Vista Vision

German photographer returns, Making theConnection from Beelitz to Old Market When German artist Christian Rothmann introduced the work of Frauke Bergemann to Omaha in 2008 he referred to her photography as “frozen transition.” This was an apt description of Bergemann’s large, hyper-realistic juxtapositions of time and space that depicted a post-reunification Berlin still largely “stuck” in an East-West parallel universe, architecturally, politically and socially. Whereas the large vertical images in this Moving Gallery exhibit were true to the urbanized and urbane culture of Berlin, the photographer returns to Omaha, this time at Gallery 616 in the Old Market, with a new series of horizontal imagery, Making the Connection, which stretches several boundaries. This time around, the “connection” Bergemann makes between East and West is much broader, and it can be argued that this exhibit’s reach nearly exceeds its grasp, at least thematically and aesthetically. Making the Connection consists of 16 experimental wide-angle views, interiors mostly of two primary locations, the Beelitz-Heilstratten, a former pulmonary medical hospital near Potsdam, and renovated spaces in Omaha’s Old Market. In an interview that expanded upon this show’s illustrated catalogue, Bergemann explained she wanted to create a parallel record and analogy of her Beelitz photo series, Buildings in the Waiting Loop, with her personal photos of the Old Market, made while attending her first show in 2008. She was so impressed with how the Mercer family saved so many of the warehouses from neglect and extinction that she wanted to contrast them with similar expectations for the German sanatorium. “Both areas were developed about the same time and met certain needs,” Bergemann said, “and then both were abandoned a few decades later. Today the difference in their condition and purpose is immense. The Old Market photos mirror exactly my hope for the abandoned buildings (at Beelitz).” Although she makes her point in her comparison, Bergemann is neither archival nor journalistic in her point of view. And while a few of her people-heavy Old Market photos, such as the three 11th Street pieces, have a snapshot feel to them, her most eloquent work is never touristy or commercial. Instead, the artist has a profound love of architecture, its style and grace as well as function, and she imbues that passion in her imagery. This is especially true of her Beelitz photos, whose strikingly vivid but subdued palette, low backlighting and rich shadowing belie the obvious damage due to vandalism and weather. Sensing that these honored landmarks may never be restored, Bergemann helps them live again in a photographic process that is painterly and cinematic. At first glance these vista visions resemble either panoramic photos or stills from early experimental Cinerama, but they are neither. Once one gets over the High Definition clarity and brilliant depth of field, one is further transfixed by the multiple vanishing points that defy logic but transform the viewer to a “new way of seeing.” It’s virtually impossible for the eye to focus in any direction within 180 degrees of vision without keeping the rest of her canvas in perspective. Bergemann accomplishes this two-fold. Each single image is a seamless montage created by shooting from one viewpoint and then “panning” her lens horizontally rather than vertically, as in her Berlin show, and opening the shutter once again from the new point of view. Actually, since a pan or a tilt is accomplished on a fixed axis, her multiple POV images are the result of traveling shots as the artist moves in all directions. Second, Bergemann increases the depth of field with still more shots within each scene to take advantage of the extraordinary low-angle light that stabs through broken and soiled window panes and filters down tiled hallways and across peeling paint. The deep focus photography allows the human eye to explore fore-, middle- and background at will as the inner sanctums of this sanatorium are revealed like ghosts. Bergemann said the painterly quality of her work is motivated by the technique of Old Masters such as Van Eyck, who used spatial perspectives to expand one’s point of view as well as Vermeer and Canaletto, who used the camera obscura to affect light and shadow along with focus. Consequently, the interplay of shadow and light in her own work creates a fitting elegiac tone that casts these monuments to mercy in a perpetual twilight zone. Further enhancing this theme of frozen transition is the exhibit’s dominant visual motif of hallways, windows and doors. The viewer is placed center stage and his several entry points is through myriad passageways and thresholds, many of which are open to public scrutiny and appreciation. Even if the future of these landmarks remains uncertain, Bergemann’s aesthetic makes it possible for them to endure as a dreamscape; part reality, part illusion. Each image appears dominated by a particular hue that, thanks to time, light and lens is no longer an institutional color. This is most dramatically seen in the sea-foam green of “Pulmonary Hospital for Men II” and the turquoise “Surgery I” as well as the aged cream of “Pulmonary Hospital for Women I.” A beatific luminescence bathes each image in an attitude of near reverence for a bygone era and the role the sanatorium played in it. Yet Bergemann is unwilling to relegate her work to that of homage. She’s said “people become co-creators of their environment by mere presence, but also by direct activity.” Perhaps that spirit is what motivated her photos of the reclamation of the spaces in the Old Market. Her best examples of this repurposed architecture are two photos, “Apartment at 11th Street” and “Apartment at Howard Street,” both of which glow with inner and outer life. It’s these two extraordinary works that best illustrate how any urban culture in the world can make the connection between past and present as long as its treasures are not left waiting in the loop threatened by decay and destruction. Making the Connection continues until Oct. 9 at Gallery 616, 11th and Jones in the Old Market.

posted at 07:57 pm
on Friday, September 24th, 2010

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