PHOTOBOOK REVIEWS, INTERVIEWS AND WRITE-UPS
ALONG WITH THE LATEST PHOTO-EYE NEWS

Social Media

Book Review: Bergen


Book Review Bergen By Daniela Keiser Reviewed by Adam Bell Daniela Keiser’s new book Bergen offers a meditative look at a landscape framed by and infused with history. The book combines black and white photographs of the hilly parks that surround Berlin with an autobiographical text by Nadine Olonetzky. Intimately sized like a standard paperback, Keiser’s images document the landscape and the mostly young people who frolic and explore its hills and well-worn paths.


Bergen. Photographs by Daniela Keiser.
The Green Box Kunstedition, 2015.
 
Bergen
Reviewed by Adam Bell

Bergen
Photographs by Daniela Keiser
The Green Box Kunstedition, Berlin, Germany, 2015. In English/German. 128 pp., 49 illustrations, 5¼x7¾x½".


Places seem to me to have some kind of memory, in that they activate memory in those who look at them. – W.G. Sebald*

Daniela Keiser’s new book Bergen offers a meditative look at a landscape framed by and infused with history. The book combines black and white photographs of the hilly parks that surround Berlin with an autobiographical text by Nadine Olonetzky. Intimately sized like a standard paperback, Keiser’s images document the landscape and the mostly young people who frolic and explore its hills and well-worn paths. A counterpoint to Kaiser’s images, Olonetsky’s text reflects on her own attempts to live with her Jewish family’s past and the suffering they endured during WWII. As a whole, Bergen is a poetic and moving exploration about learning to live with the past, reconciling with its ghosts, and forging a new hopeful future.

Bergen. Photographs by Daniela KeiserThe Green Box Kunstedition, 2015.

The book opens with a sequence of three images of a group of teenagers playing in the park. Directly behind them, a family of three slowly moves across the frame. A teenage boy with blond hair pushes a man in a wheelchair while a woman follows closely behind. The kids are gathered in a circle and the young boys are playing with a Frisbee. The woman in the background pauses to watch them as her son continues to push the man. Further in the background we catch a glimpse of the city. Tall block-like buildings extend over the horizon and hover in the hazy sunlight. This short sequence sets the stage for remainder of the book and offers a layered portrait of the land’s mixed and revitalized use. The youth frolic in the foreground, the wounded resolutely move forward, and the rebuilt city lies in the distance.

Following this short sequence, Kaiser takes us around the periphery of the park revealing elevated views of the surrounding city and the massive apartment complexes that line its edges. Leading us in and out of the park, Kaiser’s images move from the sparsely populated interior to its outer reaches where it meets the city. Largely empty, the landscape is occasionally interrupted by shots of the park’s inhabitants, up-close or off in the distance, exploring the scar-like paths and open meadows. Midway through the book a sequence of six images of kids upside down, mid-cartwheel, presents a moment of lightness. We’re then brought to a barren and graffiti marked overlook that offers views of the city and surrounding countryside. Throughout the book, Kaiser contrasts the silent and often barren park with moments of youthful levity and the distant city.

Bergen. Photographs by Daniela KeiserThe Green Box Kunstedition, 2015.
Bergen. Photographs by Daniela KeiserThe Green Box Kunstedition, 2015.

As the book’s German title makes clear, the work is about the subtle ways in which a landscape is reclaimed and salvaged, by memories, stories, actions, and photographs. The word bergen means to recover, dig out, or reveal, and berg is a large elevated area or mountain. Both these meanings are echoed in the work. Bergen’s images alternate between the slow reclamation of the landscape by the grass and heather, and the new memories that are being formed by the hill’s youthful inhabitants. It’s important to note that both the images and Kaiser’s act of taking them are a part of this important process. Likewise, Olenetsky’s text, which parallels the images, plays a vital role and complements the images well.

Entitled “Cartwheels on the Grass,” Olenetsky’s text is presented in both German and English, and reflects on her family history and the ways we learn to live with the past. Decimated and divided by the Nazi regime, Olenetsky’s family barely survived the Holocaust and suffered greatly. Her father narrowly escaped to Switzerland, but her grandfather perished along with many other relatives. Some, like her father, were lucky and escaped or survived. Growing up, she learned to live with ghosts that were rarely mentioned. As she writes, “[my relative’s knowledge], preserved in silence, was also part of the mountain of rubble we live on.” Together the text and images form a symbiotic pair — activating each other and enriching each other’s meaning.

Bergen. Photographs by Daniela KeiserThe Green Box Kunstedition, 2015.
Bergen. Photographs by Daniela KeiserThe Green Box Kunstedition, 2015.

Short of showing actual ruins, it is often remarkably hard to reveal history in a landscape. Instead, as Sebald suggests, the land, like photographs, activates memory. There is no visible evidence of Germany’s military past in Keiser’s images. Yet beneath the scrubs, heather, and grassy fields, are bricks, rubble, and metal fragments — armaments from a war lost generations ago. Long since swallowed by time and vegetation, the fields are now a stage for recreational activity for Berlin’s population. If places have memories, they are rarely visible. Instead, they need to be conjured either through memory, language, or speech. Kaiser’s work acknowledges this absence, but points to the ways it can be revived and coexist with the present. Bergen offers a hopeful look at the ways in which a landscape and its ghosts can not only be subtly reclaimed and acknowledged, but also how new histories can be written onto the land, as well as the memories of its inhabitants.—Adam Bell

*http://www.theguardian.com/books/2001/sep/22/artsandhumanities.highereducation

Purchase Book

ADAM BELL is a photographer and writer. His work has been widely exhibited, and his writing and reviews have appeared in numerous publications including AfterimageThe Art Book ReviewThe Brooklyn RailfototazoFoam MagazineLay Flatphoto-eye and Paper-Journal. His books include The Education of a Photographer and the forthcoming Vision Anew: The Lens and Screen Arts. He is currently on staff and faculty at the MFA Photography, Video and Related Media Department at the School of Visual Art. (www.adambbell.com and blog.adambbell.com)


Read More Book Reviews

No comments:

Post a Comment