Outside in / Inside Out : Walentynowicz-Lauritsen
exhibition text by Franziska Kunze, Museum Folkwang, Essen 2018
“For the first time, the seeing that I am is for me really visible; for the first time I appear to myself completely turned inside out under my own eyes.”(1)
Composed by the French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1908–1961) around 1960, these lines were presumably not intended to give voice to photographic apparatuses. It is all the more astonishing, then, how fitting the short paragraph from „The Visible and the Invisible” reads in connection to the works by Dorota Walentynowicz and Nanna Krogh Lauritsen exhibited here. By building their own cameras, both subvert established norms. They do not show what transpires at a certain moment in front of the camera, but focus instead on what happens in such moments on the insides of the recording device. In revealing that which usually eludes the viewer’s gaze, the artists create what can be described as an apparative introspection — an act of self-questioning and simultaneous self-revelation of interior, generally unseen structures.
In constructing their own cameras, both artists link back to a device which marks the very beginnings of apparative experiments for image reproduction: the camera obscura. Simply set up as merely a dark box with a small hole in one side, the camera obscura can be regarded as the first camera. Already used in antiquity, it projected images of an external scene onto the opposite wall of a darkened room. In this way, it served as a tool for painters, illustrators and graphic artists over the centuries. Initially conceived as an accessible room (camera obscura; from Latin, meaning “dark room”), its scale has shrunk over time. Since then, it has also been used as a small-scale pinhole camera. Dorota Walentynowicz essentially employs principles which lie at the heart of the camera obscura, but undermines the design commonly used to build it. Instead of forming a cube with six sides, her cameras consist of triangular surfaces that are often composed in such a way as to produce an asymmetrical structure — a polyhedron. The original camera obscura had just one small hole, whereas Walentynowicz extends these existing conventions and builds her cameras with multiple holes. Furthermore, the negatives are not placed evenly onto the back wall of the darkened interior.
The size of the film negatives she uses exceeds the size of the camera box and thus the light-sensitive material is folded into the asymmetrical cavity. The artist then positions her cameras at specific locations, in many cases in darkened rooms with different, moving sources of light. When the light shines through some of the multiple holes and meets the sensitive surface of the photo material, a curious effect is generated — an effect, literally, Of the Blind Spots. This strategy turns the conventional use of the camera obscura on its head, which aided artists such as Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519), Jan Vermeer (1632–1675) or Canaletto (1721/22–1780) to delineate and create paintings with linear perspective.(2)
What Walentynowicz does here is not only to probe the potential of space within her photographs but through them. In 2013, she accompanied an experimental film crew to a former military area and documented their filming. After a period of long-time exposure and then developing the film and magnifying the prints, the resulting photographs show not only the vague outlines of the Untitled Film Sets – with light structures superimposed over each other as to hint at the activities of the lighting technicians – but they also show distinct lines which result from the creases in the photo paper. This act of folding the films almost alludes to the theatre stage. This is translated onto the prints which reproduce these creases and thus point towards the function of the photographic material as a platform on which the light effects take place. It is at exactly these moments that the outer world and the material compete for the image. What is made visible here is what usually remains hidden beneath a picture: the negative itself. Walentynowicz provokes reflections about where an image carrier starts and where the photograph ends. What is mechanical procedure and what artistic representation?
In her series of five photo objects, Nanna Krogh Lauritsen similarly relies on mul- tiple apertures which simulate different star constellations. The light enters through these holes and imprints onto the sensitive photo material. Rather than using photo negatives, however, Lauritsen employs direct positive photographic paper. This material has the potential to show a positive image right after exposure and development. This shortens the process which usually relies on negatives and preserves the immediacy of the light imprint. As a result of this kind of exposure, there are no impressions of an external world to be found — the only effect to be perceived are diffuse circles of differing brightness. In order to present her work, the artist utilises the camera as a framing device. When she slides the perforated wall of the camera to one side, she also lifts the curtains and reveals the secret of the images’ genesis. Doing so, Lauritsen makes visible the chain of cause and effect which impressively traces the foundational principles lying at the heart of photographic image formation.
In another photo series, this principle proves to be of even greater importance. Titled Selfie, Lauritsen’s work literally materialises this term which is used so commonly today. Using an origami technique, she creates cubes made from photo paper — with the light-sensitive side facing inwards. In order to avoid any unwanted light pollution, she covers the paper, which now functions as a camera, with a black foil. Merely a small hole caused by the folding process lets light reach the interior. To pay tribute to the title of the work, Lauritsen places a mirror directly in front of the camera. The light which permeates the cube also reflects the image of the camera and captures it on film as it is imprinted on the light-sensitive silver layer on the inside of the cube. After the exposure, the artist unfolds and develops the paper in the darkroom. The fact that she uses direct positive photogra- phic paper here as well, entails that the exposed part of the paper appears in light grey colour grades after developing. All the parts which were not exposed to any light due to the foldings, however, are stained a deep black. The same can be said about the fine crease lines which mark the transition between the individual side walls and which have stayed untouched by the light. In the face of such works, Merleau-Ponty’s words quoted at the beginning of this text now suddenly reveal a deeper meaning: “For the first time, the seeing that I am is for me really visible; for the first time I appear to myself completely turned in- side out under my own eyes.”(3) The camera is the image. And the image is the camera, is the image, is the camera, is the…
In the exhibition, the works of Walentynowicz and Lauritsen not only enter into a dialo- gue with each other but also interrogate the visitor who walks past the camera objects arran- ged in the room. It is not entirely clear whether at this moment the visitor’s blurry images will not be captured by the photo-sensitive surface inside these boxes, only to be recorded there for ever. In this way, the exhibition’s visitors break out of their role as uninvolved observers and become deeply implicated in a network of references, ultimately destined to become an elementary component of the works.
Franziska Kunze is an art and photography historian and holds a scholarship from the Alfried Krupp von Bohlen and Halbach-Foundation within the programme Museum Curators for Photography. Her research interests focus, amongst others, on the materiality of photographic objects, as well as on aspects of temporality and the image.
1 Maurice Merleau-Ponty: The Visible and the Invisible, ed. by Claude Lefort, Evanston: North Western University Press, 1968, p. 143.
2 For a detailed history of the camera obscura, please see: Olaf Breidbach / Kerrin Klinger / Matthias Müller: Camera Obscura. Die Dunkelkammer in ihrer historischen Entwicklung, Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2013.
3 Merleau-Ponty 1968, p. 143.