this theme of analysis is the final piece in the show, Michal Kosakowski’s video installation Just Like the Movies. In this piece, short clips from Hollywood movies including American Psycho, Wall Street, Die Hard, Independence Day, Marathon Man and many others are montaged together into an approximate narrative of the day of the attacks, set against movie music which ebbs from the inappropriately jaunty to the overly tragic. While the images on screen are fictions which bear no true relation to the destruction of the World Trade Centre, they combine in their new sequence with the prior knowledge of these events held in the viewer’s mind to create a compelling narrative which at moments becomes remarkably difficult to watch. Underlying it is a sophisticated commentary on US culture, and the country’s strange fascination with the fiction of it’s own demise played out in disaster movies, an inclination which Jean Baudrillard described as a need to ‘exorcise through images’. Kosakowski hints at the idea that on some level these attacks fitted with a dark narrative which runs back deep into the country’s history and which would run forwards from September 11th into some of the worst excesses of the War on Terror.

Reeve Schumacher, #1, from the Nothing but Blue Skies series, 2016. Courtesy of the artist.

Reeve Schumacher, #1, from the Nothing but Blue Skies series, 2016. Courtesy of the artist.

In each space the artistic works are accompanied by short texts by Jean Paul Curnier which stand alone on plinths and consider different aspects of the reporting, processing and memorialisation of 9/11. The inclusion of these texts rather seemed to me to hint at the idea that these images of the burning towers remain so powerful that even after their processing by artists and photographers they can not comfortably be left alone to ‘speak for themselves’ and still require further context and exploration to be made safe. Overall, what makes this exhibition so compelling and thought provoking is that rather than confronting a viewer with dozens, or hundreds of images on the same theme, it does what we are rarely asked to do today, that is to essentially consider one image over and over, from multiple angles and from different perspectives. And what better candidate for this consideration than an image surely seared indelibly into the memory of all who have seen it.

An Overview of Rencontres d’Arles 2016

Hello! My name is Lewis Bush and I’m taking over the Hatje Cantz blog for July. I’ve just returned from the 47th Rencontres d’Arles photography festival in the South of France and over the course of the month I’ll be writing in depth about a few of the highlights. To kick things off thought I thought it would be good to offer a broader overview of the best of the festival.

As ever Arles was well provided for with historic photography from both well-known photographers and more obscure names. The first exhibition I visited was Looking Beyond the Edge which features photographs by veteran conflict photographer Don McCullin. The twist is that there is barely a conflict photograph in sight in this display. Instead it encompasses social documentary, landscape and archaeological photographs taken between McCullin’s overseas conflict assignments, and while I knew much of the work already it was still an interesting take on a familiar name’s work.

For something a little more humorous it was great to see Peter Mitchell’s A New Refutation Of The Viking 4 Space Mission. In this work Mitchell combines images taken by the first spacecraft to land on Mars with his own colour social documentary photographs of the North of England, all displayed alongside humorous captions which often read as if they were written by a Martian visiting earth for the first time. While none of this might sound radical today you have to remind yourself that you are viewing a series first exhibited in 1979, before colour photography (let alone such a humorous approach to documentary) had really entered the mainstream.


Mr. & Mrs. Hudson. Wedsneday 14 August 74. 11 a.m. Seacroft Green, Leeds. I liked the way the ladder is propping up the shop. They have just moved into a new shop on the same spot, with the church getting a face-lift to match. Courtesy of the artist.

Lastly for the historic photography, a really pleasant new discovery for me was the work of mid-century street photographer Sid Grossman and his exhibition From Document to Revelation. Alongside producing some brilliant observational photographs Grossman’s embracing of ‘bad’ photography effects like grain and blur anticipated some of the photographic trends of the New York school of photography typified by William Klein. Grossman was also a politically engaged activist, blacklisted from 1947 for his communist links. It would have been fascinating to see how he might have used his camera to respond to key events like the Civil Rights Movement had he not died so tragically young in 1955.

The trend for raiding archives set in previous years, with exhibitions like the 2015 exhibition Vernacular continue with some great examples this year. Camarguais Western was a favourite of mine, an exhibition telling the rather bizarre story of how the region of France where Arles is located became an alternative set for the American Wild West in early cowboy films. Another successful movie display was Scary Monsters! Effectively a series of typologies of different movie monsters through the ages, this exhibition uses behind publicity photographs and movie memorabillia to show the on screen evolution of movie monsters and to illustrate the ways they have served to embody different public fears, from fears about nature to nuclear war.


Bretaigne Windust, The Enforcer, 1951. Courtesy of United States Pictures.

Lastly for the archival shows, Severely Queer was a fascinating exhibition of historic photographs of transvestitism, exploring the different contexts where it has occurred and the gradual move from a taboo activity towards something with a broader public acceptance. Like many of the larger shows though this one suffered a little for the sheer quantity of material on display, when half as many photographs would have told the same fascinating story just as well.

Contemporary photography was also well represented, with a broad range roving from documentary through to fine art photography bordering on conceptualism. In terms of documentary, Dominic Nahr’s Fractured State was a small but powerful exhibition on the emergence of South Sudan and the struggles of the state’s early years. Another strong example was Laia Abril’s A History Of Misogyny, Chapter One: On Abortion, a grueling but engaging exhibition on the legal restrictions and moral attitudes towards abortion in different parts of the world and the consequences this has for women seeking the procedure.

On the more arts influenced wings of photography, Stephanie Solinas’s exhibition Methods of Loci was a deep, multi-faceted investigation of a vast warehouse situated in Arles which had originally been constructed as the venue for a French colonial exhibition in 1905. Through archival imagery, sound, interviews, objects and more Solinas creates a fascinating investigation of the building and it’s history. Through a micro-focus on a relatively small space this work asks complex questions about macro processes like capitalism and globalisation.

The annual Discovery Award shortlist also had it’s share of interesting work among the ten photographers who are in the running for the €25,000 prize. On a similar theme to Solinas’s exhibition, Christodoulos Panayiot’s work explores ideas about power, capitalism and globalisation in very different ways, employing his own photography alongside ready-made sculptural fountains composed of copper sheets and off the shelf piping. I think my favourite of the Discovery Award shortlistees though was Sarah Waiswa’s Strange in a Familiar Land, a moving portraiture series about the experience of Africans with Albinism.

Seeking to Belong, Stranger in Familiar Land series, Kibera, 2016. Courtesy of the artist.

Seeking to Belong, Stranger in Familiar Land series, Kibera, 2016. Courtesy of the artist.

Saving the best to last, my pick of the festival was Nothing but Clear Blue Skies, a group exhibition of artists who have made work in response to the September 11th attacks. Where many of the exhibitions at this year’s festival suffered from being oversized with far too many photographs this one was perfectly scaled but had a depth which kept me thinking long after I had left the venue. I’ll be writing in much more depth about this and several of my other highlights in my forthcoming posts.

Out of Obscurity

Chris McCaw, Heliograph #28, 2013. Unique Gelatin Silver Paper Negative, © Chris McCaw, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York

Chris McCaw, Heliograph #28, 2013. Unique Gelatin Silver Paper Negative, © Chris McCaw, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York

Julie Cockburn, Happenstance 2, 2013, Hand embroidery, graphite on distressed found photograph, 20.4 x 25.3 cm (c) Julie Cockburn, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery

Julie Cockburn, Happenstance 2, 2013, Hand embroidery, graphite on distressed found photograph (c) Julie Cockburn, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery


John Maclean, Container Ships, Horizon and Sky, 2016, Chromogenic print, 79 x 105 cm (C) John Maclean, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery

John Maclean, Container Ships, Horizon and Sky, 2016, Chromogenic print (C) John Maclean, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery

Wang Ningde, Colour Filter for a Utopian Sky, 2013, Photo Installation, 200 x 144 cm (c) Wang Ningde, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery3

Wang Ningde, Colour Filter for a Utopian Sky, 2013, Photo Installation (c) Wang Ningde, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery

Summertime and a two-part group exhibition focusing on abstraction within contemporary photography.

Out of Obscurity presents a speculative journey in response to the series of cloud studies produced in the 1920s by Alfred Stieglitz titled Equivalents. From the disorienting perspectives of aerial photography to physical manipulation of photography’s material properties, the exhibition draws together visions of the sky produced by a range of international artists.

The horizon line, seen here as a subjective or symbolic point of contact between two distinct spaces, forms an initial seam running through the exhibition. On the Clouds by Boomoon, taken from a plane at high altitude, presents the dividing line between sky and cloud as though at eye-level, forming an ‘absolute horizon’, which Boomoon considers to lead to the realm of infinity. Also from an aerial viewpoint, the flattened frontal aspect and dizzying perspective of Edward Burtynsky’s Phosphor Tailings navigates a narrow path between form and content. What appears to be the sky mirrored in a lake below is revealed as the vivid hues of toxic algae blooms generated by phosphorous mining. The image functions, from Burtynsky’s viewpoint, as a reflecting pool of our times, seducing the eye to the surface and immersing the viewer in painterly details of line, shape and colour.

A sensitivity to both surface and material can be seen in many of the exhibiting artists, manifesting in images that are interrupted, deconstructed and re-assembled through both digital and analogue processes. Alliance by Chloe Sells, which captures the atmospheric patterns of birds flocking to the flooded plains of the Okavango Delta in North-Western Botswana, is constructed from two images overlaid on an irregularly shaped photographic print, offsetting the chance effects produced by chemical manipulation in the darkroom with the organic decay and transience of nature. Chris McCaw directly harnesses the power of the sun’s rays to scorch traces onto light sensitive paper negatives. His Heliograph series explores the effects of multiple exposures of the sun’s path, conflating the indelible records of time and place, and forming an indexical relationship between the subject and its representation. Letha Wilson brings the image and the sensory effects of the rugged desert landscape together by subjecting her photographs to sculptural processes. Corrugating, splicing and shuttering the photographic prints, Wilson also pours concrete into their ridges and folds, blurring the lines between photography and sculpture, representation and abstraction. An intersection of horizontal and vertical planes is present in the evocative and minimal work Colour Filter for a Utopian Sky by Wang Ningde. Graduating between the cool sunrise tones of turquoise and pink, the original representation of the sunset is deconstructed and reconfigured in three dimensions as an abstracted and inverted photographic image.

John Maclean applies a reductive process in his series Outhinking the Rectangle. In the work Container Ships, Horizon and Sky, Maclean digitally removes all but the most minimal information to evoke the sensation of a sunset in a sequence of graduated lines. In the work of Julie Cockburn, sculptural or physical manipulation can be seen equally as a process of embellishment and erasure. In Happenstance, a blizzard-like atmosphere is achieved through scratching away the photographic emulsion from found photographs, and is further masked by protruding hand-embroidered spheres.

Seeking abstraction in the man-made urban environment, Randy West photographs the spaces between the New York skyline observed during his daily walks in the city. In New York Sky, buildings are thrown into sharp relief in the long shadows cast by the September evening light, causing the negative space to form an impression of inverse skyscrapers.

Shifting both perspective and magnitude, Michael Benson’s US Cloud Sheet pictures cloud formations over the coastline of New York State, rendered from satellite data sent back to earth from space. Within this alien viewpoint of the landscape, Benson creates a counter image to the view Stieglitz captured almost a century before, extending the scope of the abstracted photograph through advancements in science and technology.


Ryan L. Moule, The Structure of Things, Fibre-based Silver Gelatin Print, 2015, (c) Ryan L. Moule, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery

Ryan L. Moule, The Structure of Things, Fibre-based Silver Gelatin Print, 2015, (c) Ryan L. Moule, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery

Alessandro Dandini de Sylva, Untitled (Landscape #68), 2012, Instant Colour Film Print, 10.8 cm x 8.5 cm (c) Alessandro Dandini de Sylva, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery

Alessandro Dandini de Sylva, Untitled (Landscape #68), 2012, Instant Colour Film Print, 10.8 cm x 8.5 cm (c) Alessandro Dandini de Sylva, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery

Giulia Marchi, Après Marat, from the series Dit-Mansion, 2015, (c) Giulia Marchi, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery

Giulia Marchi, Après Marat, from the series Dit-Mansion, 2015, (c) Giulia Marchi, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery

Sophy Rickett, Observation 123

Sophy Rickett, Observation 123, 1997_2013, Black & White Bromide Print (c) Sophy Rickett, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery

Murmur, by invited Curator Magali Avezou brings together five international contemporary artists who address questions of form, colour, movement and the surface dynamics of the photographic print, with two unique sound works created to respond to the space of the exhibition. Through the absorbing sensorial dialogue established between sound and sight, the exhibition explores the intuitive and metaphysical aspects of abstraction.

In Paesaggi, Alessandro Dandini De Sylva intervenes in the chemical process of developing his Polaroid images, either by interrupting or overlapping the photographic impression. The resulting images break down into sequences of colours and abstract shapes, evocative of watercolours. The ambiguous nature of the work questions the relationship between photography and reality, deconstructing and rebuilding the essence of the landscape through abstract means.

Lacan’s three orders, the symbolic, the real, and the imaginary, are the starting points of Giulia Marchi’s series Dit-mansion. The mundane scenes found in empty spaces are both mirrored and abstracted by the image, echoing the symbolic-real-imaginary triad. Marchi creates an intriguing visual lexicon through the texture and chromatic specificity of digital images.

Ryan L. Moule’s enigmatic images are both familiar and uncanny. The chemically unfixed photographs bathed in a red ‘safe light’ are on the verge of disappearing. Moule is interested in the dissolution of the photographic image and the notion of latency, praising oblivion in an age of visual saturation. Through this romantic gesture, his work has a visceral feel that questions the validity of images and our emotional attachment to them.

Tom Lovelace’s Forms in Green are ‘ready-made’ photograms, which exude a sense of evanescence and unsteadiness. The depicted forms have been created through the chance exposure of sunlight onto light-sensitive fabric in the window of a London library. Over time, the light has revealed the shapes of the paper notices fixed to the wall, indexically linked to the movements and actions of those who attached them.

With Objects in the Field, Sophy Rickett reinterprets scientific imagery to create new narratives. The series of photographic prints are made from the original negatives that Dr. Roderick Willstrop produced during the period of time that Cambridge Observatory’s telescope was operational. By printing his original negatives by hand, and altering them, she disrupts the conventions of the techno-scientific and functional discourse that produced them in the first place, opening up metaphysical questions around the notion of the “unknown” today.

Text by Hannah Hughes




Skogar #5084, 2015, Pigment Print, 140x180cm

Boomoon, Skogar #5084, 2015, Pigment Print (c) Boomoon, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery


Boomoon, Skogar – Installation view, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery


Boomoon, Sansu – installation view, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery


Boomoon, Sansu – installation view, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery

A solo exhibition by South Korean photographer Boomoon, centred around a new series of photographs produced at Skogar Falls, Iceland. The exhibition presents the powerful elemental force of the waterfall as the subject for Boomoon’s ongoing investigation into the infinite and ungovernable character of the natural world.

The exhibition Skogar brings together a selection of black and white photographs from a series of 300 exposures. Each taken from the same frontal viewpoint, they capture distinct variations of light and form within the arrested momentum of a singular waterfall. Boomoon entered the freezing water of the pool below the falls to attain a position where the ‘horizon’ would be situated precisely at the lower third of the frame, presenting an immersive view, which appears to extend beyond the limits of an individual standpoint or subjective experience.

Within the shape-shifting cascades and veils of spray, each photograph records discrete changes in focus and detail, resulting in a complex and evocative layering of the image. The photographs are composed horizontally, contrary to the essentially upright configuration of the waterfall itself, and are cropped closely to exclude all peripheral detail and sense of scale. Applying a similarly reductive approach to colour, Boomoon attributes the crystalline clarity of his monochromatic images to the stark purity of northerly light.

Poet and Critic Shino Kuraishi has likened the Northern quality of Boomoon’s approach to the pursuit of the sublime in Northern Romanticism, particularly the work of German painter Caspar David Friedrich.1 Extending beyond romantic notions of a confrontation between man and the natural world as distinct forces, and suggesting a more totalised assimilation of the self within nature, Boomoon’s photographs can also be seen to resonate with attitudes towards the sublime within Minimalism.

According to Kuraishi, Boomoon’s focused attention on the particular, dispenses with continuity or a sense of passage between past and future – delivering us instead into the ‘here and now’ of the present moment. He says: “The destination or the end of time is permanently postponed. The waterfall keeps falling self-recursively, aimlessly, and meaninglessly carrying the undetermined present. The waterfall descends defying associations of any other place and any other time. In the minimalist waterfall captured by Boomoon, I as an observer am liberated from the bondages of both the identity of the “artist” and the “work” and the identity of “another self” chained to the system of appreciation. The falling waterfall declares my freedom. “I” facing the waterfall am free.”

Also on view will be selected works from the series Sansu, including the exceptionally large-scale photographic print Untitled #18134, Inje, spanning ten metres in length, which was first displayed in the Salon D’Honneur at Paris Photo 2015. Each of the photographs on show will be displayed for the first time in London. Sansu (meaning ‘mountain-water’ in Korean) is a core concept in the representation of landscape in Far-Eastern aesthetics, centred on a metaphysical union with nature. Boomoon’s contemporary vision of Sansu evokes an attitude or philosophical state of mind. The series comprises of mountain landscapes and forests blanketed by snow, often presented at a large scale, balancing an intense clarity of detail with atmospheric passages of snowfall and mountain mist.

Text by Hannah Hughes


Photo London

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Just over a month ago the newly formed Photo London hosted its second edition at Somerset House – a neo-classical labyrinth overlooking the Thames. Throughout what people are now calling “Photo London week”, a wide range of talks, events, exhibitions and book fairs takes place with the main focus being the international and local galleries exhibiting at the fair. For us this is an opportunity to convey the depth of our photography programme.

On one side of the space we presented the type of large-format abstracted landscapes that we are most renowned for. Examples of new works by Nadav Kander were presented for the first time alongside works by Edward Burtynsky and Boomoon. In contrast, the mirrored space included artists newer to our gallery. From Appropriation and found objects to painted photography and investigative documentary, this group demonstrates a wider scope of photographic production; Edmund Clark, Julie Cockburn, Tom Lovelace and Esther Teichmann.

Photographs from Edmund Clark’s series Negative Publicity were displayed concurrently with his solo exhibition Terror Incognitus at Zephyr Mannheim in Germany. The artist’s new book, produced together with counterterrorism investigator Crofton Black brings together photographs and documents that confront the nature of contemporary warfare and the invisible mechanisms of state control.

Tom Lovelace works at the intersection of photography, performance and sculpture. Inspired by Industrial forms, his practice is grounded in a reinvention or subversion of everyday objects, materials and processes.Tom Lovelace partcipated in the Photo London satellite event Peckham 24, a 24 hour festival of contemporary photography and video art.

Esther Teichmann’s practice uses still and moving image, collage and painting to create alternate worlds, which blur autobiography and fiction. Central to the work lies an exploration of the origins of fantasy and desire and how these are bound to experiences of loss and representation. Both filmic works and photographs of turned away bodies and primordial spaces of enchantment work with the relationships between images, and the narratives these juxtapositions create.


Nadav Kander

Nadav kander, The Aral Sea I (Officers Housing), Kazakhstan 2011 (c) Nadav kander, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery

Nadav kander, The Aral Sea I (Officers Housing), Kazakhstan 2011 (c) Nadav kander, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery

Fengjie III (Monument to Progress and Prosperity), Chongqing Municipality, 2007‘These images do not make beautiful what is not, they ask of us that we repurpose ourselves to accept a new order of both the beautiful and the real’ Will Self

It only seems natural to begin here – with the work of UK based artist Nadav Kander. Having published three books with Hatje Cantz to date, it was through Kander that I learnt of the photography programme run by this publisher. Nadav Kander (b. 1961) is best known for Yangtze – The Long River, for which he earned the prestigious Prix Pictet award in 2009. Kander made several voyages along the course of China’s Yangtze River, travelling up-stream from mouth to source over a period of three years. Using the river as a metaphor for constant change Kander attempted at every stage of the journey, to relate and reflect the consequences of the incomprehensible and seemingly unnatural development in modern-day China.

Qinghai Province II (Fallen Bridge), 2007Both timely and timeless, Yangtze – The Long River has enjoyed a long run of exhibitions since first being exhibited at Flowers, London in 2008. Most recently The Barbican in London included a room of seven large works in Constructing Worlds: Photography and Architecture in the Modern Age, a survey that looked beyond the medium’s ability to simply document the built world and explored the power of photography to reveal wider truths about society. Grace of Intention: Photography, Architecture and the Monument at Museum of Contemporary Photography Chicago explored how monuments champion collective aspirations and serve to cement narratives about our past. The exhibition focused on a number of Kander’s most iconic workss fromYangtze and the more recent series Dust. Priozersk XIV (I Was Told She Once Held An Oar), Kazakhstan 2011Rooted in an interest in the ‘aesthetics of destruction,’ Dust explores the vestiges of the Cold War through the radioactive ruins of secret cities on the border between Kazakhstan and Russia. Fascinated by the area’s past and driven by discovery, Kander’s photographs portray stark fact and bleak setting with a characteristic poeticism. Secrets seem to seep from the silence of the crumbling monuments, bowing under heavy grey skies. Describing what he saw as ‘empty landscapes of invisible dangers’ Kander’s images evoke his sense of awe and fear as he responded to these places and to the weight of their history.




Israel, fotografiert wie durch ein ikonographisches Kaleidoskop: Andres Serranos Buch „Salvation, The Holy Land“

cover Salvation Serrano

Wie nähert man sich fotografisch, künstlerisch einem Land wie Israel, diesem kleinen, großen, dem „Heiligen Land“, in dem die monotheistischen Weltreligionen aufeinandertreffen wie in keinem zweiten? Und das, wenn man Andres Serrano heißt, erklärter Christ ist und von konservativen Kreisen mehrfach der Blasphemie bezichtigt wurde? Serranos internationale Karriere beginnt 1987 mit einem Paukenschlag: dem Foto eines Kruzifix’, das in einem mit Urin befüllten Plexiglasgefäß steckt und das später mehrfach attackiert und beschädigt wurde. Später experimentiert der vermeintliche Dauerskandalisierer mit Körperflüssigkeiten wie Blut und Sperma und fertigt ikonographisch anmutende Bilderzyklen von Leichen, Obdachlosen oder Vertretern des Ku Klux Klan an.


Was also macht dieser Andres Serrano in seinem Essay über Israel? Er wählt die leise Ouvertüre. Sein bei Hatje Cantz erschienenes Buch „Salvation, The Holy Land“ – die Quintessenz eines vierwöchigen Lehraufenthalts an der Musrara School of Photography - beginnt mit Landschaftsaufnahmen. Neuland für den 1950 in Brooklyn geborenen Sohn eines Honduraners und eine Kubanerin. Kontemplative, archetypische Ansichten, die uns Abendländern seltsam vertraut vorkommen: Knorrige Bäume und steinige, karge Landschaften, Treibgut am See Genezareth oder am Toten Meer, Landschaftsbilder mit alttestamentarischer Aura: “dunkel, spirituell geheimnisvoll und bezaubernd“ (Serrano). Doch erwartungsgemäß bleibt Serrano nicht stehen bei diesen lichtbildnerischen Archetypen, deren Zeitvergessenheit noch durch die analoge Anmutung der mit einer Mamiya RB 67 auf Portra 160 eingefangenen Bilder verstärkt wird.


Im Laufe der 225 Seiten gehen die Landschafts- allmählich in Stadtlandschaftsaufnahmen über, dann in Gruppenbilder und Portraits. Wir sehen: das warmgelbe Licht, das die Straßenlaternen in der Altstadt von Jerusalem ausschütten; eine betende Nonne im Kerzenlicht; Mönche in mythische Erscheinungen suggerierenden Doppelbelichtungen; ein zerkratztes Jesus-Poster; geschlachtete Tierkörper; israelische Soldaten und Soldatinnen; die Souks in der Altstadt Jerusalems; Checkpoints für Palästinenser; desolate Beduinenbehausungen; Esel, Ziegen, Haiköpfe; Gruppen orthodoxer Juden in schwarz-weißer Uniformität, konterkariert durch die karnevaleske Verkleidung ihrer Kinder während des jüdischen Purimfests. In einer wie beiläufig daherkommenden und keiner offensichtlichen Ordnung unterworfenen Sequenz von Streetfotografien folgen Portraits von Palästinensern und Israelis, Moslems, Juden und Christen.



Das Buch endet mit einem langsam anschwellenden Crescendo von Familien- und Einzelportraits. Erst leise und dann immer lauter schleicht sich in diesen Studio-Aufnahmen wieder Serranos ikonenhafter Stil ein: Nonnen, wie freigestellt mit ihrer weißen Kopfbedeckung und dem schwarzen Chormantel vor schwarzem Hintergrund. Ein Mann, der unter dem „Jerusalem-Syndrom“ leidet und sich für eine Figur aus der Heiligen Schrift hält, gefolgt von Jesus-artigen Männern mit wallendem Haar und Vollbärten; ihre Blicke werden gegen Ende des Buchs immer verklärter und scheinen schließlich wie erleuchtet. Das letzte Bild holt den Betrachter dann mit einem Paukenschlag wieder zurück in die profane Wirklichkeit. Es zeigt das entstellte Gesicht eines unter der Elefantenkrankheit leidenden Mannes.


In „Salvation“ entfaltet Serrano ein kaleidoskopartiges Panorama der israelischen/palästinensischen Gesellschaft – eine vielschichtige, subjektive, interpretationsoffene Annäherung an ein kleines, großes, geschichts- und religionstrunkenes, zerrissenes Land. Es ist ein schweres, schönes Buch mit mattem Hardcover und negativ geprägtem Titelbild. Ein vermeintlich willkürlich kompiliertes, nicht leicht zu dechiffrierendes, im besten Sinne irritierendes Buch, das seine Wirkung erst ganz allmählich entfaltet. Eins, in dem man sich verlieren kann, auch als Agnostiker oder Atheist. Ein gutes Buch.


PS: Noch bis zum 21.8.2016 ist im Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium in Brüssel eine Ausstellung mit Bildern Serranos zu sehen.

PPS: Hiermit verabschiede ich mich als Gastautor aus dem Hatje-Cantz-Blog. Auf Wiederlesen!


Zwischen den Welten ist es am schönsten. Oder: Die bewegte Gegenwart der Stills

Videoprojektion von David Claerbouts."The American Room", third movement

Wirklichkeit ist für mich gesellschaftlich geformter Wahnsinn.“ (David Claerbout)


Im Grenzgebiet zwischen den fotografischen Stills und den Bewegtbildern nimmt der Transitverkehr in letzter Zeit deutlich zu. Es bewegt sich etwas, vor allem in eine Richtung: Immer mehr Berufsfotografen filmen, um sich ein Zubrot zu verdienen, und die Fotoindustrie verspricht: Wer 4k- (und bald 8k-)fähige Aufnahmegeräte nutzt, verpasst den decisive moment“, den entscheidenden Augenblick, nimmermehr. Denn schließlich lässt sich der ultimative Sekundenbruchteil aus dem Fluss der (Film-)bilder herausfiltern: hochaufgelöst, druckfähig, verwertbar. Bleibt die Frage: Ist der entscheidende Augenblick ebenso entscheidend, wenn er nicht dem zuckenden Auslösefinger eines genialen Fotografen geschuldet ist, sondern dem Mausklick eines begabten Editors? 

Prosaischer Workflow, poetische Wirkung. David Claerbout. Aus "The American Room"

Prosaischer Workflow, poetische Wirkung. David Claerbout. Aus “The American Room”

Rückblende: Als sich die Flugzeuge am 11.09.2001 mit sanfter Gewalt in die WTC-Tower bohrten als seien sie aus Seidenpapier, lag ich mit leicht erhöhter Temperatur sofalägrig vor dem Fernseher. Neben dem Horror, der Ungläubigkeit und der Trauer, die ich angesichts der Bilder empfand, konnte ich nach Stunden des Hin- und Herschaltens zwischen den Privaten und den Öffentlich-Rechtlichen irgendwann nicht anders als die mediale Aufbereitung selbst zu betrachten – ein klassischer Fall einer „Deformation professionelle“. Tage später, der Berufsalltag hatte mich wieder im Griff, machte sich eine Frage in meinem Kopf breit: Welches Medium vermag die Geschehnisse, das Grauen, die ganze Dimension des Wahnsinns besser abzubilden – bewegte Bilder oder das Standbild? Natürlich lässt sich so eine Frage nicht mit A oder B beantworten, schon klar. Aber: Neben den offensichtlichen Vorzügen, die allein der Film bietet, ist das Still – und nur das Still – zu etwas in der Lage, das bei 50 Frames per second verlustig geht: das Innehalten. Das Still reißt einem Moment aus den Stromschnellen der Zeit, schafft Raum für Kontemplation und verleiht dem Betrachter eine absolute Autonomie über die Zeitdauer des Betrachtens. 

Der Betrachter "geht" durch die Reihen der Zuschauer. David Claerbout. Aus "The American Room".

Der Betrachter “geht” durch die Reihen der Zuschauer. David Claerbout. Aus “The American Room”.

Knapp zehn Jahre später stieß ich auf der PHotoEspaña auf eine „Videoarbeit“ von David Claerbout. Der belgische Künstler legt die medialen und wirkungsästhetischen Unterschiede zwischen Stand- und Bewegtbildmedium frei wie ein Präparator, der einen Schmetterling aufspießt: nailed! In „The Amercian Room“, so der Titel, verwischt der Belgier die Grenze zwischen Film und Fotografie. Der Workflow ist durch und durch prosaischer Natur Zehntausende von 360-Grad-Scans, Bluebox-Shots, virtuelle Kameras und die Rechenpower von fünf parallel geschalteten Macs stecken in dem Werk (mehr zur technischen Umsetzung auf Monopol) . Das Ergebnis aber ist pure Poesie. Das gut 24-minütige, mit Klavierklängen unterlegte Video zeigt nicht mehr und nicht weniger als eiKlavierkonzert und die ergriffenen Reaktionen des Publikums Das Irritierende und zugleich Faszinierende: Während  die Kamera durch die Reihen der Zuhörer fährt, verharren diese regungslos – gefangen in ihrem Raum-Zeit-Kontinuum als plastische Fotografien. Der Betrachter von Claerbouts Werk aber bewegt sich durch ihre Reihen wie durch ein Aquarium mit gefrorenem Wasser. Stehende Filmbilder? Animierte Stills? You name it!


Der White Cube als Rezeptionstunnel. David Claerbout. Aus "The American Room".

Der White Cube als Rezeptionstunnel. David Claerbout. Aus “The American Room”.

Die emotionale und mediendiskursive Wirkung des Foto-Film-Hybrids, lässt sich hier nicht wirklich nacherzählen (und anders als einige wenige konzeptuell ähnlich gelagerte Arbeiten Claerbouts ist „The American Room“ nicht als Video abrufbar im Web; (man muss sich also auch noch 2016 in den White Cube begeben – welch formvollendeter Anachronismus). Claerbout jedenfalls gelingt so etwas wie die Vivisektion bewegter und unbewegter Bilder. Und dazu noch etwas Magisches. Etwas, das wir uns alle in bestimmten Lebensmomenten wünschen (wenn auch nicht gerade an Tagen wie dem 11.09): einen bestimmten Augenblick anzuhalten, hineinzutauchen und zu verweilen. Es lebe der Stillstand!

PS: Auch bei Hatje Cantz gibt’s was zu Claerbout, ganz analog und „still“- auf Papier.







„Wir sollten uns mehr um die Langeweile kümmern“: Zum Tode von Gerhard Vormwald

Gerhard Vormwald, 1999, in der FH Düsseldorf, vor einem seiner Scanner-Bilder, (c) Peter Schuffelen

Mit ein wenig Verspätung ergreife ich für diesen Monat hier das Wort – und der Anlass für meine erstes Posting ist gleich ein trauriger: Der Tod des Fotokünstlers und Fotografie-Professors Gerhard Vormwald, der Mitte März, kurz nach seinem 68. Geburtstag, verstorben ist. Ich habe noch nie einen Nachruf geschrieben, und dies hier wird auch keiner werden, jedenfalls kein klassischer. Eher so etwas wie ein öffentliches Nachsinnen über diesen zu frühen Tod. Ich habe ihn nicht wirklich gut kennengelernt, aber gut genug, um Trauer darüber zu empfinden, dass er nicht mehr da ist. An die wenigen persönlichen Begegnungen erinnere ich mich intensiv. Hochsympathisch war er mir gleich bei der ersten. Das war 1999, er war gerade erst Professor an der FH Düsseldorf geworden, und ich verabredete mich mit ihm zu einem Interview zum Thema „Digitale Bildsprache“. Da war er schon lange ein anerkannter Künstler mit Bildern im Museum Ludwig, im Kodak-Eastman House, im Centre Pompidou, hatte eine erfolgreiche Karriere als Werbe- und Editorialfotograf hinter sich (mit mehr als 60 Titeln allein für den stern). Jetzt also Professor. Ich zog dem Anlass entsprechend ein frisch gebügeltes Hemd und ein Sakko aus dem Schrank, nichts ahnend, dass ich hoffnungslos overdressed sein würde. Dann fuhr ich zur FH und fragte auf den Gängen nach „Professor Vormwald“. Ein Student sagte mir: „Der Gerhard ist irgendwo dahinten“.


Ich fand ihn in seinem Büro, ein schlanker Hüne im offenen Jeanshemd, auf einem hölzernen Schreibtisch sitzend. Hinter sich, auf die Tafel, hatte er einen Spruch geschrieben, dessen doppelbödiger Witz sich erst beim zweiten Lesen offenbart: „Wir sollten uns mehr um die Langeweile kümmern.“ Rückblickend erscheint mir das Bonmot wie ein Leitspruch für ein Künstlerleben, in dem das Augenzwinkernde eine tragende Rolle spielte.Wir sprachen über seine aktuellen Arbeiten, er experimentierte gerade mit fehleranfälligen digitalen Aufnahmegeräten, scannte Gesichter und historische Kameramodelle, ließ Eidotter in einer blauen Flüssigkeit durch die Luft wabern. Es war ein Gespräch auf Augenhöhe, so wie es seine Lehre war, wie ich an diesem Tag beobachten konnte und wie es mir einige seiner Studenten in späteren Gesprächen bestätigt haben. Ein Dozent, der seine Studenten ermuntert, in ihrem eigenen Weg bestärkt, der sie unbedingt ernst nahm – im akademischen Betrieb ist das eher die Ausnahme als die Regel.

Die Bescheidenheit in Bezug auf seine eigene Person und seine Offenheit habe ich auch in späteren Begegnungen immer wieder erlebt, stets hatte man das Gefühl, dass man mit dem Menschen spricht und nicht mit der öffentlichen Figur. (Er verstand sich – anders als in seinen Ding-Inszenierungen und Selbstportraits – als Mensch wohl nicht sonderlich auf die Selbstinszenierung). Wir trafen uns noch auf einigen seiner Ausstellungen, etwa zur „Autonomie der Dinge“, abstrusen Action-Stills, die unsere Sinne und unseren manchmal allzu gesunden Menschenverstand veräppeln und den physikalischen Gesetzen den Mittelfinger zeigen. Das scheinbar Unumstößliche hinterfragen, eine anarchische Lust, die Welt gegen den Strich zu bürsten, dazu ein lakonischer „Bild-Witz“. Es folgten einige Interviews, in denen er in klugen Sätzen skizzierte, wie man die eigene Kreativität wachkitzeln bzw. dauerhaft wachhalten kann oder warum er gerade die angehenden Werbefotografen, die bei ihm studierten, dazu anhielt, alles Stromlinienförmige und Marktkonforme erst einmal beiseite zu schieben.

gerhard vormwald

Das letzte Mal sprach ich ihn im Herbst letzten Jahres, ich suchte seinen Rat zu irgendeiner Story, die ich zum Thema künstlerische Strategien schrieb; es war dann doch eher ein gemeinsames Brainstorming. Außerdem schlug ich ihm eine Geschichte unter dem Arbeitstitel „So wurde ich Fotokünstler“ vor – eine Art Rückblick auf seine Karriere, angereichert mit Tipps für die nachfolgende Fotografengeneration, für das er mir dieses frühe Selbstportrait  zugeschickt hatte.


Gerhard Vormwald, Selbstportrait, Glasgow

Gerhard Vormwald, Selbstportrait, Glasgow

Aus redaktionellen Gründen wurde dann doch nichts daraus. Zufällig fiel mir Anfang des Jahres wieder das Portrait in die Hand, das ich bei unserer ersten Begegnung gemacht hatte. Ich legte es auf meinen Schreibtisch, um mich daran zu erinnern, es ihm zu schicken. Jetzt ist es wenigstens hier noch einmal zu sehen. Als er Anfang März starb, war ich gerade im Ausland, und so erreichte mich die Nachricht über seinen Tod erst als ich die PHOTONEWS aufschlug und einen Nachruf fand. Jetzt hat er, „der bescheidene Künstler mit Weltruf“ (Eifel-Zeitung), dort oben oder wo auch immer er jetzt gerade sein mag, die Möglichkeit sich noch intensiver um die Langeweile zu kümmern. Jedenfalls hoffe ich das. P.I.P.

Gerhard Vormwald, Paris, 1973

Gerhard Vormwald, Paris, 1973

PS: Unbedingt noch mal auf seiner Website vorbeischauen, nicht nur wegen der Klassiker, wie dem „flying black man“, sondern gerade auch bei den in den letzten Jahren entstandenen „concrete illusions“ und den grandiosen „early reportages“ aus den 70er Jahren, in denen bereits der ganze vormwaldsche Bildwitz aufblitzt.

The end, the beginning, the end

My time us up. I’m unlikely to write until May. By then I won’t be in this blog.

I learnt photography from my dad. He was in the military, and carried a camera with him to Kashmir, Golan, and other similar places in the 1960s and 1970s. I remember photographing when I was six years old. Two of the cameras I used then are ones that I still have (and used till recently): Asahi Pentax Spotmatic, a reflex camera from the 60s, and Olympus XA, a compact camera from the 80s. I remember getting the XA as a camera I could handle easily when I was small. I also remember carrying a light meter when I was seven or eight.

The one thing about photography back then was that it was not available to everyone. Having some relatively fine piece of kit and a light meter did give you an advantage. With my dad we photographed quite a few local events in the South of Spain. Soon we started selling photographs to local magazines. At times I don’t know where my photographs end and his start, or vice versa. The only problem was that it soon became a job. I didn’t see at the time any means of personal expression in photography. It was mainly about getting a picture to set the scene, couple of portraits, maybe a landscape. In hindsight, I think the archives at my mum’s flat in Spain must have interesting photographs from a time when the South of Spain was moving from the 1980s to the 1990s. Things changed a lot. You can judge from the Ole magazine front pages that there was a sense of a time gone by to the 1980s. Some of our photographs are in there too, not quite sure which or where. I can’t remember


By when I was 14 I was quite fed up of the whole photography thing. I did carry on a bit but I quitted. I did other stuff instead. I wrote horror and sci-fi short stories. I did a degree in psychology. I learnt to write code.

I picked up photography again in my mid-late twenties, this time having seen how it can be a personal thing (and not just a job to do the biding of others). I had seen a man jumping over a puddle and I was aware of flashy photographs of seagulls eating chips. I enrolled into a documentary photography evening course (that I didn’t finish). I picked up a camera again and tried to take more and more challenging photographs. Not technically challenging. I tried to find liberating photographs that would put me in challenging situations. I wanted to see what I was made of. I tried to get these photographs to express something that was beyond the thing in front of the camera. And I burned, burned, burned. Projects had become too ambitious, life too chaotic. I was assaulted a couple of times. Exhausted of challenging myself over the years I quitted again less than ten years before picking up photography again. Running a gallery and helping photography via others was more soothing, but still hard work.

So in 2014 I decided not to pick up a camera again. At least for the many years. In the summer of 2014 I took some rolls of film to be developed. I moved house. Forgot about those last rolls of film (which I had developed with the intention to be the last). I picked them up in the autumn of 2015. I’ve not scanned them.

They look sad and melancholic.



Last 35mm