Is a photograph any good if it needs an introduction? Shouldn´t art speak to you without accompanying words? Shouldn’t a great picture captivate your imagination and inspire thought and free association without the author telling you what to think and associate?
I have this idea in my head that a picture should wow the viewer. Like what Cartier-Bresson made. My own “work” if I may call my hobby work at all, falls way short of that grand idea. That is why I hesitate to show my pictures to anyone. Are they any good if I need to tell people why I made them in the first place? And, more importantly, do I have anything to say that would be remotely interesting to anyone?
I´m in my early fifties now and I have come to regard myself as a pretty average person in most aspects. I don’t travel to breathtaking places where no man went before, I don’t have grand adventures, yielding exotic or exciting pictures. I am not a journalist pursuing the great stories of the day. I am just a regular person living a mostly regular life. All I can tell you about – and try to take pictures of – is what moves me.
In my regular life among all the good things there also were humps and bumps in the road. Bad stuff I didn´t see coming. That had an impact on my view of the world. I somehow acquired a feeling of being disconnected from home. When I say home, I´m not talking about a place but about an emotion. It’s a feeling of being fundamentally safe and welcome. A loving feeling, the firm knowledge that life is good despite all the trouble.
That feeling has never quite returned to me as I imagine to have known it before. There now is that persistent nagging feeling that life is somehow dangerous. I don´t feel settled in it. It´s not a dominant feeling, it´s more like a shadow in a corner of the soul that light won´t reach. As of late, I found myself looking at houses for sale a lot, hoping that having your own home might somehow bring that feeling back. I know it won´t, because feeling at home starts within me, not in a place, however nice it may be.
But this experience gave me an idea. I wanted to translate my emotions into pictures. This feeling of disconnectedness from a feeling, a feeling of melancholy and quest to regain what was lost. A feeling of almost, but not quite being at home inside myself.
So in late 2020, for the first time ever, I sat down and imagined pictures to illustrate my feelings and made a list of photos I wanted to take. A tower of the most expensive and exclusive flats in the newly developed “Hafencity” of Hamburg, my home town. A night shot of illuminated homes in Blankenese, a fancy quarter on the banks of the river Elbe. The bedstead of a homeless person under a railway bridge just a short walk from my flat. A shelter for refugees. Mind you, these are very dramatic motifs by comparison to my own situation – my life and my small worries are worlds away from the very real ordeal of a refugee or a homeless person. I merely take these pictures as a chiffre for my inner landscape of emotion, knowing full well that my emotions are a greatly distorted reflection of reality.
As a tool for this ongoing project, I use my Rolleiflex 2.8F. That needs no introduction. It is a perfect companion for this kind of premeditated picture taking. It is a tool that I love to handle and use in slow motion. Everything about it is a joy to touch and feel, so you don´t want to rush the process. It also is remarkably simple to use. I grew up in the 80ies taking 35mm pictures with automatic SLRs. Medium format always seemed daunting to me. The Rolleiflex 2,8F takes away all that sense of drama and complication. It is just the most natural thing to use. The only issue I have is that I have only had it a few weeks before I started the project. I ran a test film through it and the light meter on my copy seemed to give plausible readings, so I decided to rely on it. I have just had it CLAed and it turns out it wasn´t really – it was two stops off, leading to overexposure. Not a great issue, but the negatives are a bit dense now. Well, I never was good at waiting when I wanted to play with a toy…
The film is KODAK Portra 400. I wanted colour as I felt black and white would be overly dramatic. But I also wanted a balanced, neutral feel and Protra seemed just the right choice. Combined with grey skies, which are in plentiful supply in Hamburg, I achieved that look I was hoping for when I imagined the pictures. I had the film developed and scanned at a lab in Hamburg. They seemed to come out a bit more red than I believe they should, so I tweaked them a bit.
This is the first project of this kind I ever embarked on. So far it was so much fun that I think it will not be the last. It will be over when I regain that feeling of being at home. What I learned from it so far, is that to me photography with a sense of purpose is a lot more fun than just casually snapping pictures. Trying to express my emotionality is such a purpose. I don´t know if the results are meaningful in any way to anyone but me. And to get back to the question at the beginning of this text; I don´t know if these photos work for anyone but me without giving a context (or even with context for that matter). But I believe that doesn´t take away what they mean to me.