Just a week ago, I was in Heidelberg having a most inspiring time during a four-day Magnum Photos workshop in Heidelberg that was organised in conjunction with the 5th Fotofestival Mannheim-Ludwigshafen-Heidelberg in Germany.
During the workshop, there were three afternoons designated for shooting. I didn’t take any photos of the machines on the third afternoon as it was a Saturday and the administration office which held the key to the storage room was closed. Which was a shame as I’d have loved to return and see what other images I could capture after the fruitful second day.
So I spent the afternoon reviewing with Chien-Chi the photos that I took on the earlier days in preparation for the projection at the end of the workshop. I also followed the Magnum group to the opening events in Heidelberg and got to view two exhibitions.
The first – Locked up / Die Zelle @ Sammlung Prinzhorn (Voßstraße 2) – was a presentation of psychiatric institutions and their resident/inmates. Some images from Chien-Chi’s “The Chain” project were exhibited and were shown as small prints, similar to what you’d see in the book, which is printed accordion-style, chaining every individual together. These photos have been presented as life-size images in other exhibitions, which I imagine would have left quite an impression. We had discussed about this project during the workshop and it was insightful to learn about how he had approached this sensitive subject matter.
The second exhibition – Battleground / Afghanistan @ Heidelberger Kunstverein (Hauptstraße 97) – was a showcase of selected works documenting the revolution in Afghanistan from the 1960s to present day by various Magnum photographers including Abbas, Chris Steele-Perkins and Steve McCurry. This was followed by a presentation by the 69-year-old Abbas of some of his projects in the past decades, focusing on his work in conflict zones. He made a distinction between ‘war photographers’ and ‘conflict photographers’, with the former typically being in the frontline where all the action is, while the latter – which he identifies himself with – is more interested in observing the effects of war on society and its people.
The presentation was followed by a Q&A session which was great as we got to ask him various questions – e.g. objectivity vs. subjectivity when taking photos in a conflict zone; did he remain emotionally detached in order to survive the trauma of what’s happening around him; where does he draw the line with taking photos – private vs. public space; why the interest in religions like Islam, Buddhism and Christianity. Abbas was very open and modest, and it was a privilege to listen to him share his methodology, approach and experiences.
After this wonderful day at the exhibitions, I met some of the other workshop participants who were staying in the same hostel and we spent the night chatting and reviewing our photos on our laptops in one corner of the communal kitchen. I went to bed happily exhausted, but woke twice in the night after having vivid dreams of factory chimneys with smoke coming from atop.
You see, while I could no longer get into the storage area, I had been thinking about checking out the exterior of the building to see if I could get any interesting or decent shots from outside the windows. When I woke the second time at 6am, I decided to just go for it and satisfy my curiousity.
Bleary-eyed, I wandered around the outside of the storage area. The windows were much higher than I imagined, which was going to be a problem with me being all of 1.58m / 5ft2!
Looking around, there were piles of wooden beams stacked under some of the windows. AH HAH! I climbed onto one stack (which you’ll see on the right in the diptych below). It was rather slippery as it was drizzling. Tiptoeing gingerly, with the camera held above my head, I managed two ghostly-looking images – which reminded me of a sunken boat.
There was a table under another window. Climbing it wasn’t difficult even though I was wearing a dress (there was no one around). The problem was that I wasn’t tall enough! So I lifted a wooden beam and put it onto the table. This did the trick, though I still had to tiptoe, with my camera held above my head, for every image that I took for the next hour!
I made a small illustration to show the relative dimensions of my surrounds that morning:Happy that I finally managed a sufficient height, I got down to taking some photos. Here’s one of the initial shots:
It’s not a perfect picture, but I love how it juxtaposes the exterior with the machines that are locked away inside, and how the grime on the window blurs the line between the two spaces.
After pressing my X100 against the window for several shots – so as to eliminate reflections – I realised that I’d probably have an easier time if I were to clean the windows. Duh.
Here are two photos that I made after cleaning the windows. While these didn’t make the final cut for the projection – and I’ve rendered them in black and white here – I was glad that I took the time to explore the possibilities from outside the windows of the store room. Plus, I had fun climbing around and taking photos in the rain!