Tag: photography

A Fragile Beauty

Photographer Claudius Schulze has documented the concrete barriers that make up today’s landscapes. His photos are a reminder of what we fail to notice.

It takes a while until it dawns on you: These photos are no ordinary photos of nature. Each of them features a man-made structure, some barrier to protect the scenery or to keep us safe. German photographer Claudius Schulze has taken these shots to challenge our very idea of looking at landscapes.
“Idyllic nature,” Claudius says, “is really a product of protection agencies working hard to maintain order”. And humans have shaped the planet’s landscape so dramatically that our tools of protection have become part of the environment, neatly blending into the scenery.


Claudius spent the last five years criss-crossing Europe to document these bulwarks, working with a small crane and a large-format camera. He spent many hours laboring over satellite images and even more in the field, camera at the ready, waiting for the environment to be just right. “I wanted to show people interacting with nature,” he says – and the beachgoers, bikers, or pedestrians really underline the inherent sense of normalcy.
But the photographer’s neutral, almost technocratic perspective accomplishes more than just documentation. Claudius, who admits having been inspired by landscape painting, effectively tips the scales, making the beauty in his photos seem uncanny. And it poses a question to the viewer: Why does it take you so long to notice these structures?


Equally subtle is his message that many of the dams, reservoirs, and concrete fences protect both nature and people from the fallout of human-made climate change – and therefore from ourselves. “I wanted to emulate the perspective of a civil engineer,” he explains, “their job isn’t about finding the cause, but simply about the protection from its effects.”
Take some time and immerse yourself in these photos. See the people in the go about their lives, unaware of the structures around them. Admire the effort that went into their construction. And then try to image the landscapes without them. Chances are that you can’t.


Make sure to check out Claudius’ campaign on Kickstarter, where he is raising money turn this project into a photo book called “State of Nature”. It features many more photos, essays, and an original design. You can support the project here.

Photo: (c) Diane van der Marel


Claudius Schulze is a Hamburg-based photographer. He graduated from the M.A. program Documentary Photography and Photojournalism from LCC, University of the Arts London and has been a guest lecturer in photography at several universities – currently at Leuphana University Lüneburg. See more of his work at claudiusschulze.com

Rock it like Soviet Russia

During Perestroika, the Soviet Union was briefly lit by a Rock’n’Roll craze. Photographer Igor Mukhin was there to document the wild years.

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Your photos show a very brief timeframe: Those couple of years during Perestroika when underground rock music culture was born in the Soviet Union.
Yes, it was just a short timeframe, which makes this an important document of a state that no longer exists.
What makes the photos so captivating is that they document a very short timespan.
Exactly! The underground scene was truly underground. Home telephones were tapped, and so all important calls had to be made from public telephones. I went to concerts where the frontman of the band would pick up the ten audience members in the subway. Or sometimes you had to ask around for the address of a concert. Of course, this tactic was later repeated by Pussy Riot. I was fascinated by this culture and how it lived in the shadows, before journalists and professional producers discovered it.
I assume that rock music represented freedom in the same way as it did in the West…
For many bands, the music was an open protest that began with illegal concerts in basements, bomb shelters, kindergartens… and spread out as the music was copied on home recorders and illegally distributed. The government had stopped restraining this kind of expression and so it started happening.
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The Cold War hadn’t ended yet: Was there something mythological about this music? After all, you didn’t otherwise have much contact with the West…
It depends. In the Soviet Union, it had become a tradition for poets to turn into bards, pick up guitars and start playing. So some of the music was in the tradition of ancient Russia – like the band Калинов Мост (Kalinov Most). Others rigidly copied western stars. There was new wave – Странные Игры (Strange Games), punk – Чуто – Юдо (Chouteau – Yudo).
My favorite artists are the musicians from the band АКВАРИУМ (Aquarium) and their mysterious poetry, the band ЗООПАРК (Zoo), which played the autobiographical diary of a punk musician, and the group КИНО (Cinema), who started out as teenage schoolboys. During the revolution, this band was accused by parliamentarians of the Duma of treason, saying they had been playing songs with lyrics written by the CIA.
But to come back to your question: There was actually lots of contact with the West! People brought in music and books that they illegally copied and distributed. For a while, I worked in an illegal recording studio. And records were exchanged all the time. In the forests outside of Moscow, there was a huge clearing where music lovers came to from as far as Odessa and Riga to exchange music; and where you could buy belts and leather jackets.
There were also radio shows we could tune into: The BBC, Voice of America…: All radio stations had rock music programs. The Air Force offered a weekly hit list that played rock.
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What does it mean to you?
Well… I didn’t learn German or English in school. Psychologically, I had no idea how I could get in touch with foreigners in my city, where they only drove around in vehicles between embassies. It’s quite a pity: I went to a dinner to a Parisian restaurant with Robert Doisneau, and at one point Henri Cartier-Bresson came to one of my exhibitions – yet I was essentially deaf. My generation’s deprived of the language needed to understand foreigners and English-language music.
Your photos are full of contrast between tradition and youth culture. How did people react to this new wave of music?
There were lots of festivals, which people from across the USSR attended. But the venues usually only fit around 1000 or 2000 people. Later on, as it all became legalized, the industry quickly professionalized and musicians played in huge stadiums, which I found much less interesting. I was interested in the reactions to this new culture, which is why I photographed many of the people witnessing it.
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Igor Mukhin is a Russian photographer based in Moscow. See more of his work on his website and follow him on Facebook, where he posts a new photo every day.
Many thanks to Ksenia Les and Lora Todorova for their help with some of the translation.

Accuracy in Imperfection

Blurriness, grain, and double exposures used to be a no go in photo albums. Artist Maya Beano leverages them to reconstruct the hazy nature of memories.

What are you looking for when you’re taking a photo?
It’s all about capturing a feeling, a memory or a certain atmosphere, so it’s not necessarily about the reality in front of the lens. I actively create an atmosphere that I like – even if it’s not there.

Maya Beano is an film photographer based in the UK See more of her work on her website: www.mayabeano.com.

Maya Beano is an artist and photographer based in the UK. See more of her work on her website: www.mayabeano.com.


Many photographers consider themselves observers, but your approach seems to involve a lot more planning and construction…
I consider myself more of an artist than a photographer, and I do plan a lot of the pictures: A lot of the work involves double exposures, which tends to make things very dreamy – that’s the way people describe it.
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“I shot this series in Northern Sweden, about 200km north of the Arctic Circle. My friends and I all enjoy snowy landscapes, and so we went out there with our cameras and our hiking gear. A lot of the pictures in this series were shot from an airplane, of sunrises and sunsets in January. It was just wonderful, I had never seen such intensely colored light in the sky. Their winter sunrises and sunsets lasted for hours.”


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Why do you think that is?
If you think of the act of recalling a memory, the images I you have in my your head of the memory aren’t always very clear – at least in my case. It’s more of a mishmash of sights, feelings, sounds and smells. Things overlap quite a bit. That’s what I try to convey in my photos: I rely on long exposures, double exposures or color filters in front of the lens to change the mood.
You’re also deploying a lot of grain and fuzziness.
I don’t really store my film in the fridge like many people do, and it damages it. I reckon it’s cold enough in England to only damage it the right amount! Recently, I got my hand on a lot of expired film and those results are grainier than usual, which I quite like. As long as you can kind of tell what’s going on in the picture, it adds something. So I don’t consider what you’d call mistakes as real mistakes. I consider them a preference. I’m still in an experimental phase.
It’s a fascinating paradox to use something that many would consider broken or accidental to create art. Isn’t it weird that the fragile or damaged nature of film can lets you something that feels more real than reality?
That’s true: If I use a normal digital camera and shoot a very clear picture, it doesn’t give me the right feeling, or doesn’t recreate the atmosphere I want. The very clear images don’t resonate with me as much – whereas the hazy stuff does. It represents a more real image of what I see in my mind.
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Has photography, through digitization, perhaps become too much about the ideal of a “perfectly clear” image?
Yes! I hear this both online and offline. Some say “Your images are so hazy, I can’t tell what’s going on.” Some of them just prefer the clearness of digital. That’s a side-effect of the trend to shoot a perfect picture of something, which is clear and bright, with perfect color reproduction. It doesn’t work for me, I find those pictures a little devoid of feeling. At the end of the day, it’s just a preference.
How do you create image series, if your memories are so muddled?
If I have a particularly powerful memory of something, or a strong emotional reaction to something, it will result in a series of photos. These are often inspired by personal experiences. I grew up in Jordan, in the Middle East, and every spring we would have these giant sandstorms that would fill the sky with these rosy clouds. A while ago, I went to Northern Ireland with my best friend and their sky, when the sun was setting, looked exactly like that. The result is the series “Rose Gold”.
You also took pictures in Iceland, which is a pretty surreal place as it is.
It was easier than usual to add a touch of surrealism to the photos I took in Iceland because the place is so surreal already. The problem was that it was so cold that I had to use warm pouches in my camera bags so that the cameras wouldn’t freeze and stop working. I had a similar experience in the north of Sweden last January.
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Your pictures suggest that there’s another pane to reality that we may be missing. Are we looking at the world in a too factual way?
Sometimes, yes. I find people’s different perceptions of the world incredibly interesting. The simplest example: When I go on a trip and I talk about what I found most interesting, my account of it is usually very different from that of my friends, just as each one of theirs is different. Everyone has a very unique way of seeing the world and I am just trying to document my own personal journeys of the heart and the mind. It’s all a bit hazy in there.

"Trash is a snapshot of our life"

Photographer Gregg Segal portrayed friends and strangers lying in seven days of their own garbage. Between polished eggshells and used syringes he found a lot of shame, pride and contradiction.

Gregg Segal is an American photographer based in California. See more of his work on his website.

Gregg Segal is an American photographer based in California. See more of his work on his website.


With this project, you portray something that most people don’t think about too much: trash. It is an undesired byproduct of something we want and yet it tells us a lot about how we live, consume and who we are. Was that the idea?
Yes, trash is in a way instant archaeology, giving us a glimpse at our value-system. It is a snapshot of our way of life. Trash defines us. Where you shop and what you eat reveal your socio-economic standing. Hopefully in 100 or 200 years, people will look back and think “can you believe how much trash that society produced?”.
Looking at the pictures, the characterization of the subjects is done by showing the garbage they produced over seven days. How important was it to you, that the people lay down in their trash?
As you said, we usually disassociate us from the trash we produce and my idea was to go against that and make a graphic connection between the trash and the people responsible for producing it. The message is pretty straightforward: You’ve made your bed, now lie in it.
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Despite all the filthiness depicted in the pictures, the subjects are usually portrayed quite glamorously and not derogatorily.
Yes, despite the heavy subject, the pictures are meant to be looked at and enjoyed. Just because the context is such a serious or yukky one, doesn’t mean the pictures should be ugly. Contradictions and opposites make for compelling pictures.
In most pictures, the person really fits and matches the items of trash spread around it. Were there instances where you were surprised by a person’s trash?
The problem is that some people probably edited their garbage to portray themselves in a certain light. That was disappointing but also interesting because it really showed to me how trash can shape the impression we want people to have of us. There was one guy who even cleaned his garbage. He came and brought eggshells that he had cleaned for the occasion. He didn’t want to appear messy or slackerish. Another person was the exact opposite and we found used syringes and tampons in her garbage. Another person brought a milkshake but it smelled like rotten chicken. It was interesting to see how people dealt with the disgust-factor of their trash: does it bother them to show the nasty reality or do they want to polish it?
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Is there a picture that resonates better with the audience than the rest?
That is a very subjective choice because everybody identifies with something else, but I found that the pictures showing middle- or especially upper-class citizens and families in their trash to really capture people’s attention. It’s one thing to see a poor person lying in trash but to see a rich family in that surrounding – you can’t help but look and ponder the contradiction of the image. The more money you have, the easier it is to distance yourself from the ugliness of the world.
Yes, but trash is something that all humans share. Some might be able to keep it out of their life, others live in it or of it, but we all produce it. It is one of life’s common denominators.
Very true. I would be interested to see the results if I would replicate this project in some other countries or in some other time even. 200 years ago, people just did not produce a lot of trash. There was no packaging, nothing like that. We all produce trash but it differs greatly. Also the awareness to the problem. The project received much more attention in Europe than over here in the US because I think that in Europe, there is a feeling of “we produce this together, we deal with it together”. Here, people think that they can do however they see fit.
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You and your family are also portrayed in the series. What made you also include yourself?
I don’t just want to point my finger at others and pretend like I don’t produce any trash. I also contribute to the problem. The real problem is awareness. It is easy to forget about your impact on the planet’s well-being. Consider how many people go and grab a plastic cup and drink from a water dispenser. They use that cup for maybe five seconds but it will harm the environment for many years to come. There is a complete imbalance between the usefulness of some items to us and the damage they do to the planet.
Were you interested in that topic before you embarked on this project?
Very much so, that lead me to the project in the first place. Even as a kid, I was amazed by the fact that people just put all their garbage in a bag and then a truck would come and make it disappear. I never understood where it went. It still amazes me today. Of course I know by now, but there is so much about garbage removal and disposal that many people are simply very ignorant about. It is a common misperception that recycling can fully solve the problem. The energy needed to recycle a bottle of plastic is so high that it again damages the planet in some other way. There is no easy fix.
Do you think that is easier to educate or raise awareness with a project like this than with a shocking and polemic campaign that would show dead animals or starving children on a landfill?
This project is definitely subtler and it doesn’t immediately hold you responsible for the planet’s problems. It’s easier to discuss with people if you don’t point the finger at them. But I do of course hope that people identify with the project and thereby the problem.

"The West has always had a discomfort with colors”

Living in Cuba, Rose Marie Cromwell encountered the strange, the surreal, and the spiritual. With her photos, she wove it into a story full of surprises.

On your website, you write that you’re interested in the space between the political and the spiritual. What does that mean?
To me, the political is anything pertaining to the physical world, and the spiritual is the non-physical. In the vaguest sense, that’s what I’m interested in: The interaction between those two worlds. But more specifically, I am fascinated by how people negotiate geography, politics, gender, race with their personal understanding of spirituality.
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Your book “El Libro Supremo de la Suerte” (The Supreme Book of Luck), is inspired by the spiritual as well. Can you describe what it depicts?
In Cuba, they have a number system from 1 to 100 called La Charada. Each number stands has a different meaning such as bicycle or revolution. People use it to play the underground lottery: If a butterfly comes into your kitchen in the morning, you may consider playing number 2. I liked that people were using La Charada to give meaning to everyday, banal things. And that was how I wanted to portray my own experience of living in the country – not with pictures of old cars and cigars, but with experiences of everyday things.



 
You assembled them in the book.
I love photo books and have always wanted to make one. I realized that putting the work into book form lets me control the viewer’s’ experience and also create a narrative arc. The numbers and the references to La Charada seemed to fit that relationship due to the fact that La Charada is often presented as a booklet…
How do the images relate to the numbers?
I was staying at the house of my friend Milagros in Havana, and she was calculating numbers to play in the Cuban underground lottery. And I saw my own phone number in the States written down on one of the papers of her calculations. That relationship seemed really interesting because we had met on the street by chance a few years ago. I photographed that piece of paper and started thinking more about the numbers and how they relate to my images. That’s when I decided to incorporate them into the book as chapter markers.
You have said that you like creating a narrative arc – how are the pictures connected?
There’s no developing story, but you start drawing connections between different images in the book in a nonlinear way. I think that is also the way people navigate this world and make sense of different geographies – whether they be tangible or spiritual: Not by chronological order but by making their own connections.
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What I find striking about the pictures is that they are tied together not by subject matter but by an almost intuitive visual language.
I guess I developed my personal aesthetic during this project. I like to take risks in order to not to get stuck in one way of making images, but there are certain things I am always drawn too. Take the bright light: A lot of photographers don’t like it, but I do – I like the theatrical feeling shadows create and how sunlight allows me to have control: Put something into the shadows, leave something out. That kind of performance became a part of my work halfway through this project: Preconceiving images before making them.
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…and in a way, you found yourself set up as well: There’s a story in the book about how you photographed a stick leaning against a wall and later found out that a man had deliberately put it there “because people like looking at it”.
I worked as a documentary photographer prior to this project, but I didn’t feel like this approach was honest to my experience there. I didn’t really know what I was trying to say about the country that hadn’t already been said, or that I could add as a non-native. But I am interested in how the macro affects the micro – and noticed you can tell stories more effectively when you center yourself in them. The story of the stick is like that: It makes it obvious to the viewer that I am not trying to hide my voice, but to overtly let them know that this is my story.

 
As a photographer, the story is of course a very visual one. Next to the bright lights, you show a lot of strong colors. Do you deliberately seek them out?
Not really – I plan out the action and performance, but I don’t have the color scheme worked out. And I don’t usually do much post-production. But with the image of the stick that you have mentioned, I can admit that I did: I changed the wall from blue to yellow. I am not really sure why that needed to be yellow, it was just my intuition.
That’s a great example of how colors work in subconscious ways.
There’s a book that really influenced my thinking about color: Michael Taussig’s “What Color Is the Sacred?”. He is a philosopher and anthropologist and talks about the relationship between colonialism and color. He thinks that the West, as the colonizers, has always had a discomfort with color. Whereas the people who have been colonized, indigenous populations, have always attached so much meaning and prominence to bright colors. Reading that helped me clarify how I was relating to color in my life.
For example?
People say that there are some colors that attract different energies than others. When you don’t want to attract negative energy, you are supposed to wear white. So there are things colors are doing that many in “the west” or Colonizer countries are not aware of, it doesn’t even cross our minds.
…which returns us to the way you have described the spiritual: A non-physical manifestation that affects us, whether we want to or not. Perhaps we should be paying more attention to it?
I agree. Colors can seem downright erratic in certain cultures: It almost makes people uncomfortable if someone wears strong colors, for instance. Someone who is used to living in a place like Copenhagen, where they don’t have too much color, it can be startling.
Rose Marie Cromwell is a photographic and video artist currently living and working between New York, Panama, and Cuba.
Rose Marie Cromwell is an American photographic and video artist currently living and working between New York, Panama, and Cuba. See more of her work on her website: www.rosemariecromwell.com

The Banality of Color

Why looking at the past in color is such an uncanny experience.

We tend to think of the past in black and white. Since color photography only became mainstream in the 1970s, anything from before is usually pictured in monochrome. Flip through an old photo album and you see smiling grey faces, people in grey clothes, driving grey cars. But prior to the advent of color film, inventors had long toyed with technologies to capture the world in all the colors they saw it in.
As far back as in 1903, the (very aptly-called) Lumière brothers in France patented a process for color pictures: It was called Autochrome and relied on glass plates containing particles of colored potato starch, which absorbed the spectrum of the light they were exposed to. It’s about as complicated as it sounds, and required such long exposures that subjects had to sit still for several minutes, literally waiting for light to filter through potatoes.
By today’s standard the technology and its results were primitive: Colors in Autochrome images are inaccurate and the motifs all fuzzy, giving the photos a dream-like quality. But it all nevertheless represented a stunning achievement: With Autochrome, colors were no longer stripped from a photo. And with that, every photographer using it captured a slightly more accurate picture of the past.

Silver Lake. An Autochrome from the George Eastman House Collection.

Silver Lake. An Autochrome from the George Eastman House Collection.

In fact, a surprising amount of the early 20th century was documented in color. Each continent had slightly different technology, so you can see colored pictures of the Russian empire’s final years, white orthodox churches standing before pale blue skies. You can see World War One, photos of the trenches full of soldiers, with their uniforms awash in color. And if you’re so inclined, you can even look into the piercing blue eyes of Adolf Hitler.

View of the monastery from Svetlitsa, a photo by Sergeĭ Prokudin-Gorskiĭ

View of the monastery from Svetlitsa, a photo by Sergeĭ Prokudin-Gorskiĭ

7300960484_b98312f664_zThat is because Autochrome paved the way for other methods of capturing color: In 1930, the German company Agfa released their first commercial color film, which eschewed the potatoes but relied on a similar principle: For a product called Agfacolor, the engineers used cartridges of film, which they coated with a fine layer of color particles. In 1935, hot on it heels, Kodak then developed the iconic Kodachrome film, which finally nailed color reproduction. In those years leading up to the Second World War, a wholly different arms race was taking place, as Americans and Europeans each developed color films.
Exposure was suddenly quick, and film was of course much more portable than glass plates. And while it would take years for the technology to go mainstream, the times began being documented in color.

Portrait of Dottie Reid, taken in 1946 in New York with Kodachrome. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Portrait of Dottie Reid, taken in 1946 in New York with Kodachrome. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The past is strangely alive in these images. Maybe that is because black and white, by sheer ontology, gives images of the past a surreal quality: What monochrome misses in color, it makes up in contrast.
Or maybe it is much simpler: Real life simply isn’t in black and white. And seeing the past stripped off its colors makes it seem less lifelike, and by extension much further removed.
If you flip that equation around, you understand why color pictures of the past are so captivating. Not only do they show a lifelike reality, they also show that it isn’t so distant after all.
The National Archives of Norway — of all places — have images of Berlin from the 1930s, of the very same city where I am writing this. Back then, blue-eyed Hitler was in power, and the city was draped in Swastika flags – so many of them, it seems absurd.
But of course it isn’t. These images show the past as it actually took place. And that makes looking at them very sobering. Yes, these images show a frightening symbolism, the heyday of a terrible ideology that would plunge Europe into war. But more surprising is that they show a certain banality.
On these color pictures, the past is no longer a distant memory or a scary episode from the history books. Not even a historic outlier. The color in this pictures shows how real it all was, how much closer to our present time – and how stupefyingly normal.
Today, black and white photography has, in the words of Wikipedia, “been relegated to niche markets such as art photography”. We use black and white for a certain look, employ it for artistic purposes rather than accuracy. And because most photos of the past are in black and white, I think we see it as something it wasn’t: A time as unreal and dream-like as those early Autochromes.
Color not only adds missing information, it actually adds context. And it exposes any photo of the past for what it really represents: A document of time not all that different from our own. A world in which the events that took place, the entire unthinkable history of the 20th century, was as normal as the reality we capture with our phones today.

"Nature is probably best for solitude"

For his series “Escape”, the Russian photographer Danila Tkachenko has portrayed people who choose to live away from civilization and opt for the woods instead.

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You placed a quote by the Russian filmmaker Andrey Tarkovsky at the start of the book. (“Man does not need society at all, it’s the society that needs man. Society is a forced measure of protection and survival. Unlike a gregarious animal, man must live alone – in nature among animals, plants and in contact with them.”) Do you feel that the outsiders you photographed believe in that?
I didn’t really talk to them about such topics, but I would suggest that they would agree with this statement.

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Daniel Tkachenko (1989) is a Russian visual artist working with documentary photography. For Escape, the series shown here, he has won first prize in the World Press Photo “Staged Portraits” contest. It came out as a book you can buy here. Find more of his work on his website.


Do you think that the outsiders feel lonely? Can loneliness be a conscious choice? It seems it is something that happens to you rather than something you choose.
I think it’s easiest to be lonely in a big city. Probably a person can feel even more lonely in the city than a hermit who doesn’t communicate with any people at all.

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What is the main reason for these “escapers” to go live on their own?
These people all have different reasons to live alone. Some of them lost the beloved ones and didn’t find support from anyone else or from social system, some lost property or got fed up with urban life, some have their own personal struggles… I think, what unites them is the disillusionment about the contemporary society and I would quite agree with them in this.
You spent a long time in the woods for “Escape”. How did the solitude of those surroundings influence the way you worked?
I guess I am now less afraid of darkness and of spaces without people around.

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The pictures invoke a very romantic and idyllic feeling of closeness with nature or a return to our roots. Is that something you wanted to show?
Possibly it was part of my intention, the simplicity of life is charming for me, as well as denial of capitalism and technical progress, but on the other side, I realize that it is also just another kind of utopia. For me it was interesting to see the struggle of human against nature, one on one, and his existence in these conditions – because the nature is something not invented by humans, unlike most of the things that surround us nowadays.
Do you think that nature is the best place for human solitude?
Probably it is the best place, but of course I believe that for every individual story, there is individual way and approach to life.

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Margin Walker

Photographer Xavier Aragonès takes haunting pictures in the deserted outskirts of a Catalan city. We asked him to describe his process – and how escaping solitude enabled him to take better pictures.

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On the edges of the city I live in, there’s a place that has become my personal fantasy playground. It’s quite a large space and I have been exploring it relentlessly for the last two years, mostly on foot, usually in the early morning hours and always, always on my own.
I have to say that when I started this project, I did not expect what it ended up turning into. Since I first got into photography, the landscape (both natural and man-made) has been my primary area of interest, and they way I approach it basically consists of three actions: wandering, staring and shooting.

Xavier Aragonès (b. 1979) is a wanderer with a camera. You can see more of his work at his website xavieraragones.com and his blog fotosintempestives.com

Xavier Aragonès (b. 1979) is a wanderer with a camera. You can see more of his work at his website xavieraragones.com and his blog fotosintempestives.com


In my previous work, the outcome of this process has been a collection of pretty straightforward, sometimes gritty, depictions of everyday landscapes and mostly banal subjects, following the teachings of Stephen Shore and William Eggleston. In the end, I was often left with a bittersweet feeling: although I enjoyed the experience of exploration, solitude and contemplation, I felt the results were more an exercise in style than a means of honest personal expression. In other words: I was being just a copycat and not much of a creator.
This time around, though, I was smart enough to show my work in progress to some people, mostly fellow photographers, who finally helped me push myself out of my creative boundaries and forced me to confront my true motivations: What was the main reason behind it all? What the hell was that thing that made get up before sunrise and roam all alone through the nooks and crannies of deserted, sometimes inhospitable places in the outskirts of the city?

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It took me quite long, but in the end I realized that what I was actually doing was appropriating that place (figuratively, of course) by just going and being there on my own over and over again. I was taking over that artificial lake, those pine woods, that abandoned barn, those remains of a quarry… to give all of them a whole new meaning in my imagination and turn them into several fictitious places according to my tastes and influences from film, literature and photography. This time, thankfully, I found the way to handle these sources of inspiration to create work that I really felt as my own.
The title of the project, “Pas del Nord-oest” (Northwest Passage in Catalan), is a reference to the legendary sea route connecting the northern Atlantic and Pacific Oceans through the Arctic Ocean, as well as the working title for the pilot episode of the TV series Twin Peaks. Interestingly enough, my main access to the area I explore in the project was through an old pedestrian tunnel under the railway in the Northwest edge of the city.

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Copyright of all the pictures: Xavier Aragonès

Alone among each other

The work of Spanish photographer Verónica Losantos is influenced by absence. Her pictures show people and places between solitude and intimacy and capture the interplay of these two conditions.

I looked at your „you are (not) alone“ photo series and wondered: Why is solitude such an interesting concept for photographers?
It is very essential to the creative process. When I am alone, I have the time to think. I have better ideas and feel more creative overall. You don’t get distracted from what you actually want to do. It takes time to decide what you want to do with an idea and how you are going to do it and usually you find that time when you are alone. For four years, I took pictures that symbolize solitude and love – usually on the road, alone – and at the end, I had a massive archive of pictures. It took some time to figure out how I could use these pictures to represent what I wanted to tell with them.
Veronica_Losantos_You_are_(not)_alone_4bThat’s the creative process side but then there is also the importance of solitude as the photographer’s subject. 
The pictures from this series were all taken on the street so nothing is staged. I think that is the best way to capture solitude because I don’t know if it can be staged at all. I normally tend to isolate the person or object I am photographing but this was different because I didn’t know if I would be able to transport the mood or feeling by isolating the subject. What was difficult with this project was finding the subject
What is interesting about your series is that you also included a lot of pictures of buildings or streets but usually we associate only humans with feelings like loneliness or love.
True, but these are our surroundings so they do have an effect on us. I wanted to portray objects to show this and to complement the pictures I took of people. That’s why very often, you see two pictures that I have put next to each other to make that connection. I also put pictures of different people next to each other to show the dependency we humans have vis-à-vis other people and that causes the feelings of solitude we sometimes feel. Also: just showing people, standing alone somewhere, looking sad, that would have been too easy.
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In the explanatory notes of “you are (not) alone”, you quote Erich Fromm who said that the intensity with which we love, often mirrors the intensity of the solitude we felt before. Why did you choose that quote?
I think it is something we all experience. You are with other people and you might love other people but you know that, ultimately, you are alone in this world. We all depend on relating to others. The human being is the only living being that has this dependency. Of course, we can be alone and survive but loneliness is something intrinsically human. We can’t be alone forever but we need to be alone sometimes – this dichotomy really fascinates me.

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Verónica Losantos, born 1984 in Logroño, Spain, lives and works in Berlin. Her work focuses mainly on introspective topics, and uses photography as an explorative process, often examining personal experience, family history and photography’s layered relationship to time and memory. She is the winner of the “Kunstpreis Fotografie Berlin Brandenburg 2016” and the “Talents”2014 photography contest by C/O Berlin with the series “Screen Memories“.


Coming back to the abandoned places and objects you portray: Why do you think that we have developed such a deep interest in this subject?
I think it has a lot to do with nostalgia for bygone eras and we wonder about the history of these places and objects. We can experience the past through them and these places invoke feelings that we don’t get just everywhere.
Like solitude or loneliness?
It depends; I mean you can also feel very lonely in a huge city, surrounded by millions of people. I think abandoned places invoke nostalgia or melancholia and these feelings might lead you to feel lonely or solitary but I don’t think that necessarily has to happen.
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There is one picture from “you are (not) alone” that caught my interest in particular. It depicts a big public square and small groups of individuals standing around. You see that the individuals are not alone but the picture nevertheless invokes a feeling of solitude.
It shows people that are alone among each other. The picture was taken in Rome and the square is usually heavily populated but yet there is no real feeling of being together in this moment. People are just there – together alone.
The other photo series “screen memories” shows glimpses of your own past. You portray your childhood and the lack of the father figure. There are two protagonists – you and your father – but one of them is portrayed by his absence.
This project is about the relationship between memory and photography. I researched a lot and decided to use my own memories for it, the ones from my childhood and from the time with my father. I also tried to tell about his absence during a long period of my life, so this is why the man representing him is never wholly recognizable in the pictures. He is present but not there.
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What is fascinating about these pictures is that some of them depict very banal objects or memories it seems …
Yes, there are pictures showing important events or special occasions but then many just show something very random that comes to my mind when I think about my father. These memories are what Sigmund Freud called “screen memories”. The pictures of that series can be divided in three categories …
Namely?
Some of the pictures show actual memories that I still have, some show memories I only got through pictures of that time and then there are invented memories. When I started working on this project, I started out with a few memories and then every memory would trigger another one. I also started to concern myself a lot with the way memory works. Memory is selective and usually, the memories that we have are linked to some other sense experience like a noise or a smell. I wanted to also give these impressions some room in this project.
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For more pictures, check Verónica’s website and Facebook page.
“screen memories” will be on exhibition at the C/O Gallery Berlin until the 24th of April.
Copyright of all the pictures: Veronica Losantos

"What the fuck is that doing here?"

Ignacio Evangelista has portrayed the reality of the border between the United States and Mexico. A conversation about Trump, fear, and the line in the sand.

You have photographed borders in Europe, as well as the one between the United States and Mexico. What makes you so interested in them?
In my photographic work, I am interested in situations and places where the natural and the artificial stand in conflict. Situations where something seems out of place. Some borders are natural, like mountains or borders. But others stand for an idea.
What does that mean?
Look at the border between the U.S. and Mexico: A part of that is natural – the Rio Grande, known as the Rio Bravo in Mexico – and the rest is artificial: There is a fence, a wall in the middle of nature, just separating two countries. I got fascinated with that a few years ago, when I discovered it online: It seemed like a modern Great Wall of China, crossing the territory. The wall is 1000km long. Built by people, just to prevent others from crossing a line in the sand. It seemed crazy, like something you wouldn’t find in the 21st century.

Ignacio Evangelista is a Spanish photographer based in Madrid. Check out his website at <a href="http://www.ignacioevangelista.com”>www.ignacioevangelista.com</a>

Ignacio Evangelista is a Spanish photographer based in Madrid. Check out his other work at www.ignacioevangelista.com


On your website you wrote: “Touching the fence felt like touching the line on the map.”
When I was a child, I was very fascinated with maps. I remember looking at the map and feeling like a god: With a child’s imagination, you can travel across it. For me, it was very interesting that some of the lines were very straight, and others weren’t. I thought “African people are much smarter than Europeans to plan their borders that way.” Of course, I had no idea about Colonialism yet. I still remember that sensation today when I look at the map between the US and Mexico, as I am doing right now. You can see that there’s a straight line in the west…
…from Tijuana, all the way to El Paso.
Exactly. And then the river begins. The line from Tijuana to El Paso is the wall. Effectively, the wall is the line – and when you touch the one, you touch the other. When I was visiting borders in Europe, I would sometimes play a game, just from one side to the other and think “Now I am in Austria. Now in the Czech Republic.” A part of taking pictures is the feeling you have. I did the same with the fence: I would touch it and think: “Now I am touching the line on the map.”

“If you put your feet on the sand, an alarm goes off somewhere”

What side did you take these photos from?
It depends: It can be difficult to approach the border. In Mexico, the most interesting motifs are often in the outskirts of the cities, poorer parts. Those are often dangerous, so I went there with locals. But on the American side, there is the  border patrol, with its cars and helicopters. I would be asked what I was doing, what the pictures were for, etc. That’s why I have fewer pictures from the American side.

"Nogales" – Copyright by Ignacio Evangelista. Shown with permission.

“Nogales” – Copyright by Ignacio Evangelista. Shown with permission.

On your picture from Nogales, the Mexican side is full of houses, people are clearly living there. On the U.S. side, however, there are just towers and lights.
In a picture from Tijuana, you can see a white car, the border patrol. There is a secure area on the American side with very open roads. I took another picture in the ocean in Tijuana, and wondered why people risk their life climbing the fence in the desert when they can just swim around this one. But my friends explained that there were always helicopters in the sky and the sand was full of sensors to detect movement and temperature. If you put your feet on the sand, an alarm goes off somewhere and within 30 seconds, the border patrol will be there.

"Tijuana" – Copyright by Ignacio Evangelista. Shown with permission.

“Tijuana” – Copyright by Ignacio Evangelista. Shown with permission.

That means the border isn’t just a wall: The line on the map has a virtual component.
I am not sure how this was twenty years ago, but I know that George W. Bush increased the investment in modern alarm systems. You know, if Donald Trump becomes president, he wants to finish the wall…
It was Trump’s first policy proposal: To complete build a wall on the border with Mexico. But he made it sound as if no wall existed…
I suppose he means completing the 2000km from El Paso to the east, but since he wants the Mexican government to pay for it, I don’t know how it would happen. Interestingly, many people living close to the wall no longer see it. For them, it is just so familiar. Like if you live in the alps and no longer notice the mountains. That’s why it surprised many people that I was taking pictures of the wall instead of the beautiful landscape or the beach: They have lived with the wall for so long, they are used to it.
The difference between you and them is that you have a Spanish passport and can cross the border without a problem.
Some people living close to the border have a special permit to pass, but only twenty kilometers into the United States. As a European, I had no problem, but the people I went with often couldn’t pass. It made it very obvious that we were coming from different worlds.
…which brings us back to the artificial nature of borders: You able to cross the wall in their backyards because you are coming from far away. That is absurd.
True. I speak the same language as the Mexicans. There is the assumption that Latin Americans and Spaniards are very similar, due to the language and history. But it’s not exactly true. In many senses, the Spanish society is more similar to French or German ones than the Mexican one. The values shared between a Spanish and a French are sometimes closer than those of a Spanish and a Mexican, although in some other aspects we are very close.

“A wall creates fear”

The language eradicates that border?
Many call Spain “la madre patria”, which gives us a strange feeling, considering how the Spanish killed and raped a lot of natives there, they were the worst people there.

"Tecate" – Copyright by Ignacio Evangelista. Shown with permission.

“Tecate” – Copyright by Ignacio Evangelista. Shown with permission.

There is an interesting relationship between borders and fear: These divisions are artificial lines, but right now, in Europe as well as the US, many people are afraid of anything beyond those lines.
Ironically, a wall creates that kind of fear. It makes everything beyond it seem dangerous. And it endangers people who want to cross it: They use the mafia, people who lead them through the desert and frequently leave them there after taking their money. Each year, many people die crossing the border.
You don’t show any people in the pictures – even though the walls influence primarily them.
I didn’t want this to be photojournalistic work, and introducing people into the image would make it that. I was more interested in how the border relates to the territory, how the artificialness of the world mixes with it.
On your website, you say that the images seem contradictory and disturbing. What makes them that?
Look at Nogales: It is a city in two parts, Nogales, Sonora and Nogales, Arizona. And the Mexican city Tijuana borders the American San Diego. Both are as as though somebody had taken a pencil, drawn a line and built a wall. That is a very strange thing! In the desert, you see a beautiful, mountainous landscape, and in the middle of the nature suddenly appears a wall. I find that disturbing. In much of my personal work, I am interested in situations and places that makes you think “What the fuck is that doing here?”

"Aqua Prieta" – Copyright by Ignacio Evangelista. Shown with permission.

“Aqua Prieta” – Copyright by Ignacio Evangelista. Shown with permission.