Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Erich Lessing: Anderswo

Für mich sind die Bilder des 1923 in Wien als Sohn eines Zahnarztes und einer Konzertpianistin geborenen Erich Lessing eine Entdeckung, mir waren der Mann und sein Werk bisher nicht bekannt.

In Anderswo finden sich Aufnahmen vom Ungarn-Aufstand 1956 sowie aus Wien und Prag, aus Polen, Deutschland, der Türkei und und und. Es seien Dokumente von tiefer Menschlichkeit, bestechend durch das Zusammenspiel von Momentbeobachtung und Komposition, lese ich im Klappentext. Nun ja, so recht eigentlich ist doch jedes Foto ein "Zusammenspiel von Momentbeobachtung und Komposition", doch glaube ich zu erahnen, was mit der tiefen Menschlichkeit gemeint ist. Jedenfalls berühren mich  Lessings Bilder sehr und tun es jedesmal von Neuem, wenn ich zu diesem Band greife.

Verstehen sei ein Gefühl, habe ich bei Robert Adams gelesen. Viele der Aufnahmen in Anderswo lösen in mir sehnsüchtige und auch melancholische Gefühle aus. Das mag zum Teil an den Sujets liegen, doch möglicherweise eben auch daran, dass zum Beispiel das obige Titelbild vom Wiener Westbahnhof im Jahr meiner Geburt aufgenommen worden ist.

Dem Herausgeber Thomas Reche ist aufgefallen, "dass kaum eine der in diesem Band aufgenommenen Personen in die Kamera lächelt, wie es inzwischen längst auch bei Kindern auf Wunsch der Erwachsenen üblich geworden ist, weil man 'positive' Erinnerungsbilder von sich erzeugen und hinterlassen möchte." Das mag auch kulturelle Gründe haben. Letzthin vernahm ich, dass es in Georgien auch heutzutage nicht üblich sei, in die Kamera zu lachen.

Es sind mehrheitlich Alltagssituationen aus der Nachkriegszeit, die in Anderswo abgebildet sind, doch findet sich in dem Band auch etwas zu der Zeit ganz Neues und Ungewöhnliches: Aufnahmen von Polens erster Miss-Wahl im Seebad Sopot, zu der sich Tausende einfanden. "Auf einmal war man in einer anderen Welt, es war kein kommunistisches Regime mehr."

In Zeiten. in denen wir tagtäglich von Flüchtlingsschicksalen lesen und sehr oft mit Bildern von ganz vielen Menschen zusammengepfercht auf einem Boot konfrontiert werden, ist es besonders aufwühlend, Lessings Aufnahmen von mehrheitlich einzelnen Flüchtlingen im türkischen Edirne zu betrachten, weil sie eindrücklich das Verlorensein dieser Menschen vor Augen führen.

Anderswo gehört zu den seltenen Fotobüchern, bei denen sich Bilder wie auch die diese erläuternden Texte durch grosses Einfühlungsvermögen auszeichnen.

"Photographie ist für mich ein wunderbares Medium, um zu reisen und Menschen kennenzulernen. Sie ist aber nicht der Hauptinhalt des Lebens. Der Hauptinhalt des Lebens ist leben. Die meisten Photographen sehen die Welt immer nur durch den Sucher", wird Erich Lessing zitiert. An vielen Orten hat er dabei Stimmungen eingefangen – die mir liebsten, an Filmszenen gemahnend, im norwegischen Tromsö – , die Herausgeber Reche treffend mit "Leben fixieren und bewahren" bezeichnet hat. Schön, dass es diesen Band gibt, er hilft einem auf behutsame Art und Weise, uns an das Geschenk des Augenblicks zu erinnern.

Erich Lessing
Anderswo
Nimbus Verlag, Wädenswil 2014

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Pamela Littky: Vacancy

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Many years ago, I was driving from Las Vegas to LA and quite a few of the scenes pictured in Pamela Littky's Vacancy brought back mental images and some of the accompanying feelings from back then. Spending time with this well-done book also triggered memories from a more recent trip though Death Valley that included a night at Marta Becket's Amargosa Opera House in Death Valley Junction and a visit to a casino at the Nevada border - the pics that Littky took in the town of Beatty bought vividly back this casino visit.

Although photography is said to bring time to a standstill, the pics in this tome radiate a strange absence of time and that probably has to do with the sensation of eternity that one can feel in the desert. "The desert air clears everything away", as Pamela Littky observes. 

For more, see my fstopmagazine review 

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Swiss Press Photo 2014

Photograph @ Mark Henley

Given the number of press photos that are taken in the course of a year, it is quite a task to choose the Swiss Press Photographer of the Year. In 2013 the award went for the second time to Mark Henley and inspired Philipp Mäder to his supremely uninspiring question: "Are there no other good photographers in Switzerland?" to which Henley ... well, I assume you will guess his answer ...  
Photograph @ Mark Henley

 I often wonder what makes a jury decide that a certain shot merits to be rewarded. Luc Debraine, member of the Swiss Press Photo 2014 jury, penned: "In a competition such as this, Mark Henley's talent is obvious. His composition skills, his mastery of light and movement, wrapped with a tinge of irony, simply outcompete all other entries. Mark Henley best embodies the qualities of photojournalism, especially through his unwavering professionalism at events as chaotic as the Geneva talks on Iran's nuclear programme."

I readily admit that it is indeed difficult to find words that convincingly express what makes an outstanding photograph but what Luc Debraine offers here is so generally put that his words hardly say anything that couldn't be said about a lot of press photographs. From a jury member I would have expected a bit more eloquence.
L'attente @ Jean-Claude Roh

L'attente by Jean-Claude Roh is one of my favourite series in this tome. Because of what it does to me –  it invites me to contemplate things as they are, it makes me feel calm. I guess that's to do with the fact that my eyes aren't showing me anything extraordinary: some man-made objects placed into nature, a tree, bushes, and a mountain range in the distance. No clue what these objects in the foreground are ... places to sit on? From the text accompanying this photo I learn that what I'm looking at is the lido in Vevey in march 2013.
Photograph @ Helmut Wachter

Another favourite is Helmut Wachter's series of Zurich's most international intersection where Rolandstrasse and Zinistrasse meet. In the Midway-Bar gather the Thai Ladies and the Swiss who would rather be in Phuket, in the Biondi the old Italians, and at the hairdresser's place the Central Africans.

There are lots of discoveries to be made in Swiss Press Photo 2014. And lots to be learned about what happened in 2013. Since press photography is not only about pictures but about pictures with words, Swiss Press Photo 2014 represents an illustrated history of the year 2013.

Swiss Press Photo 14
German / French / Italian / English
Benteli Verlag, Sulgen 2014

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Mann trifft Frau

Ich bin ein Fan von Piktogrammen, der Reduktion auf erkennbare Gemeinsamkeiten. Man denke etwa an Flughäfen, wo man sie auf Schritt und Tritt antrifft. Und wo besonders augenscheinlich ist, wie hilfreich sie sind, denn Flughäfen sind Orte, wo sich Menschen ganz vieler und ganz unterschiedlicher Kulturen treffen und wo Piktogramme imstande sind ausnahmslos allen als Orientierung zu dienen.

Die 1976 in Peking geborene Grafikerin Yang Liu verwendet in ihrem Mann trifft Frau Piktogramme, um sich dem Verhältnis der Geschlechter anzunehmen.
Spiegelbild / Spiegelbild

Dass Mann und Frau die Dinge häufig verschieden sehen, ist bekannt. Das heisst, dass sie das, was sie sehen, verschieden interpretieren. Das sind doch Klischees, Stereotypen, Vereinfachungen also, die der Komplexität der Sache schlicht nicht angemessen ist, denn schliesslich ist Frau nicht gleich Frau und Mann nicht gleich Mann, werden jetzt einige vermutlich einwenden. Darauf kann ich nur sagen: Ich liebe Klischees, bin fasziniert von Stereotypen und nichts ist mir teurer als Vereinfachungen. Ich meine intelligente Vereinfachungen.
moderner Mann / Heimchen am Herd

Klar, nicht jede Vereinfachung geniesst meine Bewunderung, nicht jedes Simplifizieren ist hilfreich und selbstverständlich gibt es auch Klischees und Stereotypen die ausgesprochen dumm sind. Meine Faszination gehört den Generalisierungen, die Komplexes auf den Punkt bringen. Und zwar humorvoll auf den Punkt bringen.
mysteriöse Gegenstände / mysteriöse Gegenstände

Yang Liu führt uns gekonnt vor Augen, wie wir mit Stereotypen umgehen sollen: augenzwinkernd.

Yang Liu
Mann trifft Frau
Taschen, Köln 2014

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

The Good Life

The title of this tome, The Good Life, immediately made me think of another work with the same title that I have a special fondness for. It is by Gerald Roscoe and happens to be A Guide to Buddhism for the Westerner. One of the features of buddhism is its focus on right mindfulness. It seems to me that Jasper Morrison's Perceptions of the Ordinary were put to paper in a spirit of light-hearted mindfulness. And with a great sense of humour.

I feel irresistibly drawn to seemingly ordinary things and situations. For reasons unbeknown to me, they seem to emanate something magical. Hence the appeal of this very nicely done tome. There is however an additional reason: the „rigorous practical thinking and the logic of common sense available to all of us“ that can not only be found in the objects that Morrison decided to present but also in his ponderings about these objects.

Let me start with the image on the cover which happens to be the detail of a pic which can be found inside the book and is accompanied by these words: „There are some images which cannot easily be explained and this is one of them! The facts are the following: 1. The pink, pressed cardboard-pulp packaging was originally used for transporting melons. 2. The blue structure is a Corse-Matin newspaper rack. 3. They were noticed together outside a village shop in Corsica. 4. We cannot be sure who placed the melon packaging on the newspaper rack, or why. 5. The resulting composition is a satisfying one.“ Looking now once again at this image fills me with affection and puts a big smile on my face.

For more, see my fstopmagazine review http://bit.ly/1mmOese

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Are there pictures that we shouldn't see?

After flight MH 17 was shot down in eastern Ukraine, Magnum-Photographer Jérôme Sessini took pictures that some commentators felt shouldn't be shown because they would hurt the dignity of the deceased and their family members. It was also argued that pictures that are published should take into account the feelings of the readers and viewers respectively.

I do not name the sources of these comments because they are in no way original, they can be heard again and again, and I feel that the question whether we shouldn't be shown certain photographs needs to be addressed in principal.

It is argued that to show images of victims of war (or of accidents) are an affront to the dignity of the deceased and can add to the immediate grief of families. I must admit that I do not really understand what dignity in the context of war means. Soldiers are trained to kill. Killing and dignity, in my view, do not exactly go hand in hand. So how come then that killing in the context of war is accepted but what results from this killing should not be shown?

For more, see here

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Kodak City

I approached Catherine Leutenegger's Kodak City by firstly looking at the photographs (and not by reading the intro). I very much liked what my eyes were showing me for these are the kind of pictures that I would have wanted to take myself had I been assigned to document Rochester, New York, the home of Kodak. I especially warmed to the pics (the one below, for instance) that depict completely ordinary scenes with a great sense of humour.
Copyright@2014 Catherine Leutenegger
Kehrer Verlag Heidelberg Berlin

When spending time with photo books, I often go rather quickly to the acompanying texts hoping that they will tell me what I'm looking at. In the case of Kodak City it was different, I felt mesmerised by the photos. I would like to imagine that this has essentially to do with the quality of the pics (and that of course is a contributing factor) yet I believe it is even more related to the fact that these pics are radiating a melancholy that I often felt when in the US and that Catherine Leutenegger captured supremely well.
Copyright@2014 Catherine Leutenegger
Kehrer Verlag Heidelberg Berlin

"On January 19, 2012, the Eastman Kodak Corporation filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. In September 2013, just months ago as I write this, Kodal emerged from bankruptcy, much diminished as a consequence of having sold off most of its patents, downsized, and reconfigured now as a new-tech company concentrating on developing commercial and consumer digital printers and inks for the publishing, packaging, and advertising sectors. An enterprise that for almost a hundred years ruled as the undisputed alpha dog of its industry has fallen abruptly back into the pack", A.D. Coleman writes in his essay "Rochester, New York: After the Kodak Century" (not exactly a spot on title for the text describes Kodaks's history) that introduces this tome.
Copyright@2014 Catherine Leutenegger
Kehrer Verlag Heidelberg Berlin

There are two more texts to be found in this book, one by Joerg Bader, the other by Urs Stahel. From Bader I learn, among other things, that Kodak did not consent to photographs on-site and so "Leutenegger shot outside the factory's boundaries and, via a carefully laid-out montage, brings the factory's surroundings and parts of Rochester into her book and her story." Stahel contributed quite some interesting observations ("We produce trillions of photographs, put them online, send then around the world at the speed of light - one of the great possibilities opened up by the digitilization of photography and communication - and nobody even looks at them anymore?") although they have not much to do with Catherine Leutenegger's superb photographs.

Catherine Leutenegger
Kodak City
Kehrer Verlag Heidelberg Berlin 2014