Sunday, January 24, 2010
[Foto Bernd und Hilla Becher]
At my local bookstore - while trying to steer my eyes away from the hard core distractions of the lavish display of soft porn photo titillations by the likes of La Chapelle Testino Newman Olaf and so forth and so on - I got my nose stuck between the pages of a lucid book on the works of the Düsseldorf School of Photography, starting from the soothing and consolatory stern cooling towers by Bernd und Hilla Becher. I am not saying that the Ruhr Valley is the landscape that I love the most, but that the rigours of objective photography (Neue Sachlichkeit) can be at times a much-needed refreshment and the way to go for a project.
Somewhat to my surprise the moment found me peculiarly perceptive for the German look on things. Furthermore I had to think of my own work and recognize that at least part of it is related if not directly connected to it, at least to the same extent as the work of Atget is. I won’t go into the reasons why, but find that in general the Teutonic side of our personality is not one that we most easily admit to. Still it is there, we might just as well use it and learn from them instead of playing with our Airfix Spitfire replicas in the endless and utterly fruitless commemoration of glories that weren’t even ours to start with. Mittel Europa is far closer than we think, and better.
The dam busters were New Zealanders (and Jeremy Clarkson is allegedly an idiot). The surviving “Crauts” had to amend, rebuild from the rubble and their offspring now pays for the Euro while carrying the cross of past guilt indefinitely, at our pleasure, while being occasionally laughed and sneered at.
It’s enough to grow resentment even in the most saintly and repentant soul, and I playfully suspect that the German revenge is in fact subtly taking place in the form of a race to excellence that can’t be matched by other Europeans, not on their terms at least. Industrially, commercially and artistically. With an at times maddening penchant for logic thought and hard work, plenty of money and an eagerness to do well, Germans excel in every field. May I be excused for finding it very irritating when I hear that Andreas Gursky’s photographs are selling at astronomical prices (in excess of a million dollars)? Admittedly, they are SHARP and BEAUTIFUL but still it reeks of blatant excess in market manipulation. His prints are industrial products, to be reproduced in the thousands if one so wished. I mean: he must have an ego the size of a Zeppelin, and where does that leave the rest of photography? I don’t think he cares and would find my query a petulant squeal to sneer at, if take notice at all if he got wind of it.
Benedikt Taschen is another character that I would like to mention, because we owe him so much in improving the availability of art books. Huge fat volumes full of colour reproductions of anything at all are now provided by this omnivorous publisher at a fraction of former prices. It feels at times as if Taschen is out to publish EVERYTHING. So as absolutes go, this one as well will not be attended in full, but it sure gets close.
Last thought that I would like to share with you on the subject is one that will make them endearing, because in fact much of this Grundlichkeit is actually an illusion, as any other preconceived notion is. Once in a while news of some monumental or minor cock up crosses the border to reveal that maybe things aren’t as perfect as they would have us believe. Far from undermining their worth as a nation, this fact actually allows for the idea that they may, in exchange for human fallibility, possess more of the qualities that are traditionally allocated to other people. So we can open up to the notion that not only there is a little German somewhere within our souls, but that the Germans themselves host quite a bit of us. Auf Wiedersehen.