Soul of a Camera

Aschau, December 2014

Does a camera have a soul? In case of a Leica, you are tempted to think that. Leica has been dominating the better part of the 20th century when it comes to taking the pictures that really matter. How much is it the camera, how much is it the fact, that this one was just small enough to bring it when it was important? And when all you heroes had one, it’s only natural to get one, right? Be like Robert?

The camera is of course a beast: I got one rather cheap on ebay. From 1955 with a double-stroke and a 50mm Summicron that has scratches and never seems to be sharp anywhere. Took it to Spain, took it to Aschau in the Alpes. Most images just came out bad. “impressionistic” is the most flattering description for what usually came out too dark or blurry or both. Doesn’t have any measuring, so I use the iphone or my RX100 or just plain and simple sunny-sixteen to estimate lighting. Everything seems to be off: The focus, the lighting, the aperture, times seem to be off too, sometimes.

And yet.

There is one shot on every roll that comes out like a memory. Not exactly as I intended it to be, just good in a different way. It has a sound. So just shoot more. This is always good advice. Can’t control this camera yet, have no idea how it does what it does when it actually does it. But every once a while I feel like I’m channeling the faint echo of Kertesz. Like Robert Frank is tapping me on the shoulder, probably pointing out how wrong this is and what a lame copy-cat.

And yet.

Must be the shoes. Must be the camera.

 

 

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Dead Heroes II

You Are Doing It Wrong, Bochum, August 2014

You Are Doing It Wrong, Bochum, August 2014

I have no idea, if Hilla Becher ever took any other pictures than those of industrial structures. Maybe there are some pictures of her kids, images of last christmas, a selfie with her husband who had already passed away in 2007.

Hilla Becher and her husband Bernd Becher have been the epitome of consistency in visual output for over 40 years. What do we make of this gigantic oeuvre?! I often struggle in my images with consistency, I get bored easily, I try different cameras and different approaches. I am light-years away from what the Becher’s did. And although I am not sure that I actually aspire their rigid approach, I absolutely admire what they have done. They single-handledly introduced a conceptual way of thinking about photography, something that has not been there before.

And they did it with a vengeance, a monk-like furor of meditation, that send them all over the world in search of the always-same. They put Europe in general and Germany in particular on the map of current photography and their legacy lives on: There is practically no one, who is currently working in Germany who has not been touched by the Düsseldorf School of photography: Either by following them or by struggling to find another way.

Hilla Becher died this month in her home in Düsseldorf.

 

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Don McCullin: The Vanishing Pictures Of War

The past 60 years after WWII on this little island Germany we have seen an unprecedented time of peace and growing wealth: The West seems to have won even the cold war and history seemed to amount to a spiral into an utopia of peace and abundance – from practically every other point in the world, the second half of the century has been a time of terror, despotism and decline and the war has never stopped. Don McCullin has photographed many of the battles of the 20th century and he has seen the unspeakable horrors that wars inflict.

There is a pivotal situation not only in McCullins life, but in the history of media, which explains how photography has changed since the early eighties: On the 13th February of 1981, Rupert Murdoch acquired the Times and the Sunday Times, where McCullin has been working at that time and had published most of his photo-stories about the war for almost 18 years, very shortly after, he left the Times. When he wanted to cover the Falkland wars, he was declined to board the ship taking off to Falkland by the British Government.  If you open up a magazine today, you won’t find images of the wars that are currently ravaging the planet: There are almost no documentations on the atrocities of the war in Iraq, rarely any pictures of Somalia, you could get the idea that no one ever died in the Ukraine – and Rupert Murdoch obviously argumented correctly, when he said that no one wants to see these kind of pictures: Not the people financing newspapers and TV with their ad-money, not the people who watch TV. This has obviously changed from the 70ies, when pictures of war were so common as war itself was: Now, the grip of nations in war who want to control the images are tight: Together with a media in turmoil of greed and cost-cutting and technological change this has formed an absurd climate. War itself is still common, images of war are not. When in 2014, Christoph Bangert had released his book “War Porn”, pages were sealed to prevent viewers from accidentally glimpsing the horror. If we go to war – and currently, all western countries do – we owe it to ourselves and the people we are killing, to do it with our eyes wide open.

The documentary is currently showing on Netflix, it is hard to sit through it without breaking down in tears, but we need to keep our eyes wide open and honor the people that remind us of the horrors, that nobody wants to see anymore.

 

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Goodbye Lou Reed

Robert Frank: Sick of goodby’s, from “The Lines Of My Hand”

Sometimes I feel so happy,
Sometimes I feel so sad.

— from Pale Blue Eyes, Velvet Underground

felt sad, when I accidentally stumbled upon this short note from Lou Reed on Robert Frank’s photo, realizing that he was actually gone and I’m entering an age where the heroes of my youth are starting to die. This is purely self-pity of course, so instead I put up an old record of him and felt happy to have his music still here with me.

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In 1853 the New York Daily estimated that three million daguerrotypes were being produced that year.

— A.C. Wilers, “Poet and  Photography”, in Picturescope, Vol. XI. No 4

 

Flickr has grown to the point where it now has 92 million users, spread across 63 countries, who contribute to almost 2 million groups and share around 1 million photos every day.

Flickr At 10, Darrell Etherington, Techcrunch, Feb 10, 2014

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The Trap

#283

Bochum, Januar 1982

Photography cannot find alternatives to depiction, as could the other fine arts. It is in the physical nature of the medium to depict things. In order to participate in the kind of reflexivity made mandatory for modernist art, photography can put into play only its own necessary condition of being a depiction-which-constitues-an-object.

— Jeff Wall, from “Marks of Indifference

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There Are Too Many Images

#282

Heidelberg, September 2015

There are too many images. Too many cameras now. We’re all being watched. It gets sillier and sillier. As if all action is meaningful. Nothing is really all that special. It’s just life. If all moments are recorded, then nothing is beautiful and maybe photography isn’t an art anymore. Maybe it never was.

— Robert Frank, in an article in Vanity Fair 2008

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Photogrammar: 170,000 photographs of America between 1935 and 1945

Telephone linemen at the Casa Grande Valley Farms, Pinal County, Arizona.

Between 1935 to 1945 the United States Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information commissioned photographers to document the situation of the agricultural communities of America after the depression and the great drought known as the “Dust Bowl” had thrown many people into poverty.

The university of Yale has now made these more than 170.000 photos that came out of these assignments available as a web-based project: You can use the search to pick out illustrious names like Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans or Gordon Parks – or just wander around the map of rural america at how many great photographers whose names have since been largely forgotten have been working on this project. And be humbled by the devastating struggle the people in these times went through.

On a side-note, I wonder how and based on what funds our lives will have been documented in eighty years from now: Will there be an archive of geocoded selfies? Will flickr still be on and have grown into a behemoth of cat-pictures of almost a century? With the shift from state-founded documentation towards a largely unorganized sprawl of privately and corporately organized photography, thes kind of gigantic, centrally organized endeavors have been replaced by make-shift. Yes, there are certainly many, many more pictures in the world today, but which of these pictures will still be there in a century? Or, to put it another way: When we’re all gone and our struggles forgotten, what picture of this will our descendants have left from us? A ton of Selfies?

 

 

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