TRACES OF LIGHT
The Nature Photography of Andrea Lambrecht
The more strange and fantastic the forms of nature, the more advantage in having their pictures given instead of their descriptions.
Henry Fox Talbot
Little seems to evoke more desire in the early 19th century than the phenomenon of nature. Nature, as a place for the infinite in the face of the dawning industrial society and its concept of divisible time, (once again) touched a nerve in artistic discourse. Caught between the polar questions of whether art is the perfection of nature or whether nature is the elusive model for art, it was necessary for nature to catch a glimpse of itself in its own light.
Henry Fox Talbot, the inventor of negative-positive photography, described the new medium as the ‘pencil of nature’ in 1844. Deus ex Machina, as it were, it became possible by virtue of light in connection with light-sensitive chemicals to produce a pure print from nature as if it were a creation of nature herself. As the ‘writing of light’, even as heliography (the writing of the sun), it is already implied through its metaphorical designation that photography is an emanation of nature. The magic of analogue photography and its enduring fascination can not least be put down to the visual desire for a completely visible world. A credo of the century before last is that only that which is visible is real. It is not the (new) ability of photography to reproduce reality that is its value, but its photo-graphical authenticity. Photography is never merely the reproduction of reality, but a development on reality.
At the same time its also about ‘unconscious’ reality as an effect of an instrumental perception of the world (photography and psychoanalysis were developed in the same century). Alongside many innovative aspects, which the invention of photography artistically harbours within itself (amongst other the negative-positive process, serialisation, fragmentation, poly-perspectives), it is also the pictorial medium which introduces the principle of chance into the history of pictures. The ‘unconscious’ of photography which is so often talked about is linked to the fact that in every photographic image there are intrinsic elements which do not equate to a conscious intention of the photographer (for example the cat which walks through the shot at the point at which the photo is taken). Through retinal cognition, the abundance of details in nature is lost and only becomes visible again when a photo is ‘taken’.
In the first moment of viewing the photographs of Andrea Lambrecht, this fact becomes obvious. Whether the cloud, tree or fish market series which have all emerged since the 90s, they all point to the world’s enduring abundance. Against the tide of digital images and parallel to its development, Andrea Lambrecht began to work with ‘classical’ and therefore chemical photography. Autodidactic, as was generally the case for all photographers until the beginning of the twentieth century, she began to explore the potential of photography for herself.
Fascinated by the aesthetic of black and white photography in its development on Baryt paper in the form of traditional photo formats and repeatedly using Selenium toning in her practice, photography becomes a seismograph of her developing worldview (the catalyst for her desire to take photographs was her travels in Columbia, which she undertook whilst still an ethnologist). Again and again, the ‘distant’ view plays a defining role, whether in the cloud photographs or the photographs of exotic trees and forested landscapes. Perhaps her studies in ethnography also give an unconscious insight, which has sensitised her to the other and the other in familiar things.
In the widest sense of the word, nature photography (her portraits and nudes take on a different meaning) is the essence of her photographic practice. The ‘nature’ of photography is present in a sense as an emulsifier to the discoveries that she makes through her nature photography. Aesthetic permanence and contingency is conveyed in techniques such as cropping, distant, close-up and overhead shots and the predominant absence of consideration for a field of vision and central perspective. The absence of a field of vision plays a fundamental role in the landscape photography, in so far it also signifies the absence of location. The ‘nature studies’, in order to speak Albrecht Dürer language, turn into general phenomena of nature: clouds, trees, sea life, are nature in and of itself.
Formations of clouds, trees and animals are not only formal design elements, but rather also symbolise the infinity of nature in the interplay of chance and necessity. The ‘chaotic’ in the world of nature is carefully photographically structured and at the same time becomes even more charged. Expressive and impressive at the same time, Andrea Lambrecht operates with a photo-aesthetic language which largely does away with drama. The photographic thematisation of clouds for instance, which had already begun in 1870 and which soon developed its own photographic methodology, is an impressive example of Andrea Lambrecht’s ‘baroque’ play of light and shadows, light and dark, chaos and form. Here she also shows her ability as a photographer to deal creatively with the dimensions of her medium, something that is manifest in the plasticity of the photographs of cloud formations.
This is demonstrated in an especially impressive manner in the extensive fish series, which was realised over a long time away at an Italian fish market on the Mediterranean. The black and white dimension of photography is brilliantly explored and the atmosphere of the play of the light on the wet fish bodies is brought to illumination. Photography as the writing of light is married to a biomorphic, subtly composed image that also reminds one that light is the basis for all biological light. The lustrous eel bodies have a particularly striking effect, which in their variety of form reminds one again and again of trees and the structure of the forest. Close up, but nevertheless integrated into a visual narrative, they evoke the many origin myths of life from the depths of the seas and the fruits of the sea, which create a phantasmagoria of the appearance of life and the reality of death when confronted with life’s aesthetic beauty. Death as the waking from the dream of life, as Arthur Schopenhauer once wrote.
It is the photographic aesthetic of black and white, which creates a specific graphic-aesthetic dimension. One the one hand a subtle and disturbing richness of detail, on the other hand the incisiveness of the crops, which imagine universality through which a narrative is generated, which reminds one of transubstantiation: nature as an occurrence of god. Without doubt the works of Andrea Lambrecht convey a metaphysical moment, as if through photography (for one last time) the worldliness of nature could be suspended. It is indeed through photography that suspended time is usually suggested to us. To still be able to sense and seek out is a hidden quality of the series of Andrea Lambrecht, for which she has not lost the feeling. As John Constable once said ‘The art of seeing nature is a thing almost as much to be acquired as the art of reading the Egyptian hieroglyphs’.