Jochen Lempert – The Photographers’ Gallery
18 June 2014 . By Tristan Hooper
Perhaps more so than anything else, Jochen Lempert’s exhibition makes apparent the degree of separation imposed by the traditional approach to framing photographs. By allowing the viewer to contemplate photographs in their most basic and natural form, the exhibition fosters a fresh sense of intimacy quite removed from the often sterile gallery experience.
It is easy to see why Lempert’s work has been nominated for the Deutsche Börse. The exhibition operates successfully on a number of different levels; playful and thought provoking juxtapositions, a cleverly unrefined method of production which is somehow more refined and the physical presentation of the work which echoes the predominant themes.
The wet printing, the apparent texture of the paper – the lack of retouching or doctoring – this is perhaps the fundamental science of photography in its rawest form. Stripped of gloss, prestige and pretension. This is not to say that the pictures lack value, quite the opposite – their naked fragility imbues within them a renewed sense of value, they are less like photographs and more like naturally occurring organisms – plucked from their habitat and displayed for people to study. There is a tangibility to the photographs, a sense of process which seems to really indicate the various reactions that take place in order to produce a photograph. Viewing the work, I find it almost impossible to envisage how such a body of work could have been achieved through the use of digital technology.
The various photosensitive films and papers are employed as an alchemist would ply the materials of his vocation. The subjects captured seem to have almost made contact with the materials, in some cases they quite literally have. One large image is simply tacked to the wall with pins, at first it’s difficult to tell what it depicts – it could perhaps be a small crop of a larger image, enlarged to such a degree that we can only see the grain of the film emulsion. The image is engrossing, almost hypnotic; it draws the eye into its dense texture. Under closer inspection, it becomes apparent that the image was achieved through actually distributing a quantity of sand onto the surface of the photographic paper, exposing it to light and subsequently developing the sheet as one normally would in a darkroom. This method of production establishes a direct relationship between an aspect of the photographic process and nature. The effect is quite startling – a rich and complex image made without a camera, a filter or Photoshop.
Juxtaposition plays a big role in the work. Lempert creates connections between different subjects which are often very droll and almost always thought provoking. In one such pairing, Deadly Nightshade is likened to the eye of a squirrel, in another pair the freckled skin of girl is positioned next to a triptych depicting algae. These combinations of pictures as well as the photographic approach work to enrich one other, forging strong links that the audience are invited to discover.
A number of the images are presented with glass cases – drawing parallels with museum exhibits, this seems to perpetuate the idea of the photograph as an object in its own right, an artefact – something precious. Indeed, there’s an unmistakeable undertone of fragility that reverberates within the small corner of The Photographers’ Gallery that the exhibition inhabits. Whilst I’m certain that the images would sit quite comfortably on the pages of a book, this work should be seen on the gallery wall.
In comparison to this year’s other Deutsche Börse entries, Lempert’s work appears somewhat understated. This subtlety however, is key to the works success, a quiet contemplation is instigated and one is left with a lasting impression of photography’s role in the way we see the world around us and indeed our own special connection to nature.