Vera Lutter: Inside In
Kunsthaus Graz, 2004
You have swallowed my gaze. You see, helped inwardly by my gaze. Within you, my light illuminates your present. You make me into an object bathed in my light, deprived of sight. And when you make me thus appear before you, I no longer exist except as a deceptive appearance.
- Luce Irigaray, Elemental Passions
Adam Budak Your work is concerned with two principal elements of reality: time and space. I would like to start our conversation by asking you to define the notion of time, as it is present in your work, which is the result of a process-based practice. What is the time dimension you are the most concerned with? I am interested in the significance of a moment, its duration and flow. Your approach to time actually suggests an intention of working against photography, eliminating immediacy and reducing or rather questioning the spontaneity that is so typical of this medium. What is your consideration and treatment of time in the context of your work, being so strongly classified as photography?
Vera Lutter Immediacy is actually an important concern for me, but we may save that for later. You are right about my eliminating the aspect of spontaneity. Are you asking me if the time factor decides whether or not the medium is photography? Are you saying that by my statement about time we will find out if my work is a part of photography or not?
AB No, I think it is more as if your work goes against photography…
VL I am not working against photography. My approach is a critique of the more common definition of photography. Time is just one of various elements in the work, and it basically introduced itself into my exploration of the possibilities of working with the camera obscura. My first approach to the work was mostly related to architecture. I wanted to use architecture to record an experience and I began experimenting. I was working with architecture in the sense that I turned my room into a camera. The room should see – see what I saw. Experimenting with that, and trying to make it work, I learned that very long lapses of time are needed to record an image with the device I had built. So it was mostly a learning process in the beginning. I did not set out to work about or to experiment with time. I was observing what options I had in recording, and not recording time. I was actually rather interested in recording evidence of a lapse of time, because there are certain time lapses that just do not inscribe themselves in an image. Motion inscribes itself if it unfolds slowly enough in front of the camera. This triangle was established in my conversation with Peter Wollen for BOMBMagazine last summer; the triangle between light, time and motion in relation to the camera forms an image. I was, and still am, learning how best to orchestrate these forces in a fashion that will allow me to achieve the results I desire.
AB Could you say more about the process-based work which is evidently your practice; how time, and especially these lapses of time you mentioned, are treated in your work? Can you translate the experience of time from a chronological sequence (before, now and after) to a chronoscopic development (underexposed, exposed and overexposed)? How does this relate to your method? To what extent is presence important? I mean presence in general, but your presence in particular, since the process requires your constant presence. According to Paul Virilio, we have approached the moment of a “generalized arrival”: everything arrives without having to leave. The age-old tyranny of distance is gradually yielding to the tyranny of real time.
VL It is difficult for me to answer your question because I don’t really know when an image really begins. Technically the exposure begins when I open the pinhole and light starts penetrating the camera interior. But that only happens after many decisions have been made as to which camera location I choose and how I construct/design the inside of the camera. From experience I learned how much time each exposure needs. When photographing an exterior situation, incident light is available, as opposed to an interior situation, which only permits minimal ambient light.
AB Isn’t this an experiment with time, even though you’ve previously said that you don’t experiment with it…
VL I guess you are right. When you first emphasized time, I responded by talking about the role of architecture in my work, which was an earlier and more immediate concern. Working with and on my projects I learned about the complexities and possibilities of time inherent in my process. Therefore, yes, I do experiment with time, though never as a means in itself, but only where the situation – meaning the concept of the project and the subject matter in front of the camera – calls for it.
AB Coming back for a moment to the very notion of photography: if the basic definition of photography is a desire on the part of the photographer to capture a moment, what, in this context, would be your activity? In one of your interviews, you describe what is actually happening during the exposure time – one of the airplanes leaves the hangar and travels somewhere.
VL Much of the theory of photography is built on the idea of a fraction of a second, the moment of the click of the shutter release, and that does not apply to my work since seconds don’t matter. They may, but only to me, not to somebody outside the process.
AB But then we use the metaphor of traveling – you say that your image is traveling. The title of one of your books is Light in Transit, but it is in fact an image “in transit”, as if the image itself is happening. Transit is a temporary condition. A state without citizenship, without a home or fixed position.
VL The image itself is not traveling, the world around the camera moves and the light travels between the object and the camera. That is the idea of Light in Transit. Within the forces involved when making an image, it is the light that travels. The image is very still, and light is the negotiator between the photosensitized material and the object outside the camera. The image has to be very still in order to manifest itself. Transit as movement and its motion is an important part of what the project is about. I discuss the transit mediums of the exterior world and my method lending itself to that from the interior of the camera. In my depiction of the stillness of the image lies a critique of speed. Your quotation of Paul Virilio fits beautifully here.
AB Continuing the notion of traveling: there is also an aspect of in-between, very often identified as a non-place…
VL Yes, it is not really metaphorical though. The void of the camera is the architectural component needed for an image to be made, just as the interior void of a vessel such as a plane or a ship is needed to make it functional. Given these relations I was intrigued by the idea that my method would lend itself in a constructive way to photographing vehicles. I challenge the juxtaposition of an accelerating outside world versus the relentlessly slow inside.
AB Does this transit involve a certain kind of ambiguity, like the one we could associate with the Burkian sublime or the Freudian uncanny (‘das Unheimliche’), that positions the viewer in the face of two opposite feelings, strangeness and familiarity, seduction and repulsion? These are also the examples of being in-between, of a doubleness: the spectator who approaches your work is somewhere in-between these two sensations, seduced by and at the same time terrified by what is seen because the image is so radically transformed. The architecture you are interested in photographing does have its uncanny, unhomely side. It leads towards something that is not completely recognizable. To what extent is the image becoming abstract?
VL The negative contributes to the abstraction, because of the reversed sides and tones. But also the time elapsed has a great effect. In Frankfurt Airport VII: April 24, 2001 I succeeded in photographing seven different planes in one location. At least four of them are clearly identifiable as individuals traced by light. My intention in this project, as I made clear before, was to photograph transfer, exchange and rapid succession of vehicles. Each plane lent a certain number of grey tones to the image. The sum of these grey and black tones results in an identifiable yet unclear, semi-translucent depiction of “an airplane”. Returning again to the extended exposure times I deal with. Often the sun travels a full circle during the making of a piece. This implies that the shadows move. Often in photographic images, the shadow gives gravity to the figure photographed. In my images, the shadows not only often disappear, but if they do appear, they appear as light, which has a contrary effect. It makes the object float upwards. The object depicted appears “suspended” in mid-air, eerily ungrounded.
AB An important aspect of the Freudian “das Unheimliche” is the problem with identity and identification, which is sort of a crisis of knowledge, too. It is not a distortion of the image, but I sense that there is a sort of surgery done on the body of the image and that at the end, as a final result, the image gets this strong specificity and uniqueness, but also a strangeness in relation to what it represents I perceive what you do as a critique of the image. What you do is totally anti-representational.
VL Yes, that is correct and therefore people sometimes have problems understanding my work. But I repeat: my work is not a statement against photography, the entire phenomenology of photography unfolds within it. Looking at my work, it hopefully becomes clear that it does not lend itself to the idea of representation – to the contrary, I think of it as a critique of the latter; You call it “anti-representational”.
AB You’ve said you wouldn’t mind describing your practice in terms of an installation.
VL Well, the work has so many components: it contains aspects of installation art, film, architecture and performance. The final product, which is hanging on the wall in the exhibition, is a photograph. But, in understanding the work, making it and when I first create it in my mind, so many aspects feed into it. Film especially is important to me.
AB Who actually is the photographer in your work? What is the identity of the photographer?
VL I am not sure who the photographer is. I would call myself the artist, if pushed for a title. Since many different mediums lend their qualities to my work, I feel more like a choreographer who is trying to coax this magnitude of aspects into a successful performance. Often, my impression is that the world’s desire to categorize a body of work or an artist is guided by the wish to tame it, to get the art or artist under control. If something is categorized and names and titles are applied, a whole system of words and established criteria becomes available that can be applied to the artwork, and therefore the art becomes controllable, explicable and less threatening.
AB Your work may be perceived as a process of internalization. It is a sequence of returns, starting from a return to an old pioneering technique of camera obscura, and a sequence of interiors, that makes your work so personal.
VL You have to remember I am not a trained photographer. When I made my first picture, I didn’t know the first thing about photography, so I can’t possibly talk about returning to anything. If you want to read it historically, yes, I do use what is called a very old medium, a historical device, but I also use it with a consistency towards my intentions.
AB I am using the word “return” more in terms of a certain atmosphere: the world which appears in your works is marked by a certain sense of the past, an evocation of the past, with no reference to a particular moment in history, and it results in a sort of nostalgia…
VL I think you say this very well and I agree with you. Photography inevitably implies the past and finality, and therefore death. The prevailing theory is that, with one click of a camera, a single moment in time is captured, inevitably implying finality. The extended exposures cause a lack of reference in my work; therefore we cannot claim a specific moment in time. The beginning and the end of time passed are obscured and cannot be detected in the presence of an image. Consequently, a feeling of eerie incomprehension prevails.
AB These atmospheric elements remind me of the cinematographic scenery typical in Hitchcock’s films. It includes stage design and location set environments. On another level, we deal with the notions of the latent and of suspense. Dramaturgy goes up to a certain moment and then it suddenly stops with no delivery. This suspended delivery creates a sort of added value to the whole narrative and to whatever is happening. It is also connected to the aspects of something finished and something awaiting completion … There are many elements in your work that are unfinished, only suggested. Something that acts only as a trace. Everything you produce is about an image as a trace.
VL And time is a designer in a way. And light too, obviously.
AB That is a very nice definition of time: time as a designer and choreographer. Could you develop this?
VL Yes, choreography and orchestration are important terms. Choreography suggests an orchestration, as all these components have to come together in the making of a successful image. And yet I have to make the right decisions.
AB We are discussing the images where you photograph means of transportation. In modern Athens, the vehicles of mass transportation are called metaphorai. To go to work or coming back home one takes a metaphor – a bus or a train.
VL That is beautiful. I think in our context the camera would be the “metaphorai” as it is the apparatus of transformation. It transfers light into image.
AB Travel is also central for Walter Benjamin’s definition of a translation, tra-ducere (to conduct through, pass beyond, to the other side of a division or a difference). It is about movement, displacement, a carrying over, which is similar to the metaphor taking a meaning from one field and transferring it to another, applying one meaning or one definition to another, taking it with you. So what would be the metaphorical content of your work, or what sort of translation – as an ongoing activity – is taking place in your work?
VL Transportation is an exchange, as it is about going somewhere. One place is exchanged for another. My idea was to relate the working technique to the characteristics of the location I work in and the subject matter outside the camera. At the same time, the technique I apply, which is so very slow and which stops time, makes the images silent and uncanny.
AB And at a certain moment, the tension between chaos and order appears, as if, in a sense, you were about to question an existing system. We spoke earlier about the critique of representation, representation being such a system. Through the technique that you apply, you make a double reversal – the image is reversed (upside down), then you also reverse tones and colors (what is white is black, what is black is white). We encounter sets of inversions and reversals. It is as if the technique satisfies your desire to question an existing system, becoming a tool. Could it be that the technique is sort of an instrument for…
VL Yes, …for the deconstruction of the representational image. Yes, very much so.
AB I am still intrigued by the silence evoked by your images. There is this ambiguous aspect of silence present there. It is silence marked by a sign of rebellion; it is a rebellious act, which inverts everything. As if the viewer is watching a silent movie filled with expressionistic, highly theatrical gestures.
VL I suppose you are addressing a rebellion of forces: on the one hand, silence apparent in long-term exposures and on the other, the chaotic information resulting from traces of movement overlaying one another. It takes a lot of insistence to make such an incredible effort to achieve an image of this kind, while in today’s world means for fast production are fairly easily available. Obviously I am an opponent of fast production.
AB Earlier we spoke about the aspects of working against photography but within photography. It is a reflection upon photography as a medium.
VL Correct, yes. To put it in very general terms: I cannot easily handle the flood of images that is imposed on any spectator today in any context. Not only in the artistic environment but also in general. Our culture has started to replace language with imagery and the flood of images is constantly swelling higher and moving faster. Language is our most immediate tool for comprehension but I feel that the flood of imagery is blocking the critical mind. I rather work slowly in this context.
AB Could we talk about a certain evolution in your understanding of a medium? Had you been using photography in a more traditional way before you assumed a pinhole camera technique?
VL I actually started with the work we are talking about now. I had never used photography before, if at all only to document my sculptural work as a student when making a portfolio or when attempting to expand the facets of my sculptural work into a broader conceptual approach. I never enjoyed using a conventional camera. And I did not feel that I was becoming a photographer when I started doing this work. It was more about the creation of images and space. Photography happened to be the medium.
AB You studied sculpture and you had a conceptual background.
VL Yes, I studied in Munich at the Academy of Fine Arts, beginning in 1984 and finishing in 1992. I first made objects and sculptures and later expanded my vocabulary more towards a conceptual approach.
AB Critique of a medium is very much an aspect of conceptual tendency. I would like to point out these recent photographs, where the critique of an image is present as well as a strong conceptual approach. I mean, experiments with what you actually photograph: instead of photographing existing reality, you construct a certain stage design, which consists of images of your own work being re-photographed later. You photograph your own work, as if it was an act of self-appropriation.
VL Yes, this is correct. I was afraid you would say “self-examination” which it is not. But appropriation I find interesting. Yet, it is not so much I myself who appropriates, but more the work that does so. The piece seen in the piece expands the dialectic discourse that I find so interesting in photography.
AB It could not be perceived as classical appropriation, though. In the case of classical appropriation, somebody uses somebody else’s work, whereas here everything happens within the realm of your own photography. The property law is violated only within itself. You still arrange this photograph as if you were taking on the role of interior designer. It reminds me of a combination of an arrangement of pictures by Louise Lawler and a practice of Sherrie Levine. Into this process, you bring a theatrical aspect – a setting, a set location, referring to cinematography and theatricality. I think this is an extremely important moment within these photographs and their development – it has been ten years since you started to take photographs.
VL The idea of appropriating the images in replacement of an inspirational visual space came to me pretty early on. I carried out the first experiments of this nature as early as 1994, but it took a while to develop a body of work that was substantial enough to have relevant images available. Even though I had this idea relatively early on, I still had to deliver a lot of work to make it happen. Also, I did not have the means to operate a space large enough to construct my ideas in full scale.
AB It is also a sort of evolution of going precisely from the outside deep into the inside. Earlier on you photographed exteriors (airports, shipyards, industrial places, metropolitan areas), and then you really turned to the inside and achieved a meta-level.
VL You are right. I moved from photographing exterior scenes to the interior, initially of abandoned factories and then into the studio, where I re-photograph images in rather complex installations involving the image reflected in mirrors. So we really double this inside aspect.
AB Could you say more about the importance of minimalism and conceptualism? These (meta) photographs of interiors are strong manifestations of this influence. There are also other elements significant for minimalism and conceptualism present in your work: series, repetitiveness, variations of certain images, the idea of the process, a strong focus on the condition of a medium itself.
VL Minimalism and conceptualism were the predominant thinking patterns within the artistic community when I studied in Germany. Those early days, the time spent thinking, experimenting and talking to other students, obviously had a great influence. Minimalism is relevant in my work in various ways. Earlier, I mentioned my disfavor of fast production; equally, I like to free the image from any unnecessary elements, to keep the axis of conceptual relations clear.
AB It is fascinating how much your work echoes an experience of Dan Graham, with mirroring, an endless repetition of a space and the reflections set. And then, on the other hand, there is Sol LeWitt, with his minimalist and conceptual vocabulary.
VL The repetitive factor does not necessarily relate to minimalism. Its significance, for me, lies in documenting change. I talked about that earlier, regarding Airport VII. Repetition in the studio series plays a different role; the dialectics I mentioned earlier are of significance here. The studio is a white cube and the installations I have created there so far are composed of both my own images and mirrors. I collapse real space by incorporating an image of mine. The images, though obstructing real space with suggested space, are still objects.
Involving mirrors introduces yet another level; the reflected image and the mirrored space transfer the piece into an illusory context. In this the studio projects are the existing studio space by creating new perspective points working with suggested space. Some things happen parallel to one another, even though, when created in my mind, they happen in a sequence. I hadn’t really thought about Dan Graham’s work when I set out to incorporate mirrors. Had I had the chance to continue working in the vacant Pepsi Co. factory (I had to leave in September of 2003 but for almost five years these premises had been an extension of my studio) after working with mirrors there (see Pepsi Cola Interior XXII and XXIII), the obvious next step would have been to include transparent glass plates and semi-reflecting glass. At that point I certainly started to think about Dan Graham’s work. Without wanting to analyze, it seems to me that he is concerned with the critique and creation of social spaces, whereas my concern remains with the image, with space and with perception.
AB What you say about collapsing space is really interesting. Could you say more about it? In what sense and to what extent is it a mental collapse? You are interested in spaces that are devastated, decayed, run down. The psychological atmosphere of these spaces brings discomfort, disquietude and an unsettling feeling, which again is the uncanny... In the case of the Nabisco factory, you photograph a space that is wounded and mutilated.
VL These abandoned spaces have a certain grace to them. I suppose it is the lack of imposed intention that gives a freedom to these places that are no longer good for anything. A stoic, quiet patience predominates here. They simply await their destiny, whatever that may be. I recently saw the film Au hazard Balthazar by Robert Bresson. In the film the donkey bounces back all possible facets of the human spirit. It is basically a reflecting surface for the human condition. Spaces are the donkeys of mankind. Something is always imposed onto a space, be it “only” functionality, style is a big issue and, of course, social intention is. Abandoned spaces are like wild donkeys. This form of slow decay is a process that appears without physical force being applied. There is no force from outside. There is simply a slow process of erosion going on. Within the characteristics you question, the uncanny is probably the only one I share. I truly find these places incredibly “peaceful” and enjoyable – tranquil. I assume what you are addressing with the mental collapse is the stretch between reality and a subjective experience of it.
AB Is it then that through the act of photographing you intend to tame this space and for this space to be inviting? How important is the act of inviting? You invite a space you look at and turn it into an image. The space gets home. “Das unheimliche” (the uncanny) is both familiar and unfamiliar. There is a box, a box as in the myth of Pandora, a house in a double meaning, the womb and the tomb, the first house and the last house. Two extreme “dwellings” in the cycle of life. In-between there is this space, which you correspond with in such a way that it becomes your own home through this act of appropriation…
VL …and through coaxing it into the camera and onto the image plane. It is correct and interesting how you are unfolding this. In a way, I also collapse the space into the camera. The two homes, the womb and the tomb, are spaces of rest. What is in-between is not restful, it’s uncanny. Regarding “disquietude”, I would like to say that this sensation, possibly the “mental collapse” you brought up, happens in-between these multi-facetted spaces. Again, as I said, I enjoy my presence inside the abandoned and “not intentionally dominated” spaces. The mental collapse happens when I spend long stretches of time inside the black box, which is inside the abandoned space. So I am in the location, twofold. I am inside the box, which is inside the space, both a part of it and not a part of it. That is what can set off a great sense of insecurity, of disequilibria.
AB You often talk about the experience of the light and the external world coming in through the windows of your loft apartment and penetrating your body. That was how the idea of the camera obscura originated in your mind. Your first camera obscura was your living room.
VL The camera is a place of habitat. I inhabit it and the making of a piece is a form of choreography. The performance is the action I take to make the piece happen. All my early cameras were rooms, and it was fascinating for me how radically I appropriated them. The room enhances intention and becomes functional just for me.
AB I am still tempted to bring up the mythological aspect of the box, Pandora’s box. Laura Mulvey interprets Pandora’s story in terms of secrecy and curiosity. The secrecy is reified as a box, a container, and the curiosity is a feminine aspect linked to pleasure and the excitement of discovery. According to Mulvey, as in the myth of Pandora, the woman’s look is often directed towards an enclosed, secret and forbidden space. Somewhere else, Mulvey talks about spectatorship (especially while interpreting Hitchcock’s Rear Window) and all the issues regarding looking and voyeurism. Everything takes place through a hole: whether it is a keyhole, or a hole made in the wall of a room, like in a case of Norman Bates in Psycho, through which the character observes, observes what is forbidden. You often talk about the factor of paranoia and fear connected to the situation when you see what nobody sees.
VL I mostly talk about the vulnerability that one experiences inside the box. I am a little reluctant to enter psychoanalytical ground here. Sometimes, it is simply technically dangerous. Dangerous things happen outside the box – cranes lifting, planes taking off, demolition blasting – and people don’t always know that I am in the box, so they don’t know that they have to take care. I do not know Laura Mulvey’s text, so I can’t talk about it. A form of paranoia does appear over the discrepancy of what I know from inside and what the people outside do not know. And I don’t think every hole, particularly a peephole, can be understood as a pinhole. Granted that the physical phenomenon is the same, but the intentions behind them are different. The pinhole invites light/information in, to inhabit the dark camera interior. The peephole implies secrecy and spying and a power structure between the spy and the spied upon.
AB The structure of an interior within an interior builds up and up until this aspect of serendipity appears, as well as the notion of a sequence. Eventually, there is the factor of curiosity… This curiosity is important in the process of the sudden appearance and disappearance of an image; it is a part of knowing or not knowing what the final image is going to be.
VL Yes, exactly, the curiosity to see the final image is of course great and very motivating. I would think of it less as the appearance or disappearance of an image and more as the “formation” of an image. The image never really disappears but, especially in projects that involve a very active outside world (i.e. the airport project), part of the information outside changes all the time; how that inscribes itself remains to some degree unknown until I develop the image. Both the factory interiors and the studio exposures are extremely long but the set is absolutely still. Earlier I mentioned how the time factor is not visible in these images. These interior images are to some degree more predictable, except for the fact that I have to reconfigure the exposure time for every piece and never quite know if I’ve done it right until I see the piece.
AB And it seems that this is not so much suspense as tension.
VL It is a tension as well as an assumption. I work with an assumption; I know the image I want. I work until I have achieved that and often the final image is an amalgam of both the serendipity and the assumption.
AB This is this trace aspect, with its ephemeral and hidden nature, included in a chance situation. The image is composed of contours, thin lines – it is very delicately graphic, more of a void than any substance…
VL I think it is the information that is inherent in various physical forces of space. Chance is a factor too, as in most situations, what happens in the outside world is very unpredictable.
AB Yes, and I think this chaos factor is really important. This is why, perhaps, this troubled silence comes to me again. It is as if you are on the verge of a silence when the chaos appears… You are longing for a silence.
VL Yes, you are completely right. It is a high-tension process longing for a silence, separating from a silence. Both are necessary to make a piece.
AB I wonder how much of all of this takes place in a dreamscape, as it were. Dream, as an environment of the unconscious, contrasted with reality, a space of fragmented narrative, is either without a memory or with an ephemeral memory. What is most typical of a dream is the difficulty in remembering it. Or we are just left with one image and we don’t really know how that comes about or together. In your photographs there are many objects that are similar to understood objects, but they exist as if in a dream, like a misty and dusty air that blurs their contours and confuses an exact understanding and the perception of them. We have problems with deciphering its meaning, we simply can’t grasp the image, because it is given to us in the form of a trace. The reality is rendered oneiric. There is a quality of daydreaming here, which, according to Bachelard, contemplates grandeur and suggests immensity: it creates a space of elsewhere.
VL We are returning again to the idea of suspense. The metaphor and the transportation get stopped short. Both the departure place and the destination of the cargo are unknown, as in a dream. The image is an interrupted narrative – it stops short and you are left with something that is difficult to put into context. Dreams, like my images, can be very uncanny, because one does not know where they come from or where one will be taken. This notion is the other side of the “nostalgia” we talked about earlier as it relates to awareness of time passed but without our ability to mark the beginning and end of that process.
AB We have devoted a lot of space here to discussing uncanny aspects of your work. Another notion that can be brought up again in this context is the notion of estrangement. The reality depicted in your photographs looks strange; it reflects uneasy intimations of fear and desire.
VL I am glad you bring it up because it certainly is my concern. Reality should be estranged in my images. It is a critique and a deconstruction of what we would think of as a representation of an image of reality.
AB It is also your rendering of the image that makes it estranged. Does this come consciously or unconsciously in your perception of reality? Is there perhaps a sort of autobiographical level to it? To what extent does this anxiety, which is inherent in your images and the reality you represent, relate to your diagnosis of a modern life and culture, which is somehow on the edge of collapse, of decay, of a certain catastrophe or unknown disaster? To what degree do you consciously apply these rather personal psychological feelings in thinking about the medium and an image?
VL You are pointing me in an interesting direction. Instability, uncertainty, suspense and monumentality are entities that I consider and think about; they generate work. These considerations affect the subject matter I choose. The means I learned to employ in order to estrange these known things will be applied. When you think of Fischli and Weiss and their photographs of airports, it is not hard to see the difference in intention. We can relate to their pictures and hope to say, “I have been there”. Their images give back to us places we seem to know so well. Whereas my images don’t deliver the plane you were on yesterday. Typically, airports are depicted as nostalgic places, melancholic sites that exist somewhere between expectation and the excitement of our next destination. They are non-places in that they are made to be left.
AB I sense a strong oscillation between the powerful aspects of a space you choose to photograph and your intention to calm it down, to make it silent or… on the other hand, to make yourself silent, as it is in the quote from Jules Valles (“L‘espace m‘a toujours rendu silencieux” – “Space has always reduced me to silence”) which Gaston Bachelard introduces at the beginning of the chapter on intimate immensity in his Poetics of Space. You somehow strip the space of its power, sometimes though you feel as if being dominated by it. You photograph huge aircraft, huge industrial spaces, or huge urban environments. Is there an attempt at internalization and intimation?
VL I am not quite sure what you mean. Are you saying that instead of being intimidated by a place I intimidate it by banning it into a picture? There may be something to that. The monumentality of a place should not be internalized psychologically; instead I wish it to remain monumental. Silence (or a calm) occurs only in its distressed and suspended relation to the sublime.
AB There is also a certain control about it, right?
VL There is a certain control involved, of course, but it also could have been a day without a plane.
AB But perhaps this control can be read as your way to gain power over it.
VL Yes, by banning these places and scenes into images I do at times feel I appropriate a place, which obviously is a sense of freedom and control.
AB And there is still this sort of tranquility, a tranquility through which this suspended movement suddenly appears and it becomes one of the most significant aspects of what is in fact being depicted. Through the applied technique, it is as if space is covered with a curtain of darkness. It is the tranquility of a night, which is very ambiguous too, and sometimes violent. Bachelard casts slightly different light on tranquility when he quotes Jean Lescure: “J’habite la tranquillité des feuilles, l’été grandit” – “I live in the tranquility of leaves, summer is growing”. For him, “tranquil foliage that really is lived in, a tranquil gaze discovered in the humblest of eyes, are the artisans of immensity”.
VL You know, it is interesting, the tranquility for some reason relates different qualities than silence.
AB I want to ask a question about the sincerity and credibility of an image, regarding the whole working process. I see a strong sense of sincerity here through the very way you elaborate an image, because of this meticulous and at the same time extremely basic process: the simple process of making an image appear. But this sincerity and credibility is also ambiguous: often the space of the image changes without the viewer’s knowledge. There are moments when it is as if this sincerity is put into brackets and a certain manipulation is operating…
VL Sincerity is a difficult word and I wouldn’t choose it. But as you are asking I’d like to state that the images are actually incredibly sincere. They very accurately portray what happens over the course of a long exposure, over the course of an elongated period of time. That idea of the “trace” element in my images, as you were saying before, well, that makes an image more sincere than when you have a solid object staring back at you. Nothing is ever that solid in our memories, usually our mind holds on only to trace images, trace memories, and so that is what my images portray. In the beginning I was commenting on the notion of immediacy and how it prevails in photography; how, with one click of a button an image immediately appears. My process is immediate but not spontaneous, my production anything but fast; consequently, my images reflect that slowness. They are sincere in that sense, in terms of what they capture, in what they reflect, in what they portray. I once read in a text on historical photography: “the camera never lies, the film lies” (or can lie). It is helpful to consider this statement when thinking about sincerity in photography.
AB Would you also say that the perception is extended in a way because it requires stronger perceptive qualities on your part?
VL Yes, I think extended perception is required. The work asks for attentiveness in order to grasp something that does not reveal itself easily. I don’t think my images are readily available. The process of elaborating an image is long so why should it offer instant accessibility? During the process of answering your questions I have come to think about “ambiguous silence” and I like the word “tranquille”…
When I return within myself, I cross back through so many layers of light. I rediscover so many suns. Dazzled, I go back down into all those forgotten mornings. All those noons which did not blind me. All those golden evenings. Those nights illuminated by bodies giving light. I have reserves of sun to last an eternity
- Luce Irigaray, Elemental Passions