Le Confident

Ideas tête-à-tête

Capturing the essence

A few months ago amazon sold off art books and I got a few. One of these was “Die Fotografie von Christian Bade” edited by Beverley D’Silva in 2005.

Christian Bade is a strange find. He traveled the world, mostly Asia and the Middle-East with a 8×10 inch camera. You know, this old model from the 19th century, that needs 30 minutes exposure.
Strangely enough, there is nothing about him on Google, only a hint to a gallery in Hannover, Germany, but the link is broken too.
Now these photographies are documentary in the sense that Bade shows ordinary people in every-day contexts. What I liked about this book, is that the photographer tries to tell a short story with each picture he publishes, lets you feel nearer to the people, the culture, the far away countries.

There are many travel photographers, documentary pictures and vast archives of our collective cultural heritage. One day, when we will have developed a new intelligence, that surpasses us in every aspect, once we will have lost the evolutionary contest against our own creation – a probable scenario – we will still exert a strong influence on them. Every intelligence needs knowledge to work better. Thus, knowledge is always to some extent kept in high esteem in a society. And, as far as we are concerned, every piece of knowledge, that helps us solve the riddle of who we are, what we can do and where we come from, is eagerly studied. A new intelligence would probably do the same thing. And our archives will be their primary source. Then they will study how we looked like, what we did, where and by what means we lived, what we liked and our thoughts will mingle with theirs and live on. Our essence will live on and continue changing the course of events.

These thoughts aside, let me talk briefly about photographic archives. You know about flickr, deviantART and so on, where you can find truly artistic endeavors next to veritable nothings at all and every day stuff. Then there are many stock photo sites, where you can find visual working material for digital imaging. And then there are archives focusing on culture and history. You might need them one day for the compilation of a history course book or even a well researched blog: they feature paid and free content and reach as far back as the beginning of the 19th century. Especially for children pictures are an indispensable learning source I think. They get accustomed to what they see, and, since we learn only from the abstractions of other people, they necessarily cut out many informations and children can’t fill in many, a less abstract medium like photos give less room for misunderstanding. A child has to build up gradually his abstractions, whereas the ideal for the growing person is an abstraction of utmost clarity: containing as much valid information as possible with in the fewest possible sentences. This is a dichotomy learners must keep in mind. (/random thoughts)

There is for once the immense Corbis archive, founded by Bill Gates in the 1990s. Look there if you ever wondered, where all those things in marketing and advertisement comes from. They include also the Bettman archives, which were started by a passionate photographer from germany before the second world-war and grew to the size of 11 million images.

The second archive is not so easily accessed. It’s the Albert Kahn archive in Paris. BBC published some books and dvds with its content, but the majority of film and photographic material contained within are still to be rearranged. Albert Kahn was a banker at the beginning of the 20th century. He sent photographers and filmers around the globe to collect the culture of this planet. Among them were the first color photographs. If you live in Paris, there is also a beautiful japonese garden left after him in Boulogne-Billancourt.

Looking at all those photographic informations available, it is again easy to see. But one must appreciate the work that lies behind this documentation that will not only affect the future intelligence, but affects us as well. Earth will grow together in one way or another and projects like these, be them conceived on a global or individual level, represent the peaceful way. I learned from Bade for example, that some pictures can be dangerous to take: a public quarrel with weapons, because he wanted to picture a woman at the market in Tripoli; others are at least risky, like showing women praying in a mosque; still others are provocative, like showing diamond diggers and sellers in Borneo side by side, the golden ring on one’s finger as big as the holes in the others trousers. I think that tolerance comes from understanding, and you can only start understanding once you know whats out there to understand. Therefore such works are precious, all the more, since pictures show culture directly and faster than a written treatise.

See here some pictures and a link to BBC’s “The Wonderful World of Albert Kahn”

An indian maharaja; swedisch girls, children from the coast of western france, a woman in traditional irish costume;












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This entry was posted on June 9, 2012 by in Art and tagged , .
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