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

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

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Schöner wär's daheim

Der vorliegende Band versammelt Fotopostkarten aus der Schweiz aus den Jahren 1914/18, herausgegeben von Peter Pfrunder, seit 1998 Direktor / Kurator der Fotostiftung Schweiz in Winterthur, der einleitend schreibt: "Jeder Krieg braucht Bilder. Und jeder Krieg bringt die Bilder hervor, die er braucht. Kriege sind Bildermaschinen  zumindest seit dem industriellen Zeitalter, das auch die Erfindung der Fotografie mit sich brachte."

Jeder Krieg braucht Bilder? Jeder Krieg bringt die Bilder hervor, die er braucht? Die Sätze klingen gut, inhaltlich jedoch ... wie ordne ich da jetzt etwa den Irak-Krieg ein, von dem es kaum Bilder von Toten gegeben hat oder die schon lange andauernden kriegerischen Auseinandersetzungen im Kongo, von denen man auch selten was zu sehen (und hören) kriegt oder die Aufnahmen von der Absturzstelle des malaysischen Flugzeugs in der Ukraine, bei denen sich die Interpreten streiten, ob es sich dabei um Kriegsbilder handle ...?

Aufschlussreich finde ich hingegen, was Herausgeber Pfrunder zu den Postkarten zu sagen hat. Da gab es einerseits die industriell produzierten touristischen Werbebilder und andererseits die in Kleinstauflagen oder als Einzelstücke hergestellten fotografischen Abzüge, die als Grusskarten sowie zur Verbreitung von Bildinformationen verschickt wurden. "In einer Zeit, in der die Bildberichterstattung in den Medien noch wenig entwickelt war, dürfte dies ein wichtiger Grund für ihren Erfolg gewesen sein."
So recht eigentlich war die Kombination von Momentaufnahme und Kurztext ein Vorläufer der heutigen SMS. Der Text zum obigen Bild, aufgenommen bei Chur im Mai 1915, lautet: "Liebe Mama! Hier sende ich Dir eine Aufnahme unserer Gruppe auf dem Marsch vom Rossboden, unserem Exerzierplatz, zur Kaserne zurück. Die Photographie wurde letzte Woche aufgenommen an einem sehr heissen Mittag, was Du wohl auf dem Bild sehen wirst, Viele Grüsse von Hermann."

Damals wie heute dienen Fotos vielen vor allem als visueller Nachweis, dass etwas oder jemand im Moment der Aufnahme existiert hat. Sie sind Andenken. Das heisst nicht, dass sie die Zeit der Grenzbesetzung realistisch widergeben. Vielmehr zeigen diese Bilder inszenierte Wirklichkeiten, man hat den Eindruck von Ferienlagerstimmung. Peter Pfrunder interpretiert sie als "Gegenstück zu den offiziellen Armeebildern – seien es gedruckte Postkarten oder Auftragsarbeiten von Armeefotografen für die Presse  – welche die Wehrbereitschaft und Tüchtigkeit der Soldaten betonten."
Die Texte machten mich oft schmunzeln: "Wie es mir gefällt, kannst Du wohl aus meinem Gesicht ablesen! Das ewige Militärlen verleidet einem. Doch gehts zuweilen auch lustig her." Zudem wird mir mit diesem Band eine Wirklichkeit vermittelt, von der ich so ziemlich Null-Ahnung hatte: "Die 6 Russen (Unteroffiziere in gefangenen Uniform) sind in einem Kahn über den Bodensee 5 Stunden bei Nacht entflohen. Die Franzosen arbeiten hier und haben freien Lauf."

Hier noch mein Lieblingssatz (weil ich selber wohl gar nie auf einen solchen Gedanken gekommen wäre) in diesem wertvollen Dokument:"Vor allem aber lieferten die Fotografie den Angehörigen zu Hause eine Art Garantie, dass der Schreibende noch immer derselbe war   trotz Uniformierung und Verlust der zivilen Identität."

Schöner wär's daheim
Fotopostkarten 1914 / 18
Fotostiftung Schweiz, Limmat Verlag 2014

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Nail Houses

First things first: How Peter Bialobrzeski framed his pics of nail houses in lower Shanghai is impressive. I thought his idea to place many of them against a background of modern highrises very convincing.

Nail houses are not, as I had unthinkingly assumed, made essentially of nails. A 'nail house' is a home where the owner refuses to accept compensation from a property developer for its demolition, I read in the Guardian.

The text that introduces this formidable tome comes in bad German and even worse English. Here's an example: "Alles mutiert, nichts ist fixiert. Wir glauben nicht an Raumordnung" reads in English as: "Everything is in constant mutation, nothing is set as a fixity. We don't follow any spatial models." May I suggest an alternative? Here it is: "Das einzig Beständige ist der Wandel. Raumordnungen respektieren wir nicht." In English: "The only permanent thing is change. We do not respect land use planning."
Copyright @ Peter Bialobrzeski / Hatje Cantz

Peter Bialobrzeski is one of the leading German documentary photographers, I read on his website. Moreover: "He is also a professor at the University of the Arts in Bremen". Given this I find it rather astonishing that this book misses completely what documentary photography essentially is all about: pictures with words.

Nevertheless, I did enjoy spending time with the pictures in this book that were, I'm told on the photographer's website but not in the book, "mainly photographed in the middle of the night." Why did he do that? Might he have encountered difficulties during the day?

With these images Peter Bialobrzeski demonstrates how the old has to give way to the new. By juxtaposing the old and the new he has made change visible and given the viewer quite some food for thought.

Peter Bialobrzeski
or the Destruction of Lower Shanghai
Hatje Cantz, Ostfildern 2014