Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Frank Lloyd Wright

Some names simply intrigue me. Among them Frank Lloyd Wright. What I know about him stems from the fascinating novel Loving Frank by Nancy Horan. The story is based on the clandestine love affair between Mamah Borthwick Cheney and Frank Lloyd Wright that began in 1903, when Mamah and her husband Edwin commissioned the renowned architect to design a new home for them. The New York Times called the novel "truly artful fiction".
Wright was born in 1867 and died in 1959, "placing him squarely on the stage of the incredibly dynamic century bracketed by the Civil War and the space age, a century of tremendous technological advances and momentous political and social change", writes Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, who, in the 1950s, was a student of Wright, in the introduction.

Wright grew up and spent most of his life in rural Wisconsin. "He was brought up on the writings and teachings of the 19th-century transcendentalists Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, and Henry David Thoreau, and he would respect the spiritual and romantic values they inspired even as he embraced the scientific advances of the 20th century."

Wright wanted the architect to have complete charge of the architectural design, and "for him this meant interior furnishings as well as exterior landscape." He was however not often given this kind of freedom ...
When Wright died in 1959, The New York Times wrote: "His own philosophy of architecture was enunciated in low terrain-conforming homes that became known as "prairie architecture"; in functional office buildings of modest height utilizing such materials as concrete slabs, glass bricks and tubing; in such monumental structures as the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo that withstood the great earthquake of 1923."

Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer's compilation covers the whole spectrum of Wright's work and also includes projects that were never realised. Two of my favourite constructions are the Rose Pauson House placed on the crest of a small desert hill near Phoenix, Arizona, built in 1938 and destroyed by fire in 1943, and the futuristic Marin County Civic Center from 1957, in San Rafael, California. Spending time with the pictures of these two buildings will help you understand how very varied Wright's organic architecture did find its expression. 

Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer / Peter Goessel
Frank Lloyd Wright
English, German, French
Taschen, Cologne 2015

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Fotografieren als Hingabe an die Gegenwart

Was mich ganz besonders an „Die stille Gegenwart der Photographie“ anspricht, ist, dass Liesenfeld Fragen aufgreift, die mich selber immer wieder beschäftigt haben. Zum Beispiel die, ob der Fotograf ein Künstler sei. „Ein wichtiger Faktor auf dem Kunstmarkt ist ebenfalls der Nimbus des Künstler als Schöpfer. Auch hier steht das 'Ich der Photographie' der Glorie des Fotografen im Wege, denn es ist ganz offensichtlich, dass der Fotoapparat die Bilder macht, und dass der Fotograf eine Fotografie eher 'in Auftrag gibt'.“ Treffender habe ich das bisher noch nirgendwo formuliert gefunden.

In der Photographie verberge sich die Wahrheit nicht hinter einer Fassade, schreibt Liesenfeld. Und: „Ich bemühe mich, die Wahrheit anhand der Oberfläche zu zeigen. Ich habe gelernt, die Welt durch das Auge des 'Ich der Photographie' zu betrachten.“

Mich erinnerten diese Ausführungen an Mont Redmonds von mir sehr geschätzte Essays in seinem „Wondering into Thai Culture“, wo er argumentiert, im Buddhismus gehe es nicht darum, hinter die Dinge zu sehen, sondern den Dingen ihre vermeintliche Tiefe zu nehmen. „'No self, no permanence, no happiness' means: seek no more. What you see is what you get, and what you’re seen to be is what you’ve got.“

Winogrand sei es nicht um die fertigen Aufnahmen gegangen, so Liesenfeld, sondern „lediglich ums Sehen, ums Fotografieren an sich, um diese einzigartige Verbindung mit dem Leben selbst.“ Ihm selbst geht es offenbar auch um diese Verbindung, denn er will (wie er seinen Besuch in Medjugorje am Karfreitag 2007 beschreibt, wo er Marienfiguren fotografiert), „keine Geschichten erzählen, sondern nur sehen, entdecken und aufzeichnen.“ So kann das Fotografieren zur Hingabe an die Gegenwart werden.

Der vollständige Text findet sich auf

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Jacqueline Hassink: View, Kyoto

My usual complaint about photo books is that somebody, a photographer or a publisher or both, simply throws photographs at me without any, or hardly any, accompanying information as if to say: "Do with it what you like." As I've written on many occasions: I find this rather cheap. Moreover, I feel left alone with all my questions ... and I already have enough unanswered questions myself so I really do not want to be given extra-work ...

However, many of the convincingly composed shots in Jacqueline Hassink's View, Kyoto do not need more information than the photographer volunteers in the introduction."Today the city houses some 1,600 Buddhist temples. Each has its own unique garden ... In Buddhism the temple is seen as the human realm, whereas the garden represents the realm of the Buddha. The veranda is the line that separates these two worlds. This separation is temporary, and eventually through meditation the Buddha (nature) and humans become one."
View, Kyoto is divided into three sections. "Garden and Temple" in which the garden is photographed from deep inside the temple, followed by the "Temple" section that deals with space inside the temple. The third section is the "Garden", the focus here is on nature. 

It is a large format tome, the angles were intelligently chosen, the colours are stunning, and there's also the impressive print quality of the shots.
Apart from the stunning photos, there is also a conversation between Jacqueline Hassink and the scientist Gert van Tonder, who has done research on the perceptual effects of Japanese rock gardens. When van Tonder asks for the reasons why there are no people in the photographs, Hassink replies: "I think there is a human presence in the images, because the gardens and spaces that I photograph are made by human hand. So even though the temple monks or visitors are not shown in the images, they are present indirectly."

She surely has a point there. On the other hand: with this kind of logic there can be no emptiness in, say, public buildings or squares ... and that I find slightly absurd.
Gert van Tonder: "Whenever I take a photograph. I am always struck by the great limitation of the camera compared to how we can move our eyes and heads to seamlessly perceive a three-dimensional space. The moment one looks through the viewfinder this all disappears, and one sees a very small and flat segment of the world. Is this an advantage to you as a photographer, or a limitation?"

Jacqueline Hassink: "No, I see this differently. However, there are two aspects to what you describe that I think are relevant. First, if you have a photograph printed on a very large scale and with a certain printing technique, then it is possible to bring the illusion of three-dimensional space into the photographic image. Second, in the world of the iPhone and all the input that surrounds us, I think photography is a really good tool for framing one's thoughts at a particular moment in a single image.. Also important, I do not consider photography an experience of limitation. Instead it causes my brain to focus on the core of what I want to capture, on what I consider the essence of the temple or the garden."

This is the way I see it: to focus means to shut out what distracts, and thus to limit one's world-view. It is, however, in narrowing the scope that we broaden the horizon – which is precisely my experience with Jacqueline Hassink's photographs.

Jacqueline Hassink
View, Kyoto
Hatje Cantz, Ostfildern 2014

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Images from the African Continent 2004-2014

When looking at the pic above, the module on international journalism at Cardiff's School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies, fifteen years ago, comes to mind. We were shown a fashion show at a rather posh hotel in Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi, as an example of how one might break the stereotyped reporting (war, famine, dictatorship, corruption etc.) from Africa.

I love to dress like I'm coming from somewhere shows images from the African Continent that were taken by Swiss photographer Flurina Rothenberger who grew up in a rural town in the center of Côte d'Ivoire. The photos were taken in many countries, from Morocco to Ethiopia to South Africa. 

The pictures come without captions and so I assume that where they were taken does not matter. And so we only know that we are looking at Africans in Africa. And, at some African scenery. Apart from the fact that most of the pictures do appeal to me, I'm sceptical of such an approach

Well, maybe the photographer thought it a good idea to not tell us where her pictures were taken, maybe she wanted to demonstrate that it doesn't matter where in Africa the people portrayed are from. I'm just guessing of course ...
"This book is a tribute to ordinary life. No spectacular or sensational incidents, just selected observations from countries in Africa I have worked or stayed in over the past ten years", writes Flurina Rothenberger.

Although I like many of the pics (the vast majority seem staged) in this tome, I do find a book with such scarce information a bit cheap. It is as if someone is throwing pictures on a table and saying: Do with them what you want. I'm too lazy to give you any context. And, I do not want to. For I do not want to tell you what you have to see. Just see for yourself.

It might however also be that Flurina Rothenberger simply doesn't remember where she took the pics, and maybe she doesn't know more about the persons in the photos than we can see.

Do these images help to see Africa differently? Devoid of the usual stereotypes? Yes and no. Yes, in that they show ordinary, unspectacular scenes, albeit often posed. I often had the sensation that the people portrayed looked at me (and I rarely experience that when looking at photo portraits). No, in that these diverse pictures (that to me radiate a humanness that I much warm to) also cement stereotypes by implicitly stating that the people portrayed need no names, that it doesn't matter what they do in life and where they are from.

Flurina Rothenberger
I love to dress like I'm coming from somewhere
Edition Patrick Frey, Zurich 2015

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Istanbuler Momentaufnahmen

Als ich mich am 1. Oktober 2005 nach Istanbul aufmache, um dort am Berlitz Language Center für zwei Monate Englisch zu unterrichten, weiß ich von dieser Stadt (und von der Türkei) so gut wie gar nichts, und genau deshalb will ich hin: Ich möchte erleben, wie diese Metropole und die Menschen, die da leben, auf mich wirken, will Eindrücke sammeln, möchte erfahren, wie sich das Leben in einer muslimischen Kultur anfühlt. Leiten lassen will ich mich dabei alleine von dem, was mir zufällt.

Vorbereitet habe ich mich nicht, weder Reise- noch Kulturführer gelesen, die Türkei/Europa-Debatten in den Medien nur am Rande verfolgt, von Orhan Pamuk und Yasar Kemal sind mir nur gerade die Namen geläufig. Trotzdem komme ich natürlich mit Vorstellungen, weiß zum Beispiel, dass Istanbul in Kunstkreisen und in der Klubszene gerade hip ist ("Cool Istanbul", titelte Newsweek unlängst), auch ein Bild, eine Karikatur vielmehr, von den Türken habe ich im Kopf: ein düster dreinblickender, schnauzbärtiger, vornüber gebeugter Mann, gefolgt von, in drei Metern Abstand, einer Frau im Regenmantel und mit Kopftuch, an der rechten Hand zwei Kinder, in der linken drei Plastiktüten, die mit ihm Schritt zu halten sich bemüht.

Mesut ist Personalchef bei Berlitz und erwartet mich am Flughafen. Er ist Mitte dreißig, trägt weder Schnauz, noch geht er vornüber gebeugt, vielleicht weil er längere Zeit in New York und nicht in Berlin gelebt hat. Oder weil er Istanbuler ist. Für Istanbul gelte, sagt er, was auch für New York gelte: New York sei New York (und nicht etwa mit Amerika gleichzusetzen) und Istanbul sei Istanbul, die Türkei etwas ganz anderes.

Ich nicke zustimmend. Weil ich das über New York auch schon gehört habe. Da jedoch viele Bewohner New Yorks gar nicht dort geboren und aufgewachsen sind, sondern von anderswo, und vielfach vom Land, stammen, zweifle ich nicht wenig, ob da wirklich so viel dran ist.

Mesut weist auf Häuser und Wohnblöcke an einem Hang hin. Alles illegal gebaut, sagt er. Und warum wird das toleriert? Die Bewohner seien Wähler, die Behörden wollten gewählt werden, unpopuläre Entscheide dabei wenig hilfreich.

Wir fahren über eine der beiden Bosporusbrücken, ich gucke nach rechts und nach links, sage wau und toll (und meine es auch). Mesut ist sichtlich bemüht, sich seinen Stolz nicht allzu sehr anmerken zu lassen. Nach einer guten Stunde Fahrt treffen wir auf der asiatischen Seite vor einem Wohnturm im Stadtteil Erenköy, das gänzlich aus Wohntürmen zu bestehen scheint, ein (später werde ich rausfinden, dass fast ganz Istanbul aus solchen Wohntürmen besteht). In einer großzügigen, hellen, mit Stuck verzierten Wohnung im sechsten Stock wird mir ein Zimmer zugewiesen, Mesut stellt mir meine drei Mitbewohnerinnen vor, Nellie, Maxi und Claire, aus Australien und Neuseeland, alle drei um die sechzig, drückt mir seine Visitenkarte und den Wohnungsschlüssel in die Hand und verabschiedet sich. Etwas verblüfft bin ich schon, dass ich in einem Land, das gerade von einer muslimischen Regierung geführt wird, mit drei mir unbekannten Frauen in einer Wohnung untergebracht werde.

Der ganze Text findet sich in:
Hans Durrer
Rüegger Verlag, Chur/Zürich 2013

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Pirelli - The Calendar, fifty years and more

Dal Calendario PIRELLI, 2013 di Steve McCurry

The Pirelli Calendar is famous for photographs of sexy and beautiful women photographed by famous photographers ... I guess that by using the word photograph three times in one short sentence I've surely made my point: photographs are photographs and nothing but photographs. On the one hand, that is. For photographs are surely also more than just photographs. I'm talking about the Pirelli photographs here. They are fantasies, they are inventions. They are meant to entertain, and to distract, and to make our minds wander.

 Marco Tronchetti Provera, Pirelli's Chairman and CEO, states that the Calendar "conveys a vision of a global aesthetic". And while I'm not so sure about that – is there really such a thing? And, if so, could it be defined by such diverse photographs? – I do find the photographs in this tome a pleasure to look at.
Dal Calendario PIRELLI, 2013 di Steve McCurry

Among the photographers are Richard Avedon, Peter Beard, Karl Lagerfeld, Peter Lindberg, Helmut Newton, Herb Ritts, and Bruce Weber. And, to my great surprise, there is also Steve McCurry, the photojournalist whom I would have not associated with the world of glamour.

 Colours are McCurry's trademark  just look at the pics on this page  but it is of course also his eye for captivating scenes that makes him such an intriguing photographer.

I was totally surprised by his statement: "I thought it would be better, for me, to take some of these fabulous women, who really have worthwhile and interesting charities, and to focus on them and their work. In the tradition of the Pirelli Calendar there are elements of fashion, elegance and sensuality that are credited to the models. They're so gorgeous. Just look into my lens and that's all we need."

Had I read that correctly? Were the models in his photos really running charities? I googled Isabeli Fontana  who you see pictured below – but couldn't find anything charity-related. When, however, I googled Kyleigh Kühn (the first pic on this site) I discovered that she was indeed involved in a charity that "seeks to support the artisans and craftsman of rural Afghanistan by engaging local resources and skills to revitalize their own communities."
Dal Calendario PIRELLI, 2013 di Steve McCurry

Most Pirelli photographers are men, there are however also a few women photographers, among them Annie Leibovitz. And, there are the art directors: "Before a model strikes a pose on a beach or raises a javelin aloft in a stadium, and before a photographer asks for one more shot, someone has to come up with an idea." Creative director L'Wren Scott, in charge of the Herb Ritts shooting in 1999: "I wanted to show a beautiful range of women because this calendar is about women and how they've evolved through the century." Mostly unsmiling, and posing with hardly anything on, or so it seems.

Quite some of the pics shot for the Pirelli Calendar became famous and do hold almost iconic status. Herb Ritts' Bahamas shots from 1994, for instance. This had probably not only to do with the photographer's skills but also with the fact that models such as Cindy Crawford, Helena Christensen, and Kate Moss could be seen without clothes on.

The Calendar, fifty years and more
English, Italiano, Deutsch, Français, Español
Taschen, Cologne 2015

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Swissair Aerial Photographs

Swissair Aerial Photographs is a most fascinating tome, not only because of the partly spectacular photographs but also because of the text that introduces the images. It is a text that is especially rewarding for somebody like me who isn't at all familiar with the history of aerial photography. Never   would I have guessed that the aerial photography business that began in the early days of Swiss civil aviation around 1918 was of such importance. "In those early days, sales of aerial photographs were a more reliable source of revenue than the airline's irregular passenger flights, which only a wealthy few could afford."
General Motors logistics center in Studen near Bienne, 1973 (left)
The Waldkirchenfeld near Niederbipp, 1925 (right)

The circumstances under which the pictures were taken makes one think that these pioneers were, well, a bit nuts ... and they probably were. The challenges they had to face were considerable."The fleet in those days consisted of small, open-cockpit seaplanes and decommissioned military aircraft that were available at low prices after the war. Taking photographs from these flying machines was considerably more difficult than out of a drifting balloon. The biplanes were so light that they shuddered at every little gust of wind and were tossed around by turbulence, while fierce headwinds tore at the aviator's clothes ... While the pilot was controlling the plane, it was up to the photographer to control his own, extremely heavy piece of equipment. Sometimes this meant kneeling on the seat with his feet clamped underneath the pilot's seat to prevent him from falling out merely in order to remain as still as possible while focusing ...".
Chamoson, the largest wine-growing region in the Valais, 1999 (left)
"Railwaymen's Village" on the Geissenstein, in Lucerne, 1987 (right)

Swissair Aerial Photographs also informs about the buoyant demand for aerial surveys that began around 1950 with the building boom, the expansion of Switzerland's road network, and major energy infrastructure projects. "Their photogrammetric evaluation supplied the data needed to be able to draw and revise maps, cadastral surveys, and exact charts for the construction of dams, highways, roads, bridges, tunnels, sewage treatment plants, and nuclear installations."
Sawmill near Le Gottau on the Veveyse de Châtel in Châtel-St-Denis, 1925

The fact that the world could be viewed from above and from a distance not only changed the perception of the world, but also "chimed well with the technocratic worldview, making it a tool of military and police planners and strategists, departments of urban development and transport, architects, town planners, and cultural engineers."
Clouds in the Bernese Alps, 1919

Swissair Aerial Photographs provides, among quite some other things, an impressive inventory of lost landscapes, and of "over 2000 images of workshops and factories that Walter Mittelholzer (the legendary aviator) took from low flying altitudes with the intention of selling them to their proprietors" and that now constitute a rare visual archive of what then was not regarded as part of the cultural landscape.

Ruedi Weidmann
Swissair Aerial Photographs
ETH-Bibliothek, Scheidegger & Spiess, Zurich 2015