Posts Tagged ‘Conscientious’

Vaterland

Sunday, November 15th, 2020

I probably won’t be buying J M Colberg’s book Vaterland, to be published by Kerber, as my bookshelves are already groaning under the stress of far too many volumes. But it was interesting to see a book of photographs by someone much of whose critical writing – which I’ve often referred to on this site – has been about photography books.

The latest post on Colberg’s online Conscientious Photography Magazine is Vaterland, where he writes about the state of his native Germany and the rise of right-wing extremism there. In 2016 he went to take photographs exploring ” the region in Europe’s heart whose largest parts are made out of Germany and Poland, Central Europe” without the intention of producing his first photo book.

He writes that living for 20 years away from Germany has resulted in him being more engaged with the changes that are happening there than had he stayed and he sees the book as a metaphorical “expression of my unease, of my worries, of my upset, of my realization to what extent Germany and its past are an integral part of my own life.”

There are more pictures from it on Colberg’s web site – I think almost half of those that will be in the book, along with more text. As would be expected they seem very precise and carefully framed, but they seem to me to perhaps be both at times too obvious – a headless statue, rubble, grass like a stain punctured by some kind of fence – and too controlled, too cold.

In part I think this represents something that I was aware of in my visits to Germany and in some aspects of German photography. A few of the photographs I took there in the very different 1980s would certainly fit into a book like Colberg’s, though the exhibition of images and text I showed in 1986 had a very different feeling.

Of course things have changed since then though when I went back to Germany to stay in the same place and with the same family in 2013 my experience was rather more positive than his.

You can view the book I produced based on my pictures from the 1980s on the preview at Blurb, and if you make the preview full page can read the texts that I wrote back in 1986 to accompany them in the show, which represent both some of my feelings about the pictures and my experiences in Germany and my sometimes odd sense of humour which these brought out.

The Incredible World of Photography

Wednesday, August 5th, 2020

Thanks to an article by Jörg M. Colberg on Conscientious I have just spent most of the time I would normally have taken writing a post for this blog on the Kunstmuseum Basel web site online exhibition ‘The Incredible World of Photography‘ which is based on the collection of over half a million images made over 45 years since 1974 by Ruth and Peter Herzog as well as images in the Kunstmuseum’s collection. Among other things the Herzog collection includes around 3,000 photo albums produced by individuals and families around the world, with their small images pasted or held by photo corners onto scrapbook pages for passing around with friends and family – an earlier and limited form of social media.

The Herzog collection is particularly interesting in containing much work by unknown photographers (I don’t much like the term ‘anonymous’ as it’s just that no record has been made of their names.) The web site presents them with an interesting commentary and the site takes some time to explore; although I might argue (you always do my wife would say) with some of the texts it’s both informative and entertaining, and my only slight disappointment came when clicking on the magnifying glass icon to see images more clearly results in only a slight increase in size, hardly enough to warrant the effort of finger on mouse.

If you are in Basle you can visit the gallery and see more, and there is also a 360 page catalogue of this and two other exhibitions of the collection, ‘Exposure Time (E): A Photographic Encyclopaedia of Man in the Industrial Age‘ with a preview online.

Unlike Colberg, I haven’t actually seen a copy of the catalogue, and his piece, The Incredible World of Photography puts the show and book in a wider context. In a short consideration of the difference between physical albums and digital ones he asks “It will be interesting to see how future historians will deal with digital albums: is there actually going to be a way to do that, given that so many of them exist on corporate platforms?”

Colberg suggests that the Herzog collection might be a good starting point for developing “a vastly expanded (and more critical) new History of photography” allowing “what as long been dismissed as vernacular photography” to “have its proper part in that endeavour.” It isn’t of course a novel idea, and something we have already seen at least to a limited extent. And while there may be much of interest in unearthing material from the vernacular and neglected, a great deal of it is tedious in the extreme. My own view of history is very much one that stresses the importance of influence and development which I think is behind the “artists that we think are so special“. I still think at least most of them were.


My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage : Flickr


Berlin-Wedding

Wednesday, November 20th, 2019

Michael Schmidt (1945-2014) published his book ‘Berlin-Wedding‘ back in 1978 and it was soon recognised as something of a classic. Long out of print has now been republished by Koenig Books.

You can read more about it in a typically thoughtful post by Jörg M. Colberg on Conscientious, Berlin-Wedding (and the rest of West Germany). Colberg grew up in West Germany and his writing about the book very much reflects that.

Like Schmidt (who was born in the same year as me, though in a different country) I was impressed by the work of the US New Topographics, particularly Robert Adams and Lewis Balz, and the 1975 show with its subtitle ‘Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape‘. Impressed enough to go to a workshop with Balz around 1980. It was an interesting experience – not least for the other photographers I met there, including Peter Goldfield – but perhaps in line with the photography, rather cool and strangely impersonal.

It’s an influence that shows in some of my work, perhaps most obviously in some of the pictures in my ‘German Indications‘, (see the preview there) though I found it a little too arid for my tastes. As perhaps did Schmidt, although a more rigorous follower of the NT approach, with a second group of pictures in the book of people in their homes.

Balz was also almost exactly my age – like Schmidt – and also like Schmidt died in 2014. I didn’t find Balz the easiest person to get on with (and rather put my foot in it by pointing out that the page proofs he was looking through for his Park City handled the highlights better than his silver gelatine prints) but found him very interesting lecturing about the other photographers he was associated with, including several I was previously unaware of, particularly Chauncey Hare, another photographer – like Schmidt – of people in their domestic interiors.

It isn’t easy to write about Hare on-line, as although you can buy a couple of books with his pictures in, he has resisted putting his pictures on-line and refused me permission to reproduce any when I wanted to write about him some years ago. I ended up with publishing just a short unillustrated note.

Copies of the first edition of Berlin-Wedding now sell for over £200, so at around £30 if you shop around the re-issue is perhaps a bargain. Though not so much a bargain as the copy of Chauncey Hare’s Interior America that Colberg picked up for $1. I think it is still the best book about Hare, and secondhand copies are generally reasonably priced if not quite such bargains.