Sunday 30 September 2012

Making History

"The maker of images is the constructor of reality", I read in the introduction to this interesting tome. More often of media reality, I'd say. Nevertheless, the authors (Anne-Marie Beckmann, Lilian Engelmann, Peter Gorschlüter, Holger Kube Ventura, Alexandra Lechner and Celina Lunsford) make a good point by elaborating on the importance of images in war photography and claim that  "it was images that decided the outcome of the Vietnam War in the sixties". I've heard this argument before, I've often used it myself but I'm not so sure anymore. How would one prove that anyway? On the other hand, there is no doubt, of course, that the Abu Ghraib pictures had a tremendous impact on, and shaped, reality.
Photo by Oliviero Toscani

Most of what we know about the world, we know from the media. And despite us not having terrible confidence in these media, we nevertheless build our views of the world on them, the German sociologist Niklas Luhmann wrote. The same applies to images: we know we shouldn't trust them and still we do.

"Making History" deals with the artistic reflection of public images, it asks questions such as: "What artistic images thematize social ruptures, turning points, and changes today, and how do they do so? Can the artistic reflection of public images be regarded as a kind of contemporary history painting – or must we not regard our current media reality as such?“  
Photo by Samuel Fosso

Many artists presented in this book "base their works on well-known media images of events and consciously work with the stamp they have left behind in the collective memory." With what purpose? In order to artisticly reflect on images that made history. I didn't think many of the works convincing, the texts were however often illuminative. An example: Manii Sriwanichpoom reconstructs two photographic icons from the coverage of the Vietnam War, the one that Nick Ut took of screaming children fleeing a napalm attack, and the one by Eddie Adams that shows General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a Vietcong-prisoner. Reconstructing here means that the protagonists are shown as consumers of luxury goods. The pics are supposed to be a critique of "the influence wielded by corporations on the economic and social development of individual countries". Clearly, these are strong and forceful images. Whether they really come across as a critique of corporations is another question.
Photo by James Mollison

Lots of artists are present in this tome, among them Barbara Klemm, David LaChapelle, Martha Rosler, Oliviero Toscani, and Jeff Wall, and their works surely merit to be contemplated. Especially convincing I thought Barbara Basting's essay "The Power of Images is the Power of Filters" where I came across this pointed insight: "It is the visual oversimplification that makes history but also distorts it in the process."

Making History
Edited by RAY Fotografieprojekte Frankfurt/RheinMain
Hatje Cantz, Ostfildern 2012

Sunday 23 September 2012

Tambo Colorado

"Tambo Colorado is a well-preserved Inca adobe complex near the coast of Peru. The site is located just inland from the south coast of Peru in the Pisco River Valley about 40 km along the highway to Ayacucho known as the Via de los Libertadores, close to the town of Pisco," I read in Wikipedia. I visited the site in January 2012, together with a young family from the town of San Andres, near Pisco.

Here's how I saw them:

And this is how the husband saw me:

Sunday 16 September 2012

Mailer Monroe Stern

Dieses Buch sind eigentlich zwei Bücher: eine Biografie und eine Bilder-Retrospektive über eine Schauspielerin, deren grösste Liebesaffäre jene mit der Kamera war“, meinte Norman Mailer in seiner Biografie "Marilyn", 1973. Der Kölner Taschen Verlag hat ihn beim Wort genommen und nun seinen Originaltext mit Bert Sterns Fotografien aus dem Last Sitting herausgebracht.

Bert Stern wurde in Brooklyn, New York, geboren, brachte sich das Fotografieren selbst bei und war in den 1960er-Jahren ein sehr erfolgreicher Mode- und Werbefotograf. Unter dem Titel "Vier Tage im Juni 1962" beschreibt er, wie die Fotos in diesem Band entstanden. Und fügt hinzu: "Marilyn konnte nicht wissen, welchen Einfluss diese Fotos auf mein weiteres Leben hatten. Sie ist vor fünfzig Jahren in mein Leben getreten, und ich muss zugeben: Sie ist immer noch da." Sieht man sich Sterns Aufnahmen an, glaubt man zu verstehen, warum – die Kamera mag Marilyn nicht nur, sie liebt sie geradezu. "Sie ist einfach lebendiger auf der Leinwand als die anderen. Sie besitzt mehr Energie, mehr Humor, sie ist mehr an die Rolle und an das Spiel hingegeben als die anderen – sie spielt die Rollen, lässt einen teilhaben an dem Glück, das sie darstellt, und das ist schliesslich unabdingbar für jede billige Unterhaltung", schreibt Norman Mailer.

Sterns Marilyn-Fotos sind Inszenierungen und aus sich selbst verständlich, sie brauchen weder Bildlegenden noch erklärende Texte. Trotzdem verändert sich unsere Sichtweise, wenn wir wissen, dass sechs Wochen nach diesen Aufnahmen, Marilyn Monroe nicht mehr lebte. Unsere Sichtweise verändert sich aber auch, wenn wir uns auf den grandiosen Marilyn-Text von Norman Mailer einlassen: "Sein heimlicher Ehrgeiz war gewesen, Marilyn zu stehlen; in seiner Eitelkeit glaubte er, niemand könne das Beste in ihr so gut zum Vorschein bringen wie er eine Einbildung, die er mit vielleicht fünfzig Millionen anderer Männer teilte ...". Nur können diese vermutlich keine so gute Geschichte erzählen wie Mailer es vermag. "Er könnte eine Geschichte erzählen, die vielleicht lebensechter war als etwas bloss Erfundenes, denn er vermochte sich ja oft sehr gut in einen verschlossenen, stillen Menschen einzufühlen und würde, ausgestattet mit schriftstellerischer Freiheit, die verborgenen Impulse im Leben einiger seiner tatsächlich existierenden Figuren erkunden."

Seine Leser sind froh, dass er es getan hat. Und auch darum, dass man in diesem tollen Buch eine so schöne Aufforderung findet wie diese von Marilyn: "Als ich ein kleines Mädchen war, hat mir nie jemand gesagt, ich sei hübsch. Man sollte allen kleinen Mädchen sagen, dass sie hübsch sind, auch wenn es nicht stimmt".

Norman Mailer / Bert Stern
Marilyn Monroe
Taschen Verlag, Köln 2012

Sunday 9 September 2012

Landscape and Structures

Landscape and Structures presents civil engineering structures that serve traffic routes such as bridges, tunnels, passageways etc. built into the Swiss landscape. The book represents a personal inventory of civil engineer Jürg Conzett, photographed by Martin Linsi.

Landscape and Structures is composed according to geography and comprises man-made structures from all over Switzerland with an emphasis on works from Graubünden.

My favourites in terms of bridges are the Punt da Suransuns, a footbridge composed of slabs of Andeer gneiss that perfectly fit into the stony section of the Via Spluga long-distance footpath between Switzerland and Italy, and the Zweiter Travesiner Steg, a bridge with inclined stairs that also forms part of the same long-distance footpath.

Jürg Conzett writes how I imagine a civil engineer to write: not exactly easy to understand, that is: "Parallel-boom trussed girders, which were wonderfully efficient to manufacture, came to be seen in the early 20th century as 'boring, stiff and alien to the landscape' (Robert Moser). There emerged an aesthetic preference for 'more animated-looking girder designs' (in German: 'lebhaftere Umrisse für Fachwerkträger'), as evinced by this semi-parabolic girder." (Innbrücke Zernez der Rhätischen Bahn).

It is no small challenge to photograph bridge after bridge so that the viewer does not feel easily bored. Martin Linsi made good use of his imagination and must have done quite a bit of walking in order to find the different angles from where to take his pictures. The black and white photographs depict rural and urban scenes, old and new structures and facilities of various sizes. I was especially impressed by the pictures of the Susten Pass road - a sequence of images from close and afar that are put together in a most thoughtful and appealing way that makes you feel like you are not looking at pictures but at "the real thing".

Landscape and Structures
English / German
A personal inventory of Jürg Conzett,
photographed by Martin Linsi
Scheidegger & Spiess, Zurich 2012  

Sunday 2 September 2012

Mojave Chamber of Commerce

Hans Durrer @ Emelle Sonh

In the summer of 2007, I spent three months in the Southern Californian desert. One of the places that especially fascinated me was Mojave. What I remember is its airplane cemetery, the Motel 6, main street, a young woman at Burger King who had no idea how to go about her job, a shopping place, the sun setting in the desert and drinking coffee with Emelle. I do however have no recollection at all of the place where the above photo was taken.

It seems strange to me that there should be a Mojave Chamber of Commerce – didn't the whole place, apart from the airport cemetery, basically consist of some houses along a street? On the other hand, why should that not suffice for a chamber of commerce? Whatever, there actually is a Mojave Chamber of Commerce (or at least a building that carries its name), the photograph not only proves that, the photograph also proves that I myself was actually there.

PS: In a portrait on Arte, Jonathan Franzen said about the unspoiled Mojave desert: Nobody knows what to do with this vast nature and this is the reason why it is unspoiled.