Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Sibylle Bergemann: Beauty and Doubt

Lily, Berlin, 2009

It doesn't happen often that I feel immediately drawn to the photographs I'm looking at. And, even less often such photographs are by one and the same person.

It was in 2011 that I came across Sibylle Bergemann. It was a collection of polaroids which fascinated me for I didn't think it possible that they could radiate poetic quality – but they do. 

The tome Sibylle Bergemann 1941 - 2010 not only shows photographs that I can't take my eyes off, it also comes with most impressive texts. Here's how Sonia Voss comments on the cover (shown above):  "Midnight blue walls, dress the color of light. Seated in the corner of a room, illuminated by the half-light of a window, off-camera to the left, a woman traces the diagonal of a frame. Her arms extended the length of her body, the folds of her skirt spread carefully in front of her, she is tipped back on a bench, photographed slightly from above, delivered up to the lens. Her eyes are closed: one sees only their graceful design, large black accents, shadowed lids. Thus styled, she shrinks from our grace. Offered up, she seduces us and simultaneously resists us. From the interior world in which she has taken refuge, we get to know nothing. The deepest thing in man, Paul Valéry wrote, is the skin."

Wonderful! Words like these help me see what I would very likely have missed.
Dakar, 2001

I feel deeply touched by Sibylle Bergemann's photographs, by virtually all of them. I'm not sure why yet I can identify here the most prominent sensation that I'm experiencing when spending time with them: a kind of vague longing.

It's probably also to do with what Jutta Voigt expressed like this: "Every portrait is also a self-portrait of this photographer with the literary gaze; she sees what she knows and feels: beauty and doubt." And a distinct sadness, I feel like adding.

Quite some of Sibylle Bergemann's pics reminded me of paintings, especially the color photographs. There's an elusive magic that they exude and that makes me pause.
Lily, Margaretenhof, 2009

This tome was published on Sibylle Bergemann's 75th birthday in August 2016. It contains mostly portraits and man-made environments (buildings, broken-down cars). The last chapter shows a photo documentary of the creation (from 1975 until 1986) of the Marx and Engels Monument.

"After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the sculpture of Friedrich Engels, dangling from a crane, was frequently viewed in photo-historical reception as a symbol of the GDR's dismantlement. At the time the image was taken, however, the sculpture was held to be a portrayal of construction. Bergemann commented laconically: 'We just showed how it really was.'"
Das Denkmal, Berlin Februar 1986

The texts come in German, English, and French; the translations are excellent.

Sibylle Bergemann 1941 - 2010
Zum 75. Geburtstag / On her 75th Birthday / Pour son 75e anniversaire
Kehrer Verlag, Heidelberg 2017

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