Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch
cbertsch

The Most Photographed Barn in England

Now that I finally have the scanner set up so I can covert my old negatives and dispositifs into digital images, I'll be sharing some of that archival material here. You know how I love my archives!

The thing I'm realizing, though, as I go through pictures from twenty, fifteen, and ten years ago is that I'm a much more inventive photographer now than I was before I was forced to shift to the digital camera. Back in the day, I was too worried about losing the commemorative shot to try for something that might be better but would probably be worse.

Although there are exceptions to this rule, many of those seem to be the direct result of working with a fixed lens -- I had three lenses for my Olympus OM-1 -- that forced me to be creative in my framing. Generally speaking, the 50mm shots are disappointing, the 28mm shots do a good job of making me remember the context of the photograph but are a little dull, and the 200mm shots are the most interesting. I do miss that last lens a lot.

When I was an exchange student in Germany in 1986-1987, the period from which most of the photographs I'm now sorting date, I spent much of my time behind the viewfinder seeking to capture interesting architectural details. I still had it in my head to become an architect back then and, fresh from my "5" in A.P. Art History and many trips to the Smithsonian, I was keen on finding new ways of perceiving three-dimensional structures.

I made an effort to capture cobblestone streets and Medieval churches with my wide angle lens, but because it was 28mm and not 24mm or 21mm and, more importantly, wasn't a shift lens either, the results I achieved weren't anything to write in Live Journal about. With the 200mm, it was a different story. Because I had no choice but to collapse different planes on top of each other, I soon found myself visualizing the flattening and unflattening of blueprints as I composed my shots. Anyway, I suspect that a high percentage of the photos I share here will be of 200mm provenance.

To start things off, however, I thought I'd share the most generic image of the lot:

I met my parents and sister in England towards the end of my year abroad for a three-week vacation that culminated in a stay at my host parents' home in Germany. Most of the trip was devoted to the Southwest corner of the British Isles, with visits to Devon, Dorset, Cornwall etc.

When I was home in Maryland in December, going through new layers of my childhood possessions, I found all the unmounted slides I'd brought back from Europe -- I only took the time to mount the ones that I liked best -- and realized that some rolls had never been examined properly. Holding the strips of positive film up to the light was a revelation for me, like the opening of a door that had been locked for many years.

The funny thing about this photo of Stonehenge, though, is that, even though I had mounted one of the shots I took there, I dind't feel like I'd ever seen them before. The reason, simply, is that Stonehenge is set up to erase the subjectivity of everyone who goes there.

Among the other photos I'll eventually share are ones I took in Nürnberg and Berlin documenting Albert Speer's monumental fascist architecture. Although I lacked the theoretical knowledge to describe the experience of seeing his structures precisely, I remember having the distinct impression that the point of his approach was to make the individual spectator feel like an ant, incapable of anything other than awe. Subsequently, of course, I read enough German history to realize A) that Speer had sought to do precisely that; and B) that many other people had already made the same point better than I could.

I mention it here, though, because I realized this morning, as I was going through the Stonehenge roll once more and had the same, "I don't remember taking that," moment as I'd had in December, that the Stonehenge I experienced back in the summer of 1987 -- I think they've changed the layout now -- represented the unwitting apotheosis of fascist aesthetics.

The mere fact that the grounds were arranged to enable photographs in which the presence of tourists was magically "disappeared" was enough to generate the sense of manufactured awe that one feels the pressure to cave into before such a significant landmark. Couple that erasure with the way that the spots demarcated for taking photos guaranteed a picture-postcard angle on the structure in which there was no room for individual choice, and you get a retroactively instantiated Parteigelände that would have made Speer turn French with envy.

It should be noted, though, that manufactured awe is not easily transfigured into the natural sort. Even in a perfectly synchronized mass event, there will be times when at least some of the participants drift into a self-reflexivity that pries open the crack that individuality would have to struggle through on its flight from prison.

The trick, from a fascist perspective, is to find a way to redirect any impulse that resists incorporation into the anonymity of the mass into the register of irony. I guarantee that there were plenty of people captured in Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of Will who poked fun at each other, the overly earnest event organizers, and even some of the Nazi party leaders giving speeches. But the event plodded forward, like a church service in which the ritual of standing, kneeling, and sitting proceeds regardless of what the people going through the motions are thinking. And that's what I'm calling this entry "The Most Photographed Barn in England."
Tags: autobiography, photography, politics, theory
Subscribe
  • Post a new comment

    Error

    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.
  • 6 comments