Wednesday, 7 December 2022

Olaf Heine: Human Conditions

I'm not into celebrities, most of the people portrayed in this tome I do not recognise. I need to consult the index in order to know who I am shown. There is hardly anything that I find more despicable than our obsessions with people who we have decided are somehow special. So how come I'm spending time with this book?

My interest in this tome stems from it's title. I'm curious to see what photographs can tell me about human conditions. Probably not much, I surmise, for pictures reflect a person's outside, they can't show me their inside, where I suspect the human condition might be located.

On the other hand, we judge people by their appearance. So surely a person's character must be visible in one's body, in the way people present themselves to the camera. The ones shown in this book seem to be more than conscious of the camera's presence. It is a display of vanity that I abhor. Moreoever, most of the people portrayed I have no sympathy for.

However, the photos are excellent, the framing as well as the selection of light are superb. Also, I spend quite some time with them. Which is sort of irrtitating for it seems to me that these pics make me pause while others that I like make me not pay much attention. How come? I can only guess. Is it the photographs, the subject matter, or is it me, the state of mind that I'm presently in? Well, I do not know. I suppose it is a mix of all of that. Yet fact is that it has to do with the photographes that seem to trigger something that I'm not consciously aware of.

When looking at photographs I'm not asking myself what the photographer wanted to show me. For one thing, seaching for motives isn't my thing. In addition, I doubt that anybody has a clue why (s)he's doing what (s)he's doing. And so I simply observe what looking at these photographs is doing to me.

Men on a rooftop in São Paulo make my mind automatically wander to René Burri's shot of 1960; a man pretending to play chess with a naked woman brings up Henry Miller playing table tennis with a naked woman.

Some of the shots are sheer aesthetic pleasure. Untitled (Nude Lying on Daybed), Berlin, 2018, for instance. Or Valerie Pachner, Berlin, 2022. Or Untitled (Gabriela), Berlin 2016. Or Shermine, Berlin, 2018. It hasn't escaped me that all of these shots (and quite some more) are showing beautiful women. In other words: I'm not sure whether it is their natural beauty or the photographs that enchant me.

I do not glance through the pages in one go, instead I look at them, put the book aside, come back to it when in another mood. And, I realise that some of the shots stay with me. No, I do not try to explain to myself why that might be. I simply observe it. Interestingly enough, it is pictures of people I do not have much sympathy for that I feel drawn to. Bono, for instance. Or Moritz and Wotan. On the other hand, I do have favourites: Cate Blanchett at the piano as well as Oscar Niemeyer's fingers holding a pen (I'm fond of Niemeyer's thinking and of his work).

The photographs are accompanied by two texts. The one by Laura Helena Wurth deals with quite some of the pictures in this book, the one by Christian 'Flake' Lorenz is basically about music, another celebration of the moment, that however cannot be photographed.

Olaf Heine
Human Conditions
Prestel Verlag, Munich-London-New York 2022 

No comments: