Archival Inkjet Print 100 cm x 40 cm Gegenueberstellung 18 Gegenueberstellung 17 Gegenueberstellung 14 Pistenraupe Gegenueberstellung 12 Gegenueberstellung 11 Gegenueberstellung 10 Gegenueberstellung 9 Gegenueberstellung 8 Gegenueberstellung 7 Gegenueberstellung 6 Gegenueberstellung 5 Gegenueberstellung 4 Gegenueberstellung 3 Gegenueberstellung 2 Gegenueberstellung 1 Gegenuberstellung 16 Gegenuberstellung 15
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Archival Inkjet Print | 100 cm x 40 cm Edition: 6 (+2 AP) 142,5 cm x 56,5 cm Edition: 4 (+2 AP)

 

A LESSON

Walker Evans, the outstanding American photographer, was regarded as an incorruptible chronicler of America in the 1930s and 40s. Towards the end of his life in the early seventies, when asked in an interview whether his photographs could be considered to be documentary photographs, he denied this: the police produce documentary photographs at crime sites whereas his own photographs are images, documentary in style. During this conversation Evans indicated that documents, as opposed to art, serve a purpose.

While documentary photographs are characterized by objective presentation, general comprehensibility and can be considered as signs of a particular time, photographs that are documentary in style reflect the subjective self-expression of the artist.

Capturing a motif with an image as an expression of authentic description is therefore in contrast with a photographic concept that expresses itself through recognition but simultaneously aims to shift our perception. This incongruity marks the change from documentary expression to artistic presentation. Images of this sort are ambivalent in character as they can be read in two ways: ideally always as representing their time and simultaneously also as raised above the particular, specific context thus making a universally valid statement. The veracity associated with this kind of photography always results from an artistic construction consciously applied to the formal language of documentary record. Here, passionate commitment along with a detached point of view are paradoxically united. And despite the objective presentation, these images are somehow recognizable because the photographer sees himself as the author of his pictures. He applies the techniques he has developed to achieve his individual composition. His signature, developed from an artistic concept and often from the existential interest with which he works on a theme, differentiates him from the commercial photographer who illustrates the ideas of his employer. On the other hand, the artistic photographer himself determines the context in which his work should appear, how and where it is to be presented and published.

To do justice to the complexity of their themes, these photographers group their photographs in series, combine them with other images or texts, arrange them in instalments and place them in a network of relationships. The single image and its associated claim to absolute right —in formal terms as well as regarding content—is generally renounced, enabling us to view a broader version. By the original addition of single parts to create a new whole, by cooperating associatively and by comparative viewing we become the photographer’s partner, accepting his proposal to participate.

In the work at hand, Alois Hechenblaikner finds an individual approach to the field of documentary photography, in which he constructs a confrontation of historical photographs to his own. A productive tension develops between the different types of photography, connecting pure visual pleasure with analytical observation.

The photographer grew up in the Alpbach valley [Alpbachtal] which runs parallel to the better known Ziller valley [Zillertal] in Tyrol [Austria]. Hechenblaikner comes from a family that benefited from the tourist boom during the postwar period. As a young man, however, he found the valley too constricting and combined his wanderlust with the profession of photographer. He has reported on India, Burma, Vietnam, New Guinea, Bhutan, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Hechenblaikner did then find his life’s main theme in the immediate vicinity. Having travelled widely, he found upon his return that his perception of his homeland had changed – a homeland exposed to rapid economic growth through increasing tourism. The most interesting photographers have always found their motifs in their own surroundings and amazed us with these images because the photographers saw and formulated what we had not yet observed or had simply overlooked. For us to retain lasting fascination with these pictures, more is required than a pure photographic record of the immediate environment, more than a description of place by the photographer. A personal relationship must become manifest and the pictures designed in such a way as to point beyond the immediate illustration, to transcend the objects in a certain manner so a type of universality is achieved. The American photographer Robert Adams, who was the first to take up ecological themes in the mid-60s, described successful landscape photography as a blend of autobiography, topography, and metaphor.

Armin Kniely, a freelance agricultural engineer, was commissioned to take pictures on behalf of the Tyrolean Agricultural Society between 1936 and 1970. He recorded patterns and shapes of settlements, fields and meadows as well as building forms, but also the farmer at work, rural customs, processions and feast day celebrations. His black-and-white photographs, taken with the goal of documentation, vividly show rural motifs in context. The mutual intertwining of landscape and work, the existential dependence on the intactness of nature becomes clear. From today’s point of view the pictures come across as understandable and immediate, only few seem nostalgic. They are visual evidence of a bygone era and a simple peasant’s world and life. The strain of work, sometimes fraught with risk, and the privations of the rural population become clear. At the time of these photographs, no agricultural revolution had taken place here, people had not yet been replaced by machines. Women worked hard in the fields as well as managing the household. Using photography Kniely cut right to the heart of rural society in Tyrol, describing living conditions without forgetting the significance of the values and traditions in this society. These document a bygone era.

Tyrol today! Skiing, snowboarding, sledding, hiking, mountain climbing, hang gliding, mountain biking, eating, drinking, sleeping, and partying. Folk music: The Zillertaler, Zillertaler Haderlumpen, Zillertaler Schürzenjäger, Zillertaler Gipfelstürmer [all regional music bands] Mountain disco, open air concerts with thousands of fans, something for everyone. Summer and winter, season after season, event after event. A well-oiled leisure machine. A tourist paradise. Big business with great profits. Forty million overnight stays a year.

For more than ten years, Alois – “Lois” for short – Hechenblaikner has been working on several long term projects, critically assessing the enormous changes that have occurred in Tyrol these past decades. In this work, he demonstrates clearly to what extent his native land has committed itself in a completely disastrous way to tourism. His dialogue between old and new images does not simply illustrate “before” and “after”, does not work with direct comparison like the studies by some photographers who seek out historical images of places and then today take photographs from the same perspective. Hechenblaikner does not duplicate the motifs; rather, he has studied the archives of the elder photographer precisely, in a certain manner memorizing the images’ concept and internalizing them so that he finds formal present-day counterparts to Kniely’s motifs and thus creates a link on the basis of visible phenomena. He contrasts a cattle market with a parking lot, field workers with golfers, a tractor with a snow grooming machine – symbols of the working world opposed to those of a leisure society permeated by signs from the advertising industry. By combining the two, he not only succeeds in creating a leap in time but also achieves a pictorial analysis of what typically constitutes life – previously and today. Back then, life in Tyrol was dominated by rural work, confrontation with almighty nature – everyday life in small, religiously influenced and manageable communities with their norms and values. In this region today, on the other hand, life is primarily about offering the greatest variety of leisure activities to as many people as possible, irrespective of the season. In the dialogue set up by Hechenblaikner, the combination of black-and-white and colour photos makes clear how much Kniely’s photography in black-and-white indicates psychological perception of the end of the action — the images are clearly documentary records of a past that will not return, whereas in contrast Hechenblaikner’s colour images appear current, present and enduring. They show the dynamic process of a monocultural tourism industry whose future is uncertain.

When the old images were taken, the touristic emphasis was still solely on winter;

now winter has been replaced by a breathless succession of the widest variety of leisure activities all year round whose one and only goal is to satisfy the paying guests. The constant availability of the landscape for these purposes leaves the most visible signs of change – an agricultural landscape that changed to a much-used “leisure-scape”. The intactness of the landscape, still shown in the early Kniely photographs, the apparent harmony between man and nature, no longer exist in this way today. Through the discovery of environmental damage in this region, we have had to learn that the landscape cannot be redesigned at will nor be an unlimited resource.

The dialogue between the images also demonstrates how much people’s everyday lives have changed. It recounts the loss of traditions, of working the land in rhythm with the seasons and having to perform services all year round today. It tells of the individualization of society and of contemporary forms of leisurely activities based on consumerism where everything takes on the character of commodities, even human relationships. The writer Erich Kästner already noted in the diary he kept in 1945 when living in the Ziller valley [Zillertal], that – linked to a dialectic process – the natives critically oppose the tourist sojourns and tourist activities on whom they depend existentially: “It is quite palpable that a majority of the locals are not exactly well disposed towards us, and this aversion can quite easily be understood. Whoever lives from tourism cannot stand the strangers; that’s how it begins. They use his parlours, his mountain air, his panoramas, his sunshine, his lavatory and his meadow flowers – it has got to bother him. Because these dawdlers pay entrance fees, rental fees and for sports, the native has to seek to conceal his unwillingness and that usually makes matters even worse. If they simply sent money by postal order, instead of showing up in person, harmony would be possible. However, they arrive in person, as appendages to their wallets and that goes a bit too far. That the strangers, as the name indicates, are strange is annoying enough. But it is usually the big city types … arrogant and overbearing, the purest poison to the farmer’s heart.”

In the future, changing global climate will be a scarcely manageable challenge for the tourist regions, which themselves are part of the problem. According to predictions there will no longer be any guarantee of winter snowfall in the Alps – the glaciers, covered in tarpaulin to avoid melting during the summer, are currently the most visible signs of global warming. This will not only fundamentally change the alpine regions; entirely new forms of tourism and leisure behaviour must be developed, signifying an opportunity for the region. Right now late-capitalist mass tourism, aiming at quick implementation of all requirements and demands while simultaneously exploiting human and natural resources, still prevails: fulfilment of the meaning of life based on the ideal of acting out all desires during a brief “time-out” from everyday life. Eternal holiday as entitlement.

In Austria, where nearly every third person lives from tourism, Lois Hechenblaikner’s work is met with almost hostile rejection. In a paradoxical way, the beauty of this region is connected with criticism of the (exploitive) alpine industry, and regional phenomena are displayed, formulating universal meaning in timeless and accessible language. Constructing a dialogue between different types of pictures, leaping between the ages, and allowing comparative observation, constitute an original contribution. This contribution also embraces social responsibility and contradicts W. Evans’ aforementioned statement claiming art to have no usefulness. Hechenblaikner’s critics fail to see his work’s moral approach, which uses pictorial methods to analyze the issues relentlessly — it is namely this demonstrative presentation that permits acceptance of the given circumstances, the prerequisite for constructively dealing with them: naming the loss in order to learn from it. Thus this lesson [Lehrstück] is about much more than just Tyrol.

Thomas Weski

 

 

Wolfgang Ullrich

Two pictures say more than a thousand words

If you have experience of images you will know how unexpectedly and how powerfully they can work together. However uninteresting an image may appear in isolation, it can become humorous, cynical, enlightening or uplifting in the context of other images. Perhaps the closest parallel is in chemistry: mix two apparently harmless substances together and the results can be dramatic.

It is perplexing what can happen just by putting two images together. They may simply be opposites, or they may confirm and reinforce each other. They may become variations on a theme, tell a brief story or present a challenging puzzle of similarity and diversity. The power of paired images has often been exploited not just in the history of art but also in propaganda and advertising. Examples range from the traditional devotional Christian diptych to the striking before-and-after hair restorer adverts, through to photos lamenting the decline and fall of a culture. Nowadays we are surrounded by images and combining them has become at least as important as creating new ones.

However, what was probably the most subtle form of image pairing occurred in earlier centuries – in an art form known as ‘pendants’1 – in which two images were juxtaposed to represent a related subject but one viewed from a different perspective, or in a different mood or with varying connotations. Pendants were at their most popular in the 18th Century but they had already been handled effectively both by Claude Lorrain and by Caspar David Friedrich. [1] But it was often not even the artist who assembled the pendant; this was arranged in the workshops and sales rooms of printers. They recognised that etchings were often more saleable in pairs because they gave their viewers more to think about and discuss. It even became customary to combine etchings of works by different artists, and even images from different periods came together in pendants. 2[2]

The Tyrolean photographer Lois Hechenblaikner has not just reverted to this approach, but literally enriched it with a new and significant dimension. In the pendant pairings he has produced since 2000 he juxtaposes a black and white photograph from the vast archives of the agricultural engineer Armin Kniely (1907-1998) with a colour photograph which he himself has taken.

These are unlike the 18th Century pendants in that the different dates of origination are immediately recognisable, as is the theme. Lois Hechenblaikner seeks to highlight how a region (almost all the photos are from Tyrol) has changed over just two generations. In the 1930s and even the 1960s the photographs record upland farmers labouring in the fields or traditional customs, yet the modern photos are dominated by tourism and views of today’s leisure culture in all its various forms. But Hechenblaikner does more than just record structural change: his special skill is to relate two scenes which are similar in form. In this way his photo pairings become pendants – two photos which challenge you to compare them because, despite all their differences, they have something in common.

Hechenblaikner’s image pairings often go far beyond mere association, a device commonly found in art in which combinations offer a multiplicity of meanings and a challenging puzzle. His are almost uncanny, incredible, grotesque, because the similarities he has discovered are so striking. So much so that sometimes you are bound to wonder whether his colour photographs simply replicate the black and white subjects. But you soon realise that Lois Hechenblaikner has not staged his photographs; they contain people and often large groups of people, scenes that would be too difficult, perhaps even impossible for an individual photographer, to set up. It is thanks to Hechenblaikner’s remarkable visual memory that in his travels he continually recognises situations which parallel the older photographs. For example, in earlier times farmers used to fire slurry on to their fields, now it is snow cannons, the poles on which hay was hung to dry look remarkably similar to mobile phone masts and where farmers used to pose proudly with their sheep, golfers now pose with their golf trolleys.

So the pendants speak to us at two levels. On the one hand they document the striking changes in the Alps in recent decades and on the other they show that the changes are just superficial, that the actors still perform on the same stage, although the set has changed. You could almost see this as confirmation of what Aby Warburg called ‘formulas of pathos’, namely gestures and constellations which keep occurring across the epochs and across cultures, and take on the status of anthropological constants. Warburg wanted to research these formulae and presented them in the form of an atlas in which images were collated from the widest variety of backgrounds with related subjects presented as a tableau. This book by Lois Hechenblaikner can be seen as a Tyrolean variant of a similar project. However, Warburg was driven by metaphysical interest, searching for archetypes of human existence. He spreads his net wide on the individual pages of his atlas and juxtaposes images which at least at first sight have little in common, whereas Hechenblaikner’s work is very much more closely focused. He always presents pairs of images with an underlying structure, and therefore the result is far more convincing. With Hechenblaikner each pairing makes a fresh point.

But by its nature the pendant is not finished when it has made its point. On the contrary it challenges you to reflect. The interplay of identity and difference, which Lois Hechenblaikner highlights with every juxtaposition, provides that space. To a greater degree than other visual art and even other types of image pairs, pendants demand that you are responsive and they grant your thoughts the space to develop. You can then consider how two so apparently different scenarios such as agriculture and tourism, religion and sport, custom and commerce can be expressed through such similar image types, or you can contemplate how change could be so rapid and over such a short time in a region, with activities and situations being so totally transformed. The fascination is twofold: the similarities of what is different and the differences in what is similar. But either way, you have to combine the two, identity and difference. You may focus on a specific example and consider for instance the role of sheep and golf trolleys, and whether they may symbolise a certain lifestyle. Or you may be stimulated by the whole collection of image pairs and be prompted to form theories to explain what you see.

In one text Lois Hechenblaikner himself speaks of image pairs “creating such a powerful third image in the mind of the viewer that he literally sees the light”. But depending on your interest, your attitude and your preconceptions it may not be the same light that other people see. It was Hechenblaikner’s original intention to use the juxtapositions to tell the story of change in the Tyrol and the Alps, a story of loss, but it is equally possible to retrospectively deconstruct the vanished world. On the one hand the change from black and white to colour may lead to the conclusion that today a brutal market logic has taken centre stage with everything screaming for attention harshly and obscenely. Yet, because it seems alien in its uniform monotone aspect, you could also be persuaded to regard the past not just through rose-tinted spectacles. Idyllic as the life of farmers of the past might seem, with their family loyalties, their faith in God and their working in tune with the seasons, might life not also have been just as harsh, banal and cold as today’s entertainment industry, computer generated imagery in films and the consumer-based world of mass tourism – or even more so? Is it actually real cultural decline if we see all natural materials replaced by plastics, open views by advertising hoardings, beautiful scenery by consumer entertainment events, earnestness and self-discipline by superficiality and complacency? Or is it not also a sign of freedom and prosperity – progress, in fact – if people can live their lives as they wish and are no longer bound by a life of poverty and need?

Even if you opt decisively for one interpretation, if you are either a cultural pessimist or an advocate of fundamental equality across the different epochs or you simply welcome this progress, you can never really exclude the other interpretations. The better a pair of images, the more dramatic the alternative ways of viewing it. It is fundamental to the concept of the pendant that it causes you to swing from one idea to another, considering and reconsidering – they are the ideal form of visual art for sceptics who are reluctant to commit themselves and prefer to have at least a second perspective to hand. So when Lois Hechenblaikner juxtaposes two images they really do say more than the thousand words of the single viewpoint.

Uniting thesis and antithesis, pendants lead to philosophical thought – to an eternally inconclusive consideration of history, mankind and culture. Elevating the challenge of the pendant to a principle is excellent mental stimulation.

 Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich

 


[1] Vgl. H. Diane Russell: “Claude’s Psyche Pendants: London and Cologne”, in: Studies in the History oft art 14 (1984), S. 67-81; Werner Busch: Caspar David Friedrich. Ästhetik und Religion, München 2003, S. 144-158.

[2] Vgl. W. McAllister Johnson: “Anomalous Pendants in the late 18th-Century French Prints”, in: Gazette des Beaux-Arts 143 (2001), S. 267-280.

[3] Vgl. Aby Warburg: Der Bilderatlas Mnemosyne, hg. v. Martin Warnke, Berlin 32008.