Wednesday, 30 January 2013

The Øresund Bridge

In the distance you can see the Øresund Bridge that connects Copenhagen and Malmö, the photo was taken in Malmö on 26 January 2013.

Sometimes you only realise afterwards what you framed. When taking this photograph, my focus was solely on picturing lines and I wasn't aware at all that the lone fishing rod on the railing was in the picture.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Green Architecture

"Modern interest in the protection of the environment can easily be traced back to Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (1962) that documented the detrimental effects of pesticides and is sometimes credited with being at the origin of the environmental protection movement", I read in the introduction. Right, but what exactly distinguishes this green architecture from architecture? Solar panels and double glazing? Peter Zumthor and Bernard Tschumi? Well, the focus of green architecture is on sustainability, it is essentially concerned with environmentally conscious design techniques, I learn from Wikipedia. Moreover: "In the broad context, sustainable architecture seeks to minimize the negative environmental impact of buildings by enhancing efficiency and moderation in the use of materials, energy, and development space. The idea of sustainability, or ecological design is to ensure that our actions and decisions today do not inhibit the opportunities of future generations. The term can be used to describe an energy and ecologically conscious approach to the design of the built environment."
Refuge du Goûter
Saint-Gervais-les-Bains, France 2010-12
Photo: DécaLaage – Groupe H

Well, labels are labels. Whether one calls such architecture green or sustainable or whether one simply calls it architecure, this tome provides lots of pics of truly impressive buildings  – just have a look at the Refuge du Goûter above. And, needless to say, the setting is likewise spectacular.

Clifftop House, Maui, Hawaii, USA 2004-11

I especially love the pics of the angled wooden roof of the clifftop house and its apparently closed exterior for the feeling of the vastness of space that the so pictured roof radiates. In other words, it is the exquisite photographs in this tome that I'm mainly fond of.

Spending time with this book allows for discoveries to be made. One of my favourite designs is the Ananti Club Seoul. And the Yusuhara Wooden Bridge Museum in Kochi, Japan. And also Kroon Hall, the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale University ... not to forget the Gervasutti Refuge on the Mont Blanc that looks like a rocket from outer space ...

I wasn't always sure why certain buildings were included. For instance, I would have never thought that the Prime Tower in Zurich (sure, its colour is green) could be included in a tome on green architecture (doesn't location matter?) but then learned that it "uses a ground-water heat-exchange recovery from the building and refrigeration devices, coupled heating/cooling with heat and ice storage, and partially operable windows."

Alila Villas Uluwatu, Bali, Indonesia, 2005-09

"This is no ordinary architecture book", the publisher writes, "it is an up-to-the-minute, irreverent survey of something we all care about: how to save the planet and build a greener future. Forget about categories and certainties, find out how sustainability can be fun!" I couldn't agree more.

Philip Jodidio
Taschen, Cologne 2012

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Iphigenia in Forest Hills

Janet Malcolm's Iphigenia in Forest Hills is introduced by two quotes and one of these describes perfectly what distinguishes "real life" from the staged life in a court of law: "Everything is ambiguous in life except in court."

Anatomy of a Murder Trial reads the subtitle and Janet Malcolm is excellent at dissecting the game that is played in court, and at exposing its flaws. "Most of these objections were overruled by the judge, who repeatedly told the jury, 'What they say in their opening statement is not evidence.' What they say in their opening statements is decisive, of course. If we understand that a trial is a contest between competing narratives, we can see the importance of the first appearance of the narrators. The impression they make on the jury is indelible. An attorney who bores and irritates the jury during his opening statement, no matter what evidence he may later produce, has put his case at fatal risk."
Iphigenia in Forest Hills tells the story of a murder trial in Queens that took place in 2009. Accused were Mazoltuv Borukhova, 34, a doctor, and Mikhail Mallayev, 50, her relative by marriage whom she hired to shoot her estranged husband, Daniel Malakov, in 2007. Of Borukhova Malcolm writes that "she couldn't have done and she must have done it."

On the one hand, Iphigenia in Forest Hills is a subtly observed study of the theatre in a courtroom, and a devastating critique of the legal system (Borukhova and Mallayev spent over a year in cells on Rikers Island, Malcolm comments: "My visit only confirmed the hollowness of the concept of presumption of innocence."). On the other hand, it is a likewise devastating critique of the journalism trade ("Journalism is an enterprise of reassurance. We do not wring our hands and rend our clothes over the senseless crimes and disasters that give us our subject. We explain and blame. We are conoisseurs of certainty."). However, this book is much more than that for Janet Malcolm provides insights that leave you wondering how we human beings can put up with (and believe in, even make sense of) our fundamentally flawed systems. In The Crime of Sheila McGough, another of Malcolm's real life thrillers which is at the same time a meditation on journalism, character, the law, and the incompatibility of narrative with truth, she quotes Sharon Cameron (from Beautiful Work: A Meditation on Pain): "He didn't answer. He rather said: 'It is possible to think this: without a reference point there is meaninglessness. But I wish you'd understand that without a reference point you're in the real.'" That, in my view, describes precisely what Malcolm's books (and that includes Iphigenia in Forest Hills) revolve around.

Janet Malcolm is a creative and original thinker, and she is an excellent writer: it is not only a pleasure to read her but a rewarding experience.

"If any profession (apart from the novelist's) is in the business of making things up, it is the profession of the trial lawyer."

"But from court documents we can follow the itinerary of Borukhova's journey out of the merciful messiness of private life into the pitiless orderliness of the legal system."

"Ezra's refusal to play – his continued protests against being questioned in a way people aren't questioned in life outside the courtroom – brought into sharp relief the artificial and, you might even say, inhuman character of courtroom discourse."

" ... the solution to the problem of a child who cries hysterically when threatened with separation from her mother while in the presence of her absent father – is to take the child away from the mother and send her to live with the father!"

"He looked at me without surprise or even interest, as characters in dreams do."

In sum: necessary reading.

Janet Malcolm
Iphigenia in Forest Hills
Anatomy of a Murder Trial
Yale University Press, New Haven & London 2012

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Alison Jackson

I'm expecting from a photograph a true depiction of something that really was. Although I'm well aware that this is not possible, that a photograph can't do that, I'm still expecting it from it. 

Essentially, photographs are documents, they are records. Even in our digital times in which we know less and less what to take for certain, our belief in the power of photographs to serve as evidence has not faltered. Moreover, despite us knowing that they can be, and sometimes are, manipulated, we trust them to be truthful — unless someone proves them to have been tampered with.

Alison Jackson has a decidedly different take on photography. "To be honest, I always hated the effect photography creates, and I think that was the reason I started producing this kind of work", she says. And so she photographed the images in her head. But isn't that what all photographers eventually do? Quite some, yes (others however record what they stumble upon), but not as openly, and obviously, as Alison Jackson.

@ Alison Jackson 

. "What I photograph are two normal British people. Nothing else. It's only the viewer who thinks he is looking at Kate Middleton and Prince William." The same holds of course also true for the photo of "Pippa Middleton's behind" below.

@Alison Jackson

"Photography tempts us into trusting a photo although we know perfectly well that a picture can never tell the whole truth". Right. But knowing is not seeing. And so the question here is: What do staged photographs that depict doubles tell us? They probably make us pause, reflect, and ask ourselves: Can this be? Is this real?

Needless to say, it is a good thing to question photographs. But will we come away from these so obviously staged pics and trust photos now a bit less? I'm not sure. Besides, can we really know whether we are looking at a fake or at the real thing? "I once told a man he was a great Nicolas Cage look-alike. He got very angry. It was the real Nicolas Cage."

@ Alison Jackson

"In Britain," Alison Jackson says, "we have a saying that 'You can't imagine the Queen on the loo.' Well, that's what I photographed." Would it really look so different?
stern Fotografie Nr. 70 includes Talent Booklet 03 featuring Jean Pigozzi who, writes Alison Jackson, "shoots the real stars, but with their guard down, whereas I shoot the very private moments that we have all imagined but never seen." Have we really all imagined Alison Jackson's private moments?

Alison Jackson
stern Fotografie Nr. 70

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

In Innsbruck

My mother became pregnant with me, at around this time of the year, in Innsbruck where my father received part of his advanced medical training. A good enough reason, I thought, to go and have a look at the place and so, on the last Sunday of 2012, I boarded the Austrian railjet in Sargans and arrived two and a half hours later in the Tirolean capital.
I have been to Innsbruck before (I do not recall when but it was many, many years ago) yet the only thing I remembered was the golden roof in the old town. I was not the only one heading for it on the Maria-Theresien Strasse that leads to this famous landmark, in fact, the street was packed with tourists, mostly Italian and Austrian could be heard.
Although Innsbruck's population (as I learn from Wikipedia) is a mere 121,329 (1 January 2012), the feel you get when strolling around is that of a much bigger place. The wide avenues and impressive architecture that combine a variety of styles ("a classic Austrian hybrid of Gothic and Baroque", I read in a tourist brochure) seem to radiate a generosity of spirit not found in the cities of my native Switzerland. I'm of course not sure whether historians will agree on this yet that is surely what I sensed on this last Sunday afternoon of 2012.
Is there anything else to be mentioned about the Tirolean capital apart from the fact that I was conceived there? No idea really ... but it surely felt good being there.