Sunday, 27 May 2012

World Press Photo 2012

Cover Photo by Samuel Aranda

Dieser schön gestaltete Band überzeugt (abgesehen von der Gliederung) in jeder Hinsicht und führt exemplarisch vor, was gute Pressefotografie leisten kann: Aufklärung.

Die erste Rubrik trägt den Titel "Menschen in den Schlagzeilen" und beginnt mit einer Fotoserie über Fukushima. Ein Erdbeben der Stärke 9.0, 70 km vor der Nordostküste Japans, löste am 11. März 2011 einen Tsunami aus, der riesige Überschwemmungen und Zerstörungen zur Folge hatte und über 340'000 Menschen obdachlos machte. Die eindrückliche Serie von Yasuyoshi Chiba beginnt mit der Aufnahme eines zerschellten Zuges, der über einem Friedhof hängt.

Die zweite Rubrik, "Reportagen", beginnt ebenfalls mit einem Bild (des schwedischen Fotografen Lars Lindquist) über den Tsunami im Nordosten Japans und zeigt eine völlig surreale Szene mit gestrandeten Schiffen im Hafen von Ishinomaki.

Copyright @ Adam Pretty, Getty Images

Dann folgt die etwas eigenartige Kategorie "Harte Fakten", die wiederum mit Aufnahmen des japanischen Tsunami eingeleitet wird. Als weitere Kategorien figurieren dann "Aktuelle Themen", "Alltagsleben", "Porträts", Kunst und Kultur", "Natur" und "Sport". Ich fand diese Einteilungen einigermassen willkürlich und gelegentlich schwer nachvollziehbar, doch einfach ist es ja wirklich nicht aus 101'254 Einsendungen diversester Art 161 Bilder für ein Jahrbuch auszuwählen und dafür auch noch geeignete Kategorien zu finden. Trotzdem: Sinnvoller wäre gewesen, die Gliederung den Ereignissen anzupasssen (also ein Kapitel über den Tsunami, ein anderes über den arabischen Frühling), anstatt nach recht bedeutungsleeren Themen ("Aktuelle Themen", Alltagsleben" etc.) zu ordnen, nicht zuletzt, weil man dadurch die sonst unvermeidlichen Wiederholungen (bei jeder Tsunami-Bildserie wird der Tsunami erklärt) hätte vermeiden können.

Copyright @ Vincent Boisot, Riva Press

Im Gegensatz zu einer illustrierten Geschichte des Jahres 2012 (wo die Bilder den Text ergänzen), stehen bei diesem Band die (durch informative Texte ergänzten) Bilder im Vordergrund. Da wir uns, wenn wir uns erinnern, sowieso eher an Bilder als an Worte erinnern, ist dieser kommentierte Bildband so recht eigentlich allerbeste Geschichtsschreibung. Man wünschte sich mehr solch eindrückliche und hilfreiche Werke!

PS: Der Titel der Publikation (World Press Photo 12) ist irreführend, da die hier versammelten Bilder alle aus dem Jahre 2011 stammen.

World Press Photo 12
Benteli Verlag, Sulgen 2012

Sunday, 20 May 2012


Guadalupe Ruiz' Bogotá is a nicely done book, in a rather unusual format (235 x 160 mm), edited by Joerg Bader, and with a text in English, French, Spanish, and German, from which I learn: "Guadalupe Ruiz Cifuentes travels between two worlds: South America, where she was born, and Europe, where she lives; or, to be more precise, Colombia, where her family - whom she sees regularly - is based, and Switzerland, the country that gave her her artistic training and her first exhibitons. Thus she also travels between two cultures: the Latin world of the Americas, marked by the Baroque and Catholicism, and the European world of austere Nordic culture, marked by Calvinist Protestantism."

Well, I must admit that I find it a bit peculiar to describe Switzerland as an "austere Nordic culture, marked by Calvinist Protestantism", just think of the Ticino or of Obwalden, but maybe the author was referring to Geneva ... the book was done in cooperation with Éditions de la Photographie Genève.

 How do you visually document social and economic inequalities of a city?
Guadalupe Ruiz opted for a rather unique approach: she decided to photograph the houses, apartments, streetscapes, interiors, and furniture of residents from Bogotá's six different taxation classes. Does it work? Do you really come away with a pretty good idea/picture of the social and economic inequalities that govern Bogotá? I'm not sure. First of all: Had I not been told, I wouldn't have known that these pictures were taken in Colombia, they could have been taken almost anywhere in Latin America. Secondly, I wonder what showing, for example, different kinds of beds in different houses can possibly tell me of a city except, of course, that some people can afford nicer beds than others.

Nevertheless, I've enjoyed spending time with these photographs because I find it interesting to see in what surroundings people live. It felt a bit like peeping through a keyhole.

Editor Joerg Bader aptly observes that "an unashamed fondness for kitsch" is shared by all social classes, and that not one of the homes photographed lacks a television set. Unfortunately, he then proceeds by stating: "While the photographs of TV sets do not occupy the central column in Guadalupe Ruiz' hanging, television does in fact function as a vertebral column in the lives of all these residents" and goes on to elaborate on the importance of the telenovelas in South America. True as this may be, it has absolutely nothing to do with the photographs in this book.

It is on purpose that I do not tell you from what taxation class the above pictures are. Have a guess! Should you then want to know whether you've guessed correctly, check out the book - it is worth it.

Guadalupe Ruiz
Scheidegger & Spiess, Zurich 2012

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Audrey Hepburn

Copyright @ Taschen

Audrey Hepburn (1929 – 1993) was a Belgian-born British actress and humanitarian.

In 1953, Bob Willoughby had been sent to photograph her at Paramount in Hollywood. Hepburn had just completed the filming of Roman Holiday and publicity photographs were needed. „I really didn't know what quite to make of Audrey when I first saw her. She certainly was not the typical image of a young starlet ... that radiant smile hit me right between the eyes, warming me inside like a shot of whisky.“

"I decided, very early on, just to accept life unconditionally", she once said. And that is, I believe, what her pictures show.

Copyright @ Taschen

What do I associate with her? Most of all her 'Bubikopf' (pixie cut) and the fact that she was often wearing drainpipe trousers. The movies? The Nun's Story, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and My Fair Lady come to mind.

Looking at pictures of her always means to be filled up with positive feelings for what she seemed to personify was joyfulness, curiosity, and self-assuredness. She comes across so naturally that I often wondered whether she was actually posing - and of course she was.

It is useful to keep in mind that a photo is a photo is a photo: a two-dimensional reduction of a three-dimensional physical reality that neither smells nor sounds and that has always been only as real as a picture on a page can be. At the same time however — and that is what makes them so intriguing and special — photos radiate something magical. As Maureen Dowd penned in the New York Times: "... in Hollywood, couples who have chemistry on screen often don't like each other off screen, and ones who are involved off screen often don't have any chemistry on screen."

Copyright @ Taschen

There are photographs of private moments and from movie sets to be found in this tome. Bob Willoughby writes: "While many of these photographs of Audrey are well known, they have never before been seen together as a complete collection."

It is an impressive collection of beautiful photographs of a beautiful woman. They emanate, it so seems, who and what she is. In the words of Hubert de Givenchy: "She was an enchantress, inspiring love and beauty. And fairies never quite disappear altogether."

Bob Willoughby
Audrey Hepburn
Photographs 1953-1966
Taschen, Cologne 2012

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Volker Hinz

"Volker Hinz is a German photographer, and the German bit is important because for more than 40 years, Hinz has been one of the eyes of the country", I read in the biographical notes that Jochen Siemens contributed to this impressive tome. 

Hinz has been shooting photos for stern for almost 40 years, a selection of his shots can now be seen in the stern FOTOGRAFIE series. Dominik Wichmann of stern sees Hinz' photographs as "both snapshots and pictures", and characterises them aptly as "both charmingly reserved and relentlessly intimate".

Looking at the extraordinary photographs in this work, there is no doubt that Volker Hinz is a great photographer. I often wondered how the shots came about. The one of Muhammad Ali at his desk, for instance. Was this an unguarded moment? Or was Ali told to please sit in his chair and sleep/relax/close his eyes? Unfortunately, we are not told. 

Volker Hinz was born on the banks of a river in 1947, in a house on the northern flank of the River Elbe in the Hamburg district of Blankenese. "Looking out onto a river teaches you how to look: in the foreground the riverbank, in the middle the ships, and beyond them the land on the other side. And seeing spaces means seeing dreams", writes Jochen Siemens. Although I do like this, I fail to see what it has to do with the photographs in this book that mostly show portraits of people.

The Hinz way of photographing has been called "the art of intuition and atmosphere" (Siemens). Well said and true. Not least because Volker Hinz makes you see famous people not wearing their usual public masks but their human faces.

Volker Hinz
stern Fotografie
Portfolio Nr. 67