TRACING TRANSFORMATIONS –
Photographic impressions between landscape and living environment by Laurenz Berges, Michael Collins and Paola De Pietri
An exhibition by Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur
in cooperation with the artists
March 2 – July 8, 2018
The “Tracing Transformations” project presents three positions from three different countries: Laurenz Berges (*1966) from Düsseldorf, Michael Collins (*1961) from London, and Paola De Pietri (*1960) from Reggio Emilia, Italy. Their photographs focus on landscape-related and structural phenomena that they primarily discovered in the vicinity of their studios or their homes and in this respect can be studied over the long term. All three of them attentively observe the meticulous transformation of their environment and use their large-format cameras and therefore the high image quality they achieve to document factual and atmospheric conditions.
The concept of “Tracing Transformations” finds multilayered analogies in the photographs by the three artists. It can refer to weathering, but it can also illustrate a form of intuition and decomposition, dissolution and change. On display are documentary but above all contemplative photographs that deny any premature answers, take the métier to its limits, and challenge our visual curiosity.
The spectrum of motifs in the photographs by Laurenz Berges makes reference to constellations of urban landscapes, to buildings, constructions, and spaces that, used and used up over decades and often abandoned, tell stories about everyday occurrences. His preferred terrain is the Ruhr region, where he finds, for example, simply built townhouses from the postwar period; discovers the avant-corps of a building from the turn of the 20th century that displays a bizarre, apparently useless wooden frame; three bells arranged on a wall that features countless signs of use and whose nameplates are blurred; a plane tree that was planted a long time ago and whose roots have grown under the pavement, raising several stone slabs. Yet no one seems to walk here anymore; the streets that Berges takes pictures of come across as deserted and show no signs of any future modernization.
Time seems to stand still in Laurenz Berges’s photographs, inviting the viewer to extend the duration of his or her gaze. In view of his pictures one can imagine how the artist feels his way, experiences and thinks his way into the atmosphere of the place, the objects he encounters there, the materials, and perhaps what once transpired there.
Michael Collins is presenting a selection of photographs from three different areas of his work. The diptych “Hoo Flats” features landscape views in the estuaries of the Thames and the Medway east of London and constitutes the culmination of the three years he spent working in this area. The artist found an imposing tree in Hampstead Heath in London and photographed it from three different perspectives. For Collins, the tree motif makes reference to the early period of photography and was studied in detail by Henry Fox Talbot, Eugène Cuvelier, or Gustave Le Gray. The photographer approaches the representational area of the sculptural with the three photographs taken in industrial areas. These images are also historical evidence of spent labor and situative atmospheres. In his oeuvre, Collins reflects on the metaphysical qualities of the medium of photography; he sees photography as equivalent to other artistic media, such as painting. Michael Collins describes the works on show as follows: “These eight diverse works juxtapose subjects in order to draw out similarities and incongruities. Each has particular priorities. They are not documentary photographs and in consequence have a myriad of possible meanings. [...] Conceived and composed as tableaux, they are both reflexive of the properties of photography and born of the elusive alchemy of this medium. […] Photography can not only depict air and atmosphere, but spatial dimension too. This quality of "sculptural illusion" is the key characteristic of these pictures; by expanding the depth of field, while maintaining a distinct emphasis on foreground focus and definition, the flat is made plastic, creating an apparent three dimensionality.“
The buildings and trees Paola De Pietri photographed between 2014 and 2017 are situated in the northern Italian Po Basin in the Emilia Romagna, Lombardy, and Veneto regions. The buildings are on former farms that were actively worked so long ago that they have in part fallen into ruin. The imposing freestanding trees were once planted to mark tracts of land or served to retain or protect grapevines. They have meanwhile mostly been relieved of their purpose. However, with the knowledge of the role they once played, each tree and each building can be read as a relic from a bygone epoch and becomes testimony to economic, social, and cultural traditions of the past.
Paola De Pietri’s delicately elaborated black-and-white photographs are characterized by a discretely stringent aesthetic. The motifs are the solitary trees and houses so typical of the region. The spacious character of the fertile basin with its fields and rows is exemplified by a relatively low horizon. The misty weather, the leafless trees document a colder and less colorful season, which De Pietri took advantage of for her work to achieve a visual emphasis of the seemingly exemplary motifs. The outlines of the more distant objects dissolve and merge in a light, foggy background. The photographs belong to the Questa Pianura series, which the artist began in 2004.
The three artists Laurenz Berges, Michael Collins and Paola De Pietri encounter one another for the first time in this exhibition. It unites their intuition and their sharp eye for temporary as well as timeless realities, for facts and gradual transformations, as well as their sensitivity for the specifically fine aesthetic that arises from it.
A leporello (German/English) is published to accompany each of the artistic positions. Assembled in a slipcase, as artistic publications the leporellos have been designed to acquire collector’s value. (Snoeck Verlag, Cologne; graphic design: Claudia Ott, Düsseldorf)
A Look at the Collection:
Landscape – Transformation – Space
With this presentation accompanying the main exhibition, Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur presents historical and contemporary works that once more intensify the artistic examination of the subject matter. Focus is placed on three selected works that were transferred from the holdings of the Stiftung Kunst im Landesbesitz, North Rhine-Westphalia, represented by the Kunstsammlung NRW, to Die Photographische Sammlung as permanent loans in 2017. These works by Boris Becker, Elger Esser, und Candida Höfer are now being thematically and formally related with positions from our own collection by Lawrence Beck, Lee Friedlander and Pierre Bonnard, and Albert Renger-Patzsch in a group exhibition. These will be joined by conceptually related works by Albert Renger-Patzsch, Burkhard Jüttner, and Klaus Rinke from the LVR-LandesMuseum Bonn. The presentation also explores the alternative ways of depicting the landscape that exemplify humankind’s access to nature as well as the relationship between subject and conceptual realization.
Photographer Boris Becker is represented with two large-format color photographs. Both of them portray central sets of motifs in his oeuvre: on the one hand, the visual examination of different surface structures based on an abandoned field (“Untitled 1429,” 1996–97), and on the other hand the exploration of an architectural, technical construction with respect to its aesthetic dimensions and effect, in this case based on the Zoobrücke (Zoo Bridge) in Cologne (“Untitled 1189,” 1994).
The landscape photograph by Elger Esser features an impression of the bank of the Loire, which is often flooded in the winter. The nearly monochrome image in delicate, light shades of yellow and beige has a painterly effect. The composition combines rigorously horizontal as well as vertical elements and in this respect takes up a visual language that can also be found in works by Albert Renger-Patzsch, by whom primarily landscape photographs from the 1940s and 1950s are being shown. The motifs include details of woods in, for instance, a marsh or along rivers. Renger-Patzsch also examines the specific visual effects and atmospheres that the different seasons engender in his delicately elaborated black-and-white photographs, an early version of which is the small tree photographed by Renger-Patzsch in the early spring of 1929 and which is now regarded as an icon of New Objectivity photography.
The photograph taken in 1999 by Candida Höfer shows an interior view of the Museum of Natural History in Rotterdam. The artist has frequently documented museum spaces around the world in large-format color photographs. The view being presented here examines the collection of bird species and causes one to reflect on the relationship between nature, scientific documentation, cultural perception, and institutional interior design.
The American photographer Lawrence Beck also pursues a comparable approach. He took close-up photographs of various types and groups of plants in botanical gardens, always focusing on the associated plate with the respective name designation. A central theme here is the domestication and display of nature.
Photographs by Lee Friedlander enter into a fascinating visual dialogue with drawings by the French painter Pierre Bonnard. The landscape is a key motif for both artists. Evanescence, immediacy, and occasionally a choice of details that can almost be referred to as harsh are pictorial elements that associatively connect the works of both artists. Moreover, they reflect on processes of perception and vision—fundamental artistic questions that come into play individually as well as pointedly in the juxtaposition of the media of photography and drawing.
The collaboration between Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur and the LVR-LandesMuseum Bonn is being launched with works by Burkhard Jüttner, Albert Renger-Patzsch, and Klaus Rinke that have been integrated into the exhibition in Cologne from the collection in Bonn. Each position makes a photographic statement in its own right. Hence the above-mentioned photograph “Das Bäumchen” (The Little Tree) from 1929 is one of the most well known motifs by Renger-Patzsch. It epitomizes the photographer’s highly concentrated eye for found graphic structures, which he documents here in a cultivated landscape consisting of fields, paths, and settlements. Burkhard Jüttner’s black-and-white coastal landscapes from the 1980s are also arranged graphically, although with a strong sculptural-abstract formal language. The documentary photographs by Klaus Rinke taken in 1969 within the scope of his performance “Zwölf Fass geschöpftes Rheinwasser” (Twelve Barrels of Ladled Rhine Water) describe a very different connection to the landscape. This performance plays a key role in Rinke’s creative work and marks the beginning of his examination of the element of water.
Paul Dobe: Photographic studies of nature and the finding of forms (Room 3)
March 2 – July 8, 2018
Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur contains a comprehensive collection of prints, negatives, slides, graphic motifs, and further documents by Paul Dobe (1880–1965). A trained draftsman, in his oeuvre he concentrated on studying nature, turning his attention toward flowers and plant structures. He may have possibly met Karl Blossfeldt in 1905 during his studies at the teaching institute of the Museum of Applied Arts in Berlin, where Blossfeldt taught “plant modeling.” Dobe transferred to Munich in 1908 to intensify his studies at the Debschitz School; his first stylized plant drawings stem from this period. He went to Weimar four years later, where he initially taught at the University of Art and then at the newly established Bauhaus, and where he even established his own small art school. Within the scope of the Blaue Bücher (Blue Books) series, Dobe published “Wilde Blumen der Deutschen Flora: Hundert Naturaufnahmen” (Wild Flowers of German Flora: 100 Nature Photographs) in 1929, which also includes five photographs by Albert Renger-Patzsch.
The black-and-white photographs by Paul Dobe feature flowers and trees as well as photographic reproductions of his drawings. Taken with great precision, the images have been carefully mounted and labeled: with quasi-scientific aspiration and against a botanical background, Dobe sought principles of construction, a law of form based in nature. Dobe devoted himself to the photographic portrayal of different cloud formations with similar impetus. These images are also included in the exhibition. In addition, the photographic sheets that pursue the idea of the principles of order taken from nature in an abstract way and ultimately condense into the new creation of pure forms have a surprising impact.
Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur, Im Mediapark 7, 50670 Cologne, Germany, Tel.: +49 (0)221 888 95 300, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, www.photographie-sk-kultur.de,
exhibitions open daily except Wednesday 2:00–7:00 p.m.
Admission: €5.50 (reduced €3.00), free admission the first Monday of every month! Regular guided tour: every Sunday at 3:00 p.m., price: regular admission + €2.00 fee for the tour