Sunday, 31 October 2010

New York City

"New York, Portrait of a City" by Reuel Golden, directed and produced by Benedikt Taschen, is impressive in every respect - Hardcover, 25 x 34 cm (9.8 x 13.4 in.), 560 pages, 3,686 kilos net. Moreover, it is a multilingual edition: English, French, German.

500 historic and contemporary images - by, among many others, Berenice Abbott, Walker Evans, Arnold Newman, and Helen Levitt - give testimony of what made and makes this city tick. Once again I was amazed how many of the shots that touched me had been taken by anonymous photographers.

"The one constant throughout New York City's history has been its ability to change, adapt, and reinvent itself." This is how Reuel Golden, formerly the editor of the British Journal of Photography and executive director at Photo District News, begins his text about this famously unique city, full of "restless energy". No wonder then did E.B. White ("Here is New York", 1949) state: "By comparison with other less hectic days, the city is uncomfortable and inconvenient; but New Yorkers temperamentally do not crave comfort and convenience - if they did they would live elsewhere."

Reuel Golden divided his illustrated history - for this is what this tome essentially is - into five chapters:
1850 - 1913: City of Reinvention
1914 - 1945: Reach for the Sky
1946 - 1965: The World's Capital
1966 - 1987: Mean Streets
1988 - Today: Tragedy to Triumph

There are also biographies of the photographers to be found as well as pages on recommended viewing, recommended listening, and recommended reading (I was pleased to discover that Hubert Selby's Last Exit to Brooklyn and Oscar Hijuelos' The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love were included). In short: here you get all the information you need for preparing a trip to New York - or for staying home and enjoying this extraordinary city from a distance.

Whoever has been to New York City will find food for memory abound in this tome. In my case (I've been there once, thirty years ago, for a few weeks), the photographs that mostly triggered associations were the street scenes, and the architecture - and they made me want to revisit this city.

As intriguing it is to let oneself be guided by photo documents, we are well advised to always remember that what we see in pictures is what we bring to them, and thus read into them. Let me elaborate:
On 11 September (or September 11, as North American logic goes) 2001, Thomas Hoepker of Magnum Photos took a photo of casually dressed people at the Brooklyn waterfront that he kept unpublished for four years out of fear, he said, "it would stir the wrong emotions." On 10 September 2006, Frank Rich of the New York Times, commented on the photo:
"It shows five young friends on the waterfront in Brooklyn, taking what seems to be a lunch or bike-riding break, enjoying the radiant late-summer sun and chatting away as cascades of smoke engulf Lower Manhattan in the background."
Needless to say this is a plausible way of looking at this photo, especially in light of what Thomas Hoepker, the photographer, had to say about it: "They were totally relaxed like any normal afternoon. It's possible they lost people and cared, but they were not stirred by it."
The reality of the people portrayed was however a totally different one. Here's what Walter Sipser, a Brooklyn artist, who is the man on the far right of the photo emailed to Slate: "Had Hoepker walked fifty feet over to introduce himself he would have discovered a bunch of New Yorkers in the middle of an animated discussion about what had just happened. He instead chose to publish the photograph that allowed him to draw the conclusions he wished to draw ...".

Reuel Golden
New York - Portrait of a City
Taschen, Cologne 2010

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Stationery Design

"Stationery Design Now!", edited by (and with a foreword from) Julius Wiedemann, and a text by Jay Rutherford on the letterhead in English, German, and French, is fun to spend time with. Moreover, it is illustrative, and inspiring.

The letterhead, the envelope, and the business card are "the three most important parts of the stationery set", Wiedemann writes and while the business card is still widely used, the letterhead and the envelope "are going through a steady decline."

On the one hand, this is not at all surprising given the omnipresence of emails, mobile phones, and social networking sites; on the other hand, this is flabbergasting for the business world, we are told, expects the competitors to distinguish themselves - and well-crafted stationery would surely help doing exactly that.

Impressive and convincing examples of superbly-crafted stationery that are all tailored to attract is what this useful tome provides.

Stationery Design Now!
Ed. Julius Wiedemann
Taschen, Cologne 2010

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Chongqin - City of Ambition

Ferit Kuyas, 1955 in Istanbul geboren, schloss sein Rechtsstudium in Zürich 1982 ab, 1986 begann er sich beruflich mit Fotografie zu beschäftigen.

Chongqin, City of Ambition, ist sein jüngstes Werk. Im Vorwort von Diana Edkins erfährt man, dass es sich bei Chongqin um eine der grössten Städte der Welt handelt - sie liegt in Chinas Südwesten, in Sichuan, und ist bekannt als Stadt des Nebels. Dieser Tatsache tragen auch Kuyas' Aufnahmen Rechnung - die meisten zeigen in Nebel gehüllte Ansichten.

Die Mehrzahl der Fotobildbände erklären einem nicht, was man vor Augen hat und auch dieser Band macht keine Ausnahme. Und so blättere ich also, bleibe mal hier, mal dort hängen. Meine Augen registrieren Stadtautobahnen, Baustellen, Flusslandschaften, Grünzonen - kurz: eine im ständigen Aufbau begriffene Stadt. Abgesehen von einem prominent platzierten uniformierten Wachmann in einer Betonlandschaft sind kaum Menschen zu sehen.

Mich lassen die Aufnahmen einigermassen ratlos, berühren mich auch nicht wirklich, weder ästhetisch noch inhaltlich, mit Ausnahme des gerade erwähnten uniformierten Wachmannes in seiner Betonlandschaft, der sich in mein Gehirn eingegraben hat. Nun gut, denke ich mir, vielleicht helfen ja das Vorwort von Diana Edkins und/oder der Text von Bill Kouwenhoven weiter.

Von Kouwenhoven erfahre ich unter anderem, dass die Familie der Frau von Ferit Kuyas aus Chongqin stammt und diese Arbeit gleichzeitig autobiografisch und dokumentarisch sei: "Seine Fotografien vom China der Megastädte, vor allem von Chongqin, sind Meisterwerke in dem Sinn, dass sie kulturelle Unterschiede poetisch wie auch fotografisch überbrücken." Aha, doch welche kulturellen Unterschiede sind denn da eigentlich gemeint?

Bei Diana Edkins las ich dann: "Die Farbfotografien, die aus Licht gewoben sind, verführen den Betrachter mit der Unschuld üppiger Leuchtkraft, während sie gleichzeitig seine Vision konvulsivischer Schönheit präsentieren." Und: "In Kuyas' Fotografien spiegelt sich Umberto Ecos Vorstellung, was das Fotografieren ausmacht - nämlich eine heterogene Sprache mit vielen visuellen Dialekten, die gleichermassen unglaublich erscheinen." Da sich mir der Sinn solcher Sätze nicht einmal ansatzmässig erschliesst, wandte ich mich wieder den Fotografien zu. Und je länger ich sie mir anschaute, desto mehr sah ich, was ich zuerst nur beiläufig wahrgenommen hatte: dass da sehr überlegt (eine Baustelle im Vordergrund, fertige Häuser im Hintergrund; ein- und zweistöckige alte Häuser eingerahmt von mehrstöckigen Gebäuden neueren Datums; Autobahnbrücken ins Nichts) und überzeugend Veränderung dokumentiert wurde. Dass dabei vieles im Nebel liegt, drängt sich zwar bei der Nebel-Stadt Chongqin auf, obwohl, etwas weniger Nebel hätte diesem gelungenen Unterfangen gut getan.

Ferit Kuyas
Chongqin - City of Ambition
Benteli Verlag, 2009

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Indian Photography

Although I've never been to India, I have listened to stories by people who've been there and read quite some novels about the Indian universe. In other words, I have visited India many times mentally and therefore had a pretty good idea of what to expect when I opened PRIVATE's issue on "Other Side India" (number 43, winter 2008-09) - and then, of course, almost all looked like what I did not expect. The coalminers portrayed by Arindam Mukherjee and by Srinivas Kuruganti, for instance, reminded me of Sebastião Salgado's Brazilian goldminers; of the bandwhallas, for many years Kolkata's party entertainers, I had never heard, and that there was a Catholic community in Goa was also entirely new to me. And there is still more to be discovered. It is a learning experience to spend time with this valuable tome.

Copyright @ Sucheta Das / Gauri Gill

Copyright @ Arindam Mukherjee

Copyright @ Bijoy Chowdhury

Copyright @ Prabuddha Dasgupta

Copyright @ Srinivas Kuruganti

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Views from my balcony

Copyright @ Hans Durrer

The two pics were taken just minutes apart.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Gliese 5819

An artist's impression of Gliese 581g, which astronomers say is near Earth - relatively speaking - at 120 trillion miles. Photograph: Zina Deretsky, National Science Foundation/AP

Astronomers have discovered a potentially habitable planet of similar size to Earth in orbit around a nearby star.

A team of planet hunters spotted the alien world circling a red dwarf star called Gliese 581, 20 light years away.

The planet is in the "Goldilocks zone" of space around a star where surface temperatures are neither too hot nor too cold for liquid water to form.

"Our findings offer a very compelling case for a potentially habitable planet," said Steven Vogt, an astronomer at the University of California, Santa Cruz. "The fact that we were able to detect this planet so quickly and so nearby tells us that planets like this must be really common."

If confirmed, the planet would be the most Earth-like that has ever been discovered in another solar system and the first strong contender for a habitable one.

More than 400 exoplanets have been discovered by astronomers, but most are gas giants, like Jupiter, that would be inhospitable to life as we know it.

Astronomers used the Keck telescope in Hawaii to study the movement of Gliese 581 in exquisite detail and from their observations inferred the presence of a number of orbiting planets. The team report two new planets in the Astrophysical Journal, bringing the total number known to be circling the star to six.

One of the planets, named Gliese 581g, has a mass of three to four times that of Earth and takes 37 days to orbit the star. Astronomers believe it is a rocky planet with enough gravity to retain an atmosphere.

Unlike the previously discovered planets, Gliese 581g lies squarely in the region of space were life can thrive. "We had planets on both sides of the habitable zone — one too hot and one too cold — and now we have one in the middle that's just right," Vogt said.

One side of the planet is always facing the star, much as one side of the moon constantly faces Earth. This means that the far side of the planet is constantly in darkness. The most habitable region of the planet would be the line between the light and dark regions.

"Any emerging life forms would have a wide range of stable climates to choose from and to evolve around, depending on their longitude," Vogt said.

The average temperature on the planet is estimated to be between -31 to -12C, but the ground temperature would vary from blazing hot on the bright side and freezing on the dark side.

"The number of systems with potentially habitable planets is probably on the order of 10 or 20 percent, and when you multiply that by the hundreds of billions of stars in the Milky Way, that's a large number. There could be tens of billions of these systems in our galaxy," said Vogt

Ian Sample: New Earth-like planet discovered
The Guardian, 29 September 2010

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Great Photography

On I've recently come across a brief note on the passing away of photographer Jay Colton. The name was not familiar to me yet the text made me curious and so I clicked on the link to his website

where I've found photographs that fascinated and moved me deeply.

There are these moments when you just know that what you are looking at is not only something special or aesthetically brilliant but magical.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Die Weltreise einer Fleeceweste

"Die Weltreise einer Fleeceweste" von Wolfgang Korn ist bei Bloomsbury Kinderbücher & Jugendbücher erschienen, kann jedoch mit Gewinn auch von Erwachsenen gelesen werden.

Worum geht's? Um die Hintergründe und Zusammenhänge der Globalisierung.

Wie kam es zu diesem Buch? Des Autors Verlag wollte ein Buch über die Globalisierung, doch obwohl dieser dazu schon lange eine gute Idee hatte, fehlte ihm noch der passende Hauptdarsteller. Und diesen fand er dann in der Fleeceweste. "Besser als es ein Notebook oder ein Wecker könnte, würde die abenteuerliche Geschichte meiner Weste zeigen wie heute alles mit allem zusammenhängt."

Die Geschichte nimmt ihren Anfang in Dubai. Wieso in Dubai? Weil da das Erdöl zutage tritt, aus dem einmal eine Fleeceweste wird. Eine Fleeceweste aus Erdöl, wie soll das gehen? Durch Erhitzung wird aus Erdöl Polyethylen und andere Kunststoffe gewonnen. Aus diesen entstehen dann Einkaufstüten, Verpackungen für Lebensmittel und Chips, Gehäuse von Handys, Walkmen, Notebooks und anderes mehr.

Weiter geht es nach Bangladesh, wo in einem Schmelzofen, "in dem gerade ein Teil PET-Granulat, das aus unserem Rohöl gewonnen wurde, und ein Teil recycelter PET-Rohstoff aus Deutschland zusammen erhitzt werden", um in der Folge ganz dünne Polyesterfäden auszuscheiden, die dann gehärtet (doch sie bleiben elastisch) und auf Spulen aufgerollt werden. Und weiter geht es in die Weberei, wo die Westen genäht werden.

Die nächste Station ist Singapur, der grösste Containerhafen der Welt. Und von da weiter, mit einigen Zwischenstationen, bis nach Senegal ... Dieses instruktive Buch erläutert nicht nur wie heutzutage alles miteinander zusammenhängt, es liefert darüber hinaus viel hilfreiche Aufklärung darüber, was die Medien unterlassen, uns mitzuteilen. Etwa, dass es in Bangladesh nicht nur Überschwemmungen, Hunger und regelmässig sinkende Fähren gibt, sondern "auch Strände, Parklandschaften, sogar Berge und Wälder, in denen noch Bengalische Tiger leben."

Wolfgang Korn
Die Weltreise einer Fleeceweste
Eine kleine Geschichte über die grosse Globalisierung
Bloomsbury, Berlin 2009

Sunday, 3 October 2010

My Wild Places

Recently, I've started to get increasingly interested in landscape photography (in the widest sense). This has been triggered by a text on Friedrich Ludwig von Sckell by Sigrid Neubert in her wonderful work on the Nymphenburg Park in Munich (Ein Garten der Natur, Knaus, Munich 2010) that reads: "He knew that the beauty and dignity of nature can help us to feel embedded in the big scheme of life."

It is with this sentence in mind that I've approached Luca Campigotto's "My Wild Places" (Hatje Cantz, Ostfildern 2010) and felt mostly lost - at first, that is. With time, however, other sensations developed - I began to warm to some of the photos because they widened my view, and made me aware of a spaciousness that I've not often noticed in landscape photography.

"My Wild Places", Campigotto decided to call this tome that shows mostly barren, lifeless nature. I thought this a bit confusing for I usually associate "wild" with uncontrolled growth or wildlife. To Campigotto however "wild" seems to mean abandoned, untouched, lost, ungraspable, moon-like - that at least is how I preceived these pictures. The views offered are uncommon and in this sense these images are eye-openers.

Walter Guadagnini, under the title "The Overstepping of Emotion" (What's this? I wonder), describes Campigotto as "a lover of photography, travel, and reading in equal measure" and has identified "that not perfectly horizonal line ... (that) in fact marks that crucial passage from the view to the vision" as a fundamental element in Campigotto's work. When paying now attention to this, we look at these photographs with a changed mind.

"... looking at photographs means looking for oneself in the past", Campigotto writes. I must admit that it is beyond me how I could be looking for myself in the past while, for instance, looking at a photo of the Straits of Magellan (in Argentina). In fact, if I were to decide to look for myself in the past I would very likely choose to look at different kinds of photographs. With this statement here I can however easily identify: "In the midst of solitary and wild scenarios I feel truly free. And so I take a photo to carry away that fascination - without aspiring to any form of testimony, just to continue being seduced." I love that!

Luca Campigotto
My Wild Places
Hatje Cantz, Ostfildern 2010