Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Photography & Speed

Photography did not appear all at once as we know it now. Talbot's process, the almost-universal method of photography since the 1850s, produced a negative image and the possibility of printing multiple positives from that negative. But it was Daguerre's process that dominated the first decade of photography. Daguerre had found a way to make direct positive images on polished plates. Each daguerreotype was unique, since there was no negative and no printing, and the images were small and elusive. The mirrored surface that at one angle showed the image at another showed the viewer looking at the image; it seemed phantasmagorical in a way paper prints would not. Compared to painting, early photography was astonishingly fast, but it required exposures from dozens of seconds to several minutes. Morse, who was in Paris the spring of Daguerre's announcement, wrote back to New York of the new invention, "Objects moving are not impressed. The Boulevard, so constantly filled with a moving throng of pedestrians and carriages, was perfectly solitary, except for an individual who was having his boots brushed. His feet were compelled, of course, to be stationary for some time, one being on the box of the boot-black and the other on the ground. Consequently his boots and legs were well defined, but he is without body or head, because these were in motion." This man having his shoes polished and the blurry bootblack were the first human beings photographed, and it is eerie to look at them apparently alone, but really surrounded by scores who vanished into speed Photography was faster than painting, but it could only portray the slow world or the still world. People sat for their portraits with braces to hold their heads steady, and in those old portraits fidgeting children are often a blur. Landscapes were photographed on windless days when the leaves wouldn't move and the water was smooth. The bustling nineteenth century had to come to a halt for the camera, until Muybridge and his motion studies.

Even so, photography was a profound transformation of the world it entered. Before, every face, every place, every event, had been unique, seen only once and then lost forever among the changes of age, light, time. The past existed only in memory and interpretation, and the world beyond one's own experience was mostly stories. The rich could commission paintings, the less rich could buy prints, but a photograph reproduced its subject with an immediacy and accuracy art made by hand lacked, and by the 1850s it offered the possibility of mass reproductions, images for everyone. Every photograph was a moment snatched from the river of time. Every photograph was a piece of evidence from the event itself, a material witness. The youthful face of a beloved could be looked at decades after age or death or separation had removed that face, could be possessed like an object. Daguerreotypes, which were soon sold in elaborately molded cases with cut-velvet linings facing the image that sat within, were alluring objects. Soon countless were lining up to possess images of themselves, their families, their dead children, to own the past.

Rebecca Solnit: Rivers of Shadows. Eadweard Muybridge and the technological Wild West

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Paläo-Art

Paläo-Kunst werde häufig mit paläolitischer Kunst (Höhlenmalerei) verwechselt, schreibt Walton Ford im Vorwort zu diesem grossformatigen Prachtsband. Doch während die Höhlenmalerei von prähistorischen Menschen erschaffen worden sei, stammten die Gemälde der Paläo-Kunst von einem Menschen der Neuzeit, der auf diese Weise die Vorgeschichte abbilden wolle.

Die Paläo-Kunst, eine visuelle Tradition, welche die prähistorische Vergangenheit rekonstruiert, nahm ihren Ursprung 1830 in England. Ausgangspunkt sind die Knochen. "Nachdem Paläontologen die Überreste eines prähistorischen Tieres entdeckt und ausgegraben haben, stellt sich ein Künstler anhand dieser Nachweise in Form von Skeletten vor, wie das Lebewesen wohl einmal ausgesehen haben mag, und füllt dieses Bild mit Muskeln, Haut, einer Textur und Farbe. Für eine Zeichnung oder ein Gemälde versetzt der Paläo-Künstler das rekonstruierte Urtier schliesslich in einen urwüchsigen  Lebensraum, samt den passenden Pflanzen und einer entsprechenden Landschaft." 
Pteranodon
Heinrich Harder, reconstructed by Hans Jochen Ihle, 1982
Explosives blasted the Berlin Aquarium in November 1943, destroying Harder’s dazzling mosaics on the facade. In 1982, the Aquarium reconstructed the mosaics, using photographs, tile fragments, and Harder's original plans. The book features all-new photography of these historic recreations.
Copyright: Borrissiak Paleontological Institute RAS

Zoë Lescaze widmet ihre Einführung ("Die Kunst, die Toten zum Leben zu erwecken") grösstenteils der Entstehung (ca. 1830) der Duria Antiquior von Thomas de la Bèche, einem Geologen, der fossile Funde seiner Fantasie unterwarf und noch nie gesehene Tiere kreierte und so die erste Abbildung (Aquarell auf Papier) der prähistorischen Welt schuf. "Ursprünglich wollte der Geologe einfach einer Freundin helfen, als er sich an die Zeichnung der Tiere machte, die einst am östlichen Zipfel Dorsets lebten und starben."

Das Bild Duria Antiquior wurde als Lithographie reproduziert und verbreitete sich rasch in den Wissenschaftszirkeln Londons. Verschiedene Wissenschaftszweige, unter ihnen die Paläontologie, entwickelten sich in dieser Zeit rasant. "Für viele bestand der Reiz der Fossilien darin, dass sie das Unendliche endlich erscheinen und unermesslich viele Jahrtausende wahrhaft physisch (be)greifbar machen konnten." 
Tree of Life
Alexander Mikhailovich Belashov, 1984
All-new photography of this colossal Russian mosaic shows the work teeming with animals, spanning millions of years in geological time.
Copyright: Borrissiak Paleontological Institute RAS

Die frühen Paläo-Künster, so Zoë Lescaze, wollten so recht eigentlich gar nicht besonders fantasievoll sein. Ihre Werke erschienen vorwiegend zur Illustration wissenschaftlicher Werke. Ihre modernen Ausformungen haben, wie wir alle wissen, schon längst Hollywood erreicht. "Heutzutage ist die visuelle Kultur von Dinosauriern  und anderen prähistorischen Tieren geradezu übersättigt." Doch nicht die ganze Paläo-Kunst ist Mainstream. "Einige Werke der Paläo-Kunst sind breite, gut gepflasterte Boulevards, andere dagegen verwinkelte Gassen – sie alle aber führen in unerwartete Gegenden der menschlichen Psyche." 

Aufklärend fasst der Klappentext zusammen, dass es sich bei diesem Buch um eine beeindruckende Sammlung von Kunstwerken aus wichtigen naturgeschichtlichen Museen, düsteren Archiven und Privatsammlungen  handelt. Zudem enthält dieser Band, neben vier Faltblättern, auch "neue Fotografien zentraler Werke, darunter auch Charles R. Knights Dinosaurier-Gemälde in Chicago und wenig bekannte Meisterwerke wie A.M Belashovs monumentales Mosaik in Moskau." 
Tyrannosaurus and Edmontosaurus
Ely Kish, c. 1976
Copyright: Eleanor Kish, © Canadian Museum of Nature

Für jemanden wie mich, für den die Paläo-Kunst absolutes Neuland ist, tragen die kenntnisreichen und wohlformulierten Texte von Zoë Lescaze ganz besonders zur Wertschätzung dieses beeindruckenden Werkes bei. Nicht zuletzt, weil sie mir klar gemacht haben, dass die Paläo-Art auch immer ein Nachsinnen über die Frage ist, ob die Menschheit als Art überdauern wird, was mit sich bringt, "sich seines eigenen Lebens und unvermeidlichen Todes bewusst zu werden." Ich fühlte mich durch die Beschäftigung mit dieser zwischen Fakt und Fiktion angesiedelten Kunst wunderbar bereichert.

Zoë Lescaze
mit einem Vorwort von Walton Ford
PALÄO-ART
Darstellungen der Urgeschichte
Taschen Verlag, Köln 2017

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

False Memories

Thirty years ago, I shared an apartment with my younger brother Thomas in Lausanne. Of the trips that we did together to places nearby, I particularly remember one by car to the Lac de Joux. The area around it looked sort of moon-like, lots of stones, it radiated the aura of a windswept, rugged terrain. Now imagine my surprise when, a few days ago, I revisited the place and it didn't in the least resemble my memory.
Don't get me wrong: I liked what I saw yet started to wonder what strange tricks my mind seemed to have played on me. Was it maybe another lake and I had simply mistaken it? I've decided to explore the surroundings of Le Pont, where I had gotten off the train, and discovered another nice lake, Lac Brenet, that had absolutely nothing in common with what had been on my mind for all these years.
And so I did what one does in the days of the internet and googled the lakes of the Canton de Vaud – yet there weren't any pictures of a lake that looked even remotely close to the pictures in my head. Had I been dreaming? And if so, for thirty years? Possibly but it doesn't feel right, it feels truly weird. And then my friend Peggy said the windswept, rugged terrain that I occasionally had talked about had always reminded her of Lac de Bret near Puidoux that she knew from visits with her parents – the restaurant shown on the internet looked indeed similar to the one I've always remembered but everything else was much too green. Maybe I should once visit in winter?
It is of course one thing to say that memory is creative, it is however quite another to experience it the way I did while in Le Pont. Disturbing? Definitely! Fascinating? Sure – but above all pretty irritating. Given all these uncertainties in regards to the past (and, needless to say, the future), we're probably well advised to concentrate on the present.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Svalbard - An Arcticficial Life

Nick's Limo  @ Julia de Cooker

Svalbard – An Arcticficial Life by Paris-based Julia de Cooker, born 1988, a French/Dutch photographer, educated at ECAL, the School of Art and Design in Lausanne, Switzerland, portrays an archipelago in the very north of mainland Europe.

According to Wikipedia, Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean, about midway between continental Norway and the North Pole, was until 1925 known by its Dutch name Spitsbergen.

What do people do in such a remote place? How do they make a living? When, in 1596, the Dutch seafarer Willem Barentsz arrived at these islands, they became an international whaling base and also a point of departure for expeditions to the North Pole. And then there was also coal mining. Nowadays, the city of Longyearbyen, once known as a mining town, features hotels, restaurants and the University of Svalbard, founded in 1994, one of the most renowned places for the study of Arctic Science, I understand.

Julia de Cooker writes: „About two thousand people from more than forty countries live in the city. They take advantage of the special status of Svalbard, which allows them to live there without visas or working permits.“ This is pretty exceptional indeed and I would have very much liked to discover as to why that is – yet the book doesn't provide such information. I would also have appreciated to learn about the personal views of people living there, about their motivation to choose life in such a remote part of the planet etc.

For more, go to http://www.fstopmagazine.com/ 

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

In Belgrade

On the way from the airport to town, the hotel-driver grabs his mobile phone in order to show me pictures of Skiathos (where his family is from) and of his Nigerian girlfriend. In addition, he invariably points to casting pits and says: Nato bombs.

The pictures of the hotel on the internet and the hotel reality differ considerably yet the staff is friendly and helpful. In the cafés nearby smoking is the rule (and I feel transported back to Switzerland in the 1970s), many sidewalks are used as parking lots.
Since this is my first visit to Belgrade and I know nothing about the place (I had booked a hotel and inquired about the weather – that was my preparation for this five-day trip), I ask locals what they think worthwhile to go and see. Of the places suggested Sava's Temple and the Danube water front in New Belgrade impressed me most.

In order to get to New Belgrade I had to change buses at Zemun station. The fare was 150 Dinar. The bus driver didn't have change for my 200-note and said: 'You go free'. Upon attempting to enter the bus on my way back, the driver beckoned me over to the driver's door. He refused my 150 Dinar, he wanted to talk. Since he only spoke Serbian and I didn't our conversation was limited to exchanging the names of football clubs ('Young Boys', he said. 'Bern', I said. 'Good', he said) and tennis players ('Federer', he smiled, 'Very good'. 'Djokovic good', I smiled. 'Okay', he said). Shortly before the final stop he said 'Drink coffee'. I offered him 150 Dinar. He said 'No', took the 100-note and said 'Okay'.
I go for various unplanned walks, from between five to seven hours a day, stop at many cafés for cappuccino, check out Serbian food (huge portions, excellent meat) and discover, in the neighbourhood of my hotel, many tree-covered narrow streets and alleyways and lots of small businesses – I feel enchanted.

One of the things that baffle me most is the fact that I'm rarely fully present. By this I mean that most of the time I'm only physically where I am and that my mind is somewhere else. This is especially true when I'm caught up in the routines of my daily life. Since going places also means escaping the daily routines, I'm asking myself whether being in a foreign city makes me feel more in the present. A little bit, only a little bit. Time passes more slowly and the days seem clearly longer yet it still requires considerable efforts to focus on the here and now – yet the few successful moments feel definitely great.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

In the Land of Smiles

"Do you know why the Thais smile so much?", asked my friend Sukit, many years ago, on one of my visits to Trang, the city in Southern Thailand where he, his wife and his son happened to live. "Because a smile is never out of place."

In Thailand, that is. For as I've learned from a Thai woman in her thirties, who had lived twelve years in Sydney, the Thai habit of smiling when having made a mistake (the idea behind it is to try to calm one's boss down) doesn't play well with Australians who are not used to reading the varieties of smiles that the average Thai have at hand and regularly feel like being laughed at.
At the train station in Chachoengsao

The other day, when I inquired at the hotel reception whether my friend Bill, as he had informed me, did leave his phone number, the receptionist asked: "You meet your friend already?". "Yes", I replied, wondering first what this had to do with his phone number but then it dawned on me – since I had already met him, the phone number now wasn't really of use anymore, I imagine her thinking. "Okay, I check", she said and started to examine the rubbish bin. She quite obviously had thrown it away. I started to smile, she smiled back and that was that. There would be other ways to get in touch with Bill.
Meeting point in Chachoengsao

On the wall of my room hangs the following "announce" as it is called:
You can deposit your valuables or money in our safe deposit box at the front desk as the management is not responsible for any loss.
The Hotel will not be held responsible for the guest's property in case of loss or damage as following.
The loss or damage occurs in the hotel.
If the property that is lost is money, gold, traveler checks, jewelry other valuable items the Hotel shall not take responsibility.
The Hotel shall not be liable for any loss or damage by the following cases:
1) The case is beyond the control of the Hotel
2) The existing condition of the article.
3) The loss or damage is made by the guest.

Pretty comprehensive, I'd say.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Am Rhein bei Sargans



Diese Aufnahmen machte ich, 
beziehungsweise mein Nokia Phone, 
am 25. August 2017

Nichts verblüfft mich mehr als dieses eigenartige Phänomen, dass ich selten sehe, was vor meiner Nase liegt. So habe ich etwa erst diesen Sommer entdeckt, dass es am Rhein bei Sargans Sandbänke und Steinablagerungen gibt, wo man baden kann. Eigenartig, dass man den grössten Teil seines Lebens – klar doch, ich spreche von mir – so selten sinnlich und gedanklich da ist, wo man physisch ist.