'Mitternacht' Dreaming in Deep Prussian Blue ...
This year (2017) I began work on a new series of images that reflects my fascination with found photographs. Why found photographs and why these ones in particular? For me, the found photograph is a poignant symbol of a lost moment. The snapshot in particular represents a narrative of family and an assertion of identity and self; they are visual fragments of what was once significant to that nucleus of ordinary people who made, collected and collated them in their albums. They are often posed, set up and situated in a subjective way but they are nevertheless in the main artlessly done, they do not dissemble in the manner of the sophisticated (and intentionally manipulative) image from media or advertising. They are the treasure of the family inheritance, they bow to lineage, signal the normative importance of the traditional family and look with optimism to the future. Yet, here they are, in the hands of myself, a stranger who has bought them en masse online.
This particular group of photographs all come from Germany and are those most personal (choreographed) reflections on their maker's lives, the snapshot, made during the period of the German ‘National Revolution’. This choice reflects my interest in German society, culture, art, politics and, of course, photography, in the antebellum and through into the 1940s. These ‘lost’ pictures are reminders that even during dynamic historical events people continued to record their happy, social, familial occasions just as they had since the snapshot became ubiquitous at the end of the nineteenth century. The ordinary transcends the extraordinary. Or rather, the social and political ‘sunshine’ of the new dispensation is reflected in the ordinary paper snippet of the snapshot.
The Studium (after Roland Barthes) of these photographs is the historical context that they provide, they allow us a glimpse through the eyes of ordinary people living in Hitler’s Germany. This is a world so often projected back at us through the darkened lens of television ‘documentaries’ and Hollywood ‘blockbusters' as to be either wholly evil or wholly alien. Yet for these people, the new era clearly promised so much after the social and economic disasters of the Weimar period, not least of which were national pride, employment, bread and, as part of the ‘German People's Community’ (Volksgemeinschaft), security.
These photographs are poignant shadows of this now penumbral world. One lad stands in his Reich Labour Service (RAD) uniform with his sweetheart; another photographer peers through the Nuremberg Rally crowd to a row of gigantic hanging swastikas; an SA man stands proudly next to his family and their new born baby; a Rhinemaiden with thick blond plaits drops her eyes demurely. Yet the endless summer-image that these snapshots present to us would soon be gone in the fiery apocalypse of the war. This is their Punctum (to use Barthes other term), their connection with us, the now distant viewer.
I have taken these snapshots (piled up, curled up, fading, dog-eared) and re-photographed them. They were then reprinted as cyanotypes, a permanent iron-based process (first developed by Sir John Herschel in 1842) and one to which I have returned often in recent years. It uses ammonium iron (III) citrate and potassium ferricyanide to produce Prussian Blue (ferric ferrocyanide). There are symbolic echoes in this iron printing out process that appeals to me with its blue prussic staining. It is a combination of this process and the physical presentation (the circle) that is key.
'God is a circle whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere'
The circle is an eye on the past, an appropriate universal symbol that signifies wholeness, totality and in particular an eternal return, a Kalachakra. The 'lost' moments of the snapshots (lost to history, lost to family) are now given a new significance. The people in the frame, fixed in prussic blue, await their rebirth in the eternal cycles of time.
O Mensch! Gib acht!
Was spricht die tiefe Mitternacht?
Ich schlief, ich schlief—,
Aus tiefem Traum bin ich erwacht:—
Die Welt ist tief,
Und tiefer als der Tag gedacht.
Tief ist ihr Weh—,
Lust—tiefer noch als Herzeleid:
Weh spricht: Vergeh!
Doch alle Lust will Ewigkeit—,
—will tiefe, tiefe Ewigkeit!
O man! Take heed!
What saith deep midnight's voice indeed?
"I slept my sleep—
"From deepest dream I've woke and plead:—
"The world is deep,
"And deeper than the day could read.
"Deep is its woe—
"Joy—deeper still than grief can be:
"Woe saith: Hence! Go!
"But joys all want eternity—
"Want deep profound eternity!"
Zarathustra's Rundgesang (English Translation - Thomas Common)
This piece illustrated above and nine other images from my new cyanotype series 'Mitternacht' were exhibited in the exhibition entitled 'Sofortbilder – Fotografische Unikate im digitalen Zeitalter' at Kunsthaus Hänisch, Kappeln, Germany. 23.04. - 25.06.2017 (curator Angeline Schube-Focke)