Category Archives: Germany

Big Names at Last

On my quest to find some big names in photography, I finally struck lucky – against all expectations. I had bought a ticket for the Bremen Kunsthalle in order to see Lynn Hershman Leeson. Well, *yawn*. And then I stumbled over Ruff, Hockney, Parr and Tillmanns. Who would have thought, provincial Germany has multi-million Euro photography in its portfolio?
The Düsseldorf school of photography was well-represented in this exhibition – both in the shape of Bernd and Hilla Becher’s documentary photography of industrial architecture, as well as in their students. Thomas Ruff’s image “Substrat 18 1“, for instance, absolutely blew me away. I am attracted by the softly rounded, organic shapes on the image. I love the strong colours. Abstracts like this invite the viewer to think – but they do not force him to do so. You can happily lean back and simply enjoy the colours and the shapes without wasting a thought on the “why”. BUT a couple of ugly questions raise their heads: Is this photography? Ruff never took a single picture himself for the series “Substratum”. He downloaded existing images of Japanese anime characters from the internet and then manipulated them. They are prints of digital files. But are they his if they are originating from someone else’s work? – Easy answer: With a big name as his, he probably does not have to fear accusations of plagiarism. And the image is still interesting to look at, so who gives a cr*p???
David Hockney’s well-known “Brooklyn Bridge” was goosepimple inducing. Well to me it was, because I like Hockney’s attempts at what I perceive as a photographic cubism. Multi-perspective reality in a photograph. Impossible by definition – but artistically and even philosophically, intriguing…
Martin Parr’s kitsched-up and colourful representation of (some) British life is – as usual – funny and at the same time exposes the (lower middle?) class sense of self with peach-pastelly artificial roses on summer hats and greasy donuts in chubby toddler hands.
A classy exhibition. Well done, Kunsthalle!

Lynn Hershman Leeson

No matter where I go, I always check if there is a photo exhibition on. I am currently in my old hometown, back in the Fazerland. Bremen is not really the centre of cultural buzzworks, but it always surprises me that there is something photographic on when I am home. Last year I was very lucky and got to see a gem of an exhibition – Elliott Erwitt’s images of dogs and their owners. A great exhibition, full of humour and esprit. (I cannot believe that I actually never wrote a review of it for 2picsaweek *tuttuttut*). This time ’round I am not quite so lucky. No big names are exhibiting in Bremen at the mo. Or so I thought…
Bremen – despite admittedly being slightly “provincial” – has a fantastic “Kunsthalle” (art gallery) which is well worth a visit, due to its extensive collection of impressionist paintings. (Against contemporary convention, the then director of the Kunsthalle, Gustav Pauli, showed foresight and knowledge when he assembled a large collection by Manet, Monet, Pissarro, van Gogh, Renoir, Degas and German impressionists, particularly those of the Worpswede school of impressionism.)
Initially I had planned to look at the current exhibition by Lynn Hershman Leeson, “Seducing Time”.
Well, to be blunt: I was not seduced by time. In fact, I thought that time was passing extraordinarily slowly – a sure sign that I was not enamoured or even interested by what I saw. But let’s be fair and describe what Leeson is showing in Bremen.
Leeson, b. 1941, is not exactly or specifically a photographer. The artist is more well-known for her pioneering intereactive and computer-based art. Nonetheless, a number of photography-based artworks are on show in Bremen. Her photographs kick off the exhibition – and personally they were my highlight of the Leeson expo. Her mid-1980s series “Phantom Limb” depicts women in various poses whose heads have been replaced by monitors, TV sets, cameras. A very obvious collage-trick and expression of media-critique. More evocative, however, was the series “Hero Sandwich” (also from the same creative period in the late 1980s) in which Leeson merges/overlays portraits of well-known artists, creating what we nowadays  know as “morphs”. Particularly the Bowie/Hepburn hero sandwich works so well, you have to look very hard to determine which half of the image is Hepburn and who is Bowie. Questions of gender identity, celebrity culture and media phenomenons are inherently addressed with these images – still topical after 25 years…
Apart from these images, however, I was not blown away by Leeson. This is probably due to the fact that performance art has never really convinced me. “Roberta Breitmore” is a social experiment in which she recreates an artifical person. I was simply creeped out by this persona, her (performed???) psycho therapy and her performances.
If this had been all I saw in the Kunsthalle, I would have been disappointed. Much to my surprise, the elusive “big names” suddenly cropped up in another part of the gallery. But that is a story for another day review.

Lynn Hershman Leeson
“Seducing Time”
June 2nd – August 16th 2012
“Carrier of Light” – relief by Bernhard Hötger

Pastime – Past Time

So, an involuntary extension of my holiday. How to pass the time. With a pastime? Possibly of past times? Bingo – inspiration can strike from nowhere, I guess. Although this time I can actually pinpoint exactly where the inspiration came from. 
This year was the third time that we rented a holiday home on Holmsland Klit (stop sniggering!!!), a narrow strip of land between the North Sea on the Western side and a lagoon called the Ringköbing fjord on the Eastern side. On the beach of the Klit are a number of goosepimple-inducing reminders of the last great war – bunkers left by the Nazis, built as part of the so-called Atlantic Wall. 
History excursus: The Atlantic Wall was a massive fortification and defense enterprise thought up by the Nazis. Nearly 3000 km of coastline from Spain all the way up to Norway were fortified with bunkers, anti-aircraft batteries, and minefields. The defense line was never properly completed, but those buildings that were finished remain there until this day. They have been moved by tide and time, however, and while the coastline is being eroded by the onslaught of the waves, the bunkers which were originally built into the sanddunes, are now slap bang in the middle of the beaches. They look like giant building blocks, haphazardly thrown into the sand by a giant baby (strangely, that is almost a fitting metaphor for the lunatic that led half of Europe into doom and disgrace 70 years ago…)
Anyhow, faced with these relics, I thought of the human price that was paid for the war. And it occurred to me that the 70th anniversary of the end of WW2 is coming up in three years’ time. Which also means that fewer and fewer contemporaries are around to tell of the times. 
However (and now we are finally getting to the point), in Germany at least, there are some visible reminders of the last war. Every village in Germany has a war memorial. But as the war slips from living memory, the war memorials, too, seem to become forgotten, despite their rather conspicuous presence on village greens, hills and all sorts of exposed spots. The history nerd in me is piqued – war and memory. Unfortunately that is an ever-current topic as wars never seem to stop. Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan. 65 years ago, the victims of war were “immortalised” by plastering their names on bombastic memorials. But does anyone ever look at them? Are they in our consciousness or have they somehow blended into their surroundings? Maybe it is time to document them before they are also lost in the black hole of time and oblivion. 
“Vermißte” – The Missing    
If nothing else, it will certainly fill my time – because there are loads of these in the villages and hamlets around me home town… MIA, S.

Comfort Zone

While in Germany the other day, I practiced a bit of Street Photography.
“People should feel great. For a social revolution.”
*teehee* I captured lots of “street” with marky Mark because some enterprising sprayer had been rather busy on this path along the river Weser. This is actually in the city of Bremen in the North of Germany. Home of Bundesliga soccer team Werder Bremen (which probably means something to the male readers of this blog – as I have found out countless times when explaining where I am from). The Werder home pitch was actually just behind from where I was taking this shot.
But back to photography. I have been thinking hard these days, which type of photographer I am. I am most definitely not a wedding photographer. The pressure of producing the shots of a lifetime – well, from the couple’s point of view – would just be too much for me. And while I really enjoy interacting with people, I cannot imagine it being very pleasant having to run after all and sundry to organise shots and place people etc. So wedding photography is most definitely off my list. – Product photography was something I really enjoyed when not working on it alone. I loved the experiment in college where the whole group had to produce a shot together. The diligent set-up, the lighting, the slow process really appealed to me. But when I had to do it on my own, it kind of went pear-shaped. Well, maybe that was due to the object I had chosen to photograph (the iPhone), I don’t know. 
Surprisingly I really find myself enjoying fashion photography. I have assisted on several shoots over the past year and found each and every one fascinating. Partly because you are working with professional models who know how to move. You hardly have to give them instructions – they will offer the poses themselves. And because it is their job they do not feel or look awkward. I wouldn’t enjoy it very much in a studio setting, but location shoots really did it for me. Because you can create a story, a scene, a context for the shot – and that I found very creative and inspiring. 
What I shoot most, however, could probably be classed as documentary-style photography. I tend to document my surroundings all the time. Whether it is the way to the cinema, my house or any other location that catches my eye – I like to snap it and preserve it for posterity. There is so much fun in that – I love that it is mostly done with daylight and no awkward flashes and lighting set-ups are necessary. But does it really challenge me?? No, probably not, because it is increasingly a bit like holiday snapping. There is no guiding project or principle in it. 
Maybe I need to push myself a bit more in the fields that I do not seem to be so interested in – do more studio work, portraying people. Practice some nudes. Do people photography on the streets, which involves communicating with my subjects to get their permission. Leaving the comfort zone…

Sonja was ‘ere

Holiday snapping is getting increasingly difficult for me. You think that is weird for a semi-professional photographer? Well, here is the issue: Like most people photographers I started out with photography as a holiday snapper, documenting the sights and the people (Mama in front of the Eiffel Tower, Mama beside the Brandenburg Gate, Mama on top of the World Trade Center… the list could go on endlessly…). With better hardware, I moved on to not only taking the usual landscape shot of *everythingplusMama*, but also trying some close-ups of such hiiiighly original items as foreign letterboxes/manhole covers/street signs. Um. The trouble is – when I am on holiday, I haven’t really quite progressed from that. I am too much of a tourist and still feel like documenting the sights. Yet the photographer’s eye is there, too. And I feel constantly torn between taking those tourist shots and doing slightly more artsy-fartsy stuff. 

The same on my recent trip back home to the “Fazerland”. I actually held back a bit and only shot about 250 images in five days. But at least three quarters of them are the usual, big-building-falling-over-backwards and lovely-back-lane-with-half-timbered-cottage shots, and only very few have any (vague) aesthetic merit. I personally prefer the affectedly artistic shots – but they are not as expressive in terms of touristic value. *sighs*

So I’ll leave you with what I consider a bit of a compromise. A visit to the crypt of Saint Trinitatis in Bad Langensalza yielded the following result: a suitably (?) atmospheric shot of some ancient coffins (Sonja playing with high ISO and negative space, I guess) while documenting that “Sonja was ‘ere”…

How do you deal with the schizophrenia of “holiday-me vs. artsy-me”?

Greetings from the Plains

Another remote post, this time from the great Northern Plains. The Northern plains of Germany, that is. A beautiful spot – largely unrecognised and underrated by anyone who is not a local. Awww, how misunderstood we are, us Northerners… But seriously – “Germany” evokes visions of 500 and one varieties of beer, busty blondes in “dirndl” dresses, mountains, fairytale castles, sauerkraut, Munich beerfest,  hevvy acsents and verry littel untershtandink of humor. Unfair – the North is nothing like that. And proud of it.

I know what I am talking about. I am a Northerner by birth – in fact, a true Hanseatic Northerner, born in Bremen – but I spent almost 10 of my (young) adult years in the South of Germany, Bavaria to be exact. Before I moved away from home, I always thought that Germany was Germany and Germans were Germans – no matter where they came from. I couldn’t have been more wrong, as I soon found out when I settled in the city of Würzburg. The food, the accent, the lack of humour, the effing mountains closing in on me all the time – it never let me forget that I was not at home.

In the early days of my Bavarian exile, I used to take the train home every few months. A major trip of eight hours, it was. And the best bit came shortly after Hanover, about 6 hours into the journey and nearly home. For a long time I could not put my finger on it – why I suddenly felt so uplifted once the train left Hannover and what it was that made me smile and look out of the window expectantly. Was it the fact that everything was familiar? Was it the close proximity of many places which I knew?

Eventually I found out what it was – it was as if the heavens had suddenly opened up, once the train entered the great plain of Northern Germany. The landscape completely flat. No mountains to frame obstruct the view. Instead., a huuuge expanse of blue above, dotted with white clouds, the occasional church steeple piercing the sky, sometimes endless avenues of Poplar trees competing with the steeples. The heavens coming down right to Earth, kissing life and embracing light. Ahhh – home, that was coming home.

I am still utterly fascinated with the Northern sky. I adore the big expanse of it. When I am home, I can’t get enough of it and after years and years of admiring it, I still take pictures of it. Others find the North boring – the horizon just a flat line, nothing to see and do. But what else do you need, when you have the sky touching you deep in your soul? There is, after all nothing more perfect on Earth than the view of the sky above.