Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Henrik Spohler: The Third Day

It felt like watching a science fiction movie when I began looking at these pics, and most of the time I had no clue what my eyes were showing me. Take, for instance, the above cover photo: the composition, the colours, the soundlessness (that I imagine) fascinate me. Christiane Stahl writes in her introduction: "... a brilliant green surface composed of grapefruit trees bores like a spear point in between a heat-singed steppe and a rocky mountain range immersed in blazing light. Above, a resplendently blue sky utterly devoid of clouds takes up more than half of the image. The desert lives, but the water does not come from above. The question immediately arises: Where does it come from, the moisture necessary for life? And how much of it is needed in these regions of the world to produce a single grapefruit?" I like her comment. It wouldn't have occurred to me that I was looking at grapefruit trees, and I'm not sure whether I would have asked the (admittedly obvious) water question. I had simply liked the pic for aesthetic reasons ... which, needless to say, is often not enough. And, in this case, it is definitely not enough, in this case, I need the accompanying information.
"Grim, Uncanny" is Friedemann Schmolls contribution entitled. I'm sure that "uncanny" is a good and suitable word for what I should feel ... yet I don't. I'm simply stunned, and I wonder, and surrender to the trance-like sensations caused by the endlessness, the uniformity of these "non-places", as the French ethnologist Marc Augé calls interchangeable places that aren't connected to any particular locale. Uniformity isn't an expression of which we think in positive terms, rather it has a somewhat negative connotation. Nevertheless, it also fosters transcendence, as I believe Christopher Isherwood once wrote. For uniformity replaces our desire to be unique, special, and very different from everybody else, it might even make our egotism disappear, for moments, that is. However, this is not what these pictures are all about ...
Since pictures do not speak for themselves, and since photographers often do not contribute much to how they want their pictures to be understood, it is sometimes helpful to turn to the accompanying texts, if there are any. The two texts in Henrik Spohler's The Third Day are informative and, especially the longer one by Friedemann Schmoll, useful. They make clear that the photos displayed should make us ask questions. I especially warmed to this one: "There is only the slightest hint that it involves the farming of nature. And who is actually doing the farming?" And, "The earth is round. Why should it be hacked up into nothing but square grids?"

Henrik Spohler
The Third Day
Hatje Cantz, Ostfildern 2013

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