Written review by
ANDREAS J. HIRSCH,
Independent curator, writer and photographer
Choosing a famous and well-documented subject like the Horseshoe Estate in Berlin for a small series of photographs is a daring decision. Violetta has done well to concentrate on one aspect of the many aspects this reformist housing project can offer. Her series looks for the traces of the personal in the conserved setting of a World Heritage Site and is doing this by focusing on the twin entrance doors and the disturbances in their symmetry brought about by the individualism in the daily use by the tenants.
This approach conceptually refers to works like the famous series of Bernd and Hilla Becher and adds to the element of seriality the special aspect of symmetry. It focuses not on the repetition of the obvious, but on the – sometimes very tiny – traces of deviation from the norm. Consequentially the framing of the photographs applies the geometry of the symmetrical setting found in the architecture. Consequentially as well the photographs in Violetta’s series are in colour, since colour is part of the design of the housing project and architect Bruno Taut’s concept of introducing individuality into a highly standardized and serialized setting.
Of course singling out one aspect from a vast architectural artefact with highly complex conceptual as well as design considerations is also a tricky thing to do. Here it is interesting to differentiate between what are variations of the entrance areas made by the architect and what are the actual additions by the tenants. In other words: What is the photographer actually looking for or wanting us to find here in this series of 20 photographs.
Violetta wants us to look at the individual variations created by the tenants and she does this by concentrating on a chosen framing of the entrance areas. However, the viewer’s access to those variations – and we are speaking about small and subtle things in certrain cases – is limited by what the actual photographs allow the viewer to detect in the photographs. In this regard the series shows a certain potential for improvement.
First there is the question of the precision of the framing. While the camera position seems to be mostly identical in relation to the building structure, there remains the feeling of certain deviations from the norm, which may come from different focal lenghts applied. Maybe my position is too strict, but I feel that if seriality is made part of the strategy and the actual topic are the deviations from the norm, then seriality should be as precise as possible. This includes tedious work with the tripod and use of one focal lenght only.
Then there is the question of light and of detail expecially in the shadows. Of course light conditions may change during a shoot and of course the different locations have different orientations to the sun, but there should be a certain consistency regarding exposure. The shadow areas clearly need more detail in order to make the actual content more readable. – And, after all, to make the images stronger as such.
And then there is also the question of selection. Of course only a very limited set of entrance areas could be included here. Of course time for preparation, research, planning, shooting, processing and editing was limited. But still, from other documentation existing about this World Heritage Site, I doubt if really the best and most significant examples for the subject were actually chosen and included in the series. Even with very limited time, or – I dare say – especially when time is limited, the strategic choice for the best, strongest and most interesting pictures becomes paramount.
We want the viewers not only to get the general idea, but also to like and remember the series of photographs we present them. So we should strive to put our ideas into the strongest pictures possible. When we make a conceptual statement, the statement has to be consistent and strong, seriality has to be real and precise seriality. If time does not allow us to achieve this precision then it might be better to consider replacing such an approach by an other visual – maybe more spontaneous – strategy.