February 18: When a photograph is enlarged, do its ideas get bigger too?
Antonioni’s Blow-Up would seem to indicate otherwise, but nobody could test this proposition more throughly than does Bettina Pousttchi (*1971, Germany) currently exhibiting Bettina Pousttchi: Protection at Kunstmuseum, St. Gallen which opened two days ago and continues until June 17; and the ongoing Daniel Buren & Bettina Pousttchi at Kunsthalle Mainz, (December 15, 2017 – March 18, 2018): in terms of scale, think Christo meets Times Square. Hers are enlargements which can swallow whole buildings.
When early in photography several pioneers suggested the idea of enlarging or reducing an image, magic lanterns that projected images already existed; the 1720 book Physicis elementa mathematica, experimentis confirmata, sive introductio ad philosophiam Newtonianam by Willem Jacob ‘s Gravesande (1688–1742) shows Jan van Musschenbroek‘s (1660–1707) magic lantern and by 1820 lantern slides were being mass-produced using transfers on glass.
However re-photographing daguerreotypes, which are images on shiny metal plates, was the only way to make copies of them and to change thier scale. Though the opaque projector, or epidiascope, also had been developed, before photography, between 1756 and 1780 separately by the Swiss Leonhard Euler (1707–1783) and French Jacques Charles (1746–1823), no practical means was available to project the elusive image on the silver daguerreotype onto a freshly sensitised plate.
John Hannavy in his invaluable Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography suggests that it was John Draper (1811–1882) who had proposed making enlarged copies of daguerreotypes as early as 1840, and predicted;
Exposures are made with a very small camera on very small plates. They are subsequently enlarged to the required size in a larger camera on a rigid stand. This method will probably contribute very much to the practice of the art.
That idea was realised by Alexander S. Wolcott (1804–1844) in his US patent for an enlarging camera in March 1843, while in June that year, Henry Fox Talbot (1800–1877) patented a calotype enlarger, staking claim to the invention means for making an enlarged print from a negative. The Achilles heel of these early devices was the exposure time required even with the most intense light sources then available
Before the introduction of the collodion negative in the 1850s, the copy camera was the most practical technology, usually taking the form of nested sliding boxes to enable rephotography at 1:1 scale and greater. There was a half-century of intense invention and innovation before ‘enlarging lanterns’ powered by gas, petroleum, limelight, magnesium and even electricity were made commonplace by the late-1800s.
Achille Quinet (1831–1907) invented a vertical enlarging camera in 1852, but it required very long exposures, a problem solved with David Acheson Woodward’s (1823–1909) solar enlarging camera in 1857. It could enlarge quarter plate and half plate portrait negatives to life-size with an exposure of about forty-five minutes using the intense light of the sun concentrated by a ‘condensing lens’; solar oower before its time!
Usually placed in a shuttered window of the darkroom, its mirror and condenser lens focussed sunlight through the negative and a copy lens onto the photographic paper. Patents in the 1860s and 1870s added a heliostat — a clockwork motor to rotate the mirror to track the sun and concentrate light on the condenser lens throughout the exposure.
In 1864 Desiré Charles Emanuel van Monckhoven introduced correction for spherical aberration to produce sharper, more evenly illuminated prints. Building the light gathering apparatus into the roof of the building produced a vertical design, patented by J.F. Campbell in 1865. However the realisation of the vertical enlarger design illuminated by artifical light with which we are familiar had to wait until the 1890s.Nadar (Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, 1820–1910) used Alphonse Liebert’s (1827–1913) enlarging apparatus using direct solar illumination to make his first enlargements in the 1860s. It had to be hand-cranked to keep the condenser lens aimed at the sun, but the uninterrupted light reduced exposure times.
Gaston Tissandier (1843-1899) complained that:
enlargements, it is true, offer certain inconveniences; the details of the enlarged proof have often a disagreeable effect; they are exaggerated and seem as though seen under a magnifying glass. It would, however, be unjust, in spite of these defects, to underrate the importance of the results obtained.
In the 1870s enlargements from carte-de-visite prints and daguerreotypes as well as existing negatives were offered in London at two shillings for a 10” x 8” print, up to three pounds for a life size bust “finished in oils,” in order to cover the imperfections resulting from the process.
‘Developing-out’ bromide and chloride papers replaced albumen in the 1880s and were faster, assisted by more efficient light sources, such as powerful limelight, as first suggested by John Benjamin Dancer (1812-1887), though a chimney to vent the noxious fumes out of the darkroom was a necessity before electrically powered (though costly) enlargers became available at the turn of the century.
But do concepts expand with the size of the print?
Her Echo is a ‘wrapping’ of a the Temporäre Kunsthalle Schlossfreiheit 1, 10178 on Spree Island in Berlin-Mitte, on the site of the Palace of the Republic, constructed in 1973 at the site of the former Hohenzollern palace (Stadtschloß), which was the seat of the East German parliament, the Volkskammer, and cultural centre in the GDR. It was demolished at the end of 2008 to make room for a planned Stadtschloß reconstruction.
The massive landmark also housed two large auditoria, art galleries, a theatre, restaurants and a bowling alley, so it was missed: 10,000 people toured through a temporary space opened within its skeleton structure before it was finally removed.
The idea of a “temporary Kunsthalle Berlin” was initiated by curator Constanze Kleiner and artist Coco Kühn (*1971) and originated in the eleven-day exhibition 36 x 27 x 10, December 2005, shortly before the demolition. Under the artistic direction of Heike Föll, international, Berlin-based artist installed the artist initiative FRAKTALE in the gutted building attracted 10,000 visitors, highlighting the lack of an art gallery for contemporary art in Berlin otherwise known as a world focus for art production.
Just a few months after the last remnants of the Palast der Republik (Palace of the Republic) were removed Bettina Pousttchi covered the entire façade of the Temporäre Kunsthalle Berlin with 970 individual photographic posters of the recently demolished building.
However Echo is not a replica or museum reconstruction of the socialist building. It reduces the historical façade to its essential appearance as based on archival pictures. In preparation for cladding the building in photographs the artist searched numerous archives for its image; online databases of news agencies, the planning authority, landmark preservation office, historical archives, the papers of Heinz Graffunder architect of the Palast der Republik (Palace of the Republic), in the architectural archive of the Akademie der Künste (Academy of the Arts), and sought out the politicised illustrations of the building distributed by both the West and the East.
Not so much interested in any given photograph, she gathered those that had contributed to the official image of the Palast, those given archival value in promoting recognition and status of a collective symbol. Thus she chose no single photograph to work with, but rather combined a number of images for their structural features: the state emblem of the German Democratic Republic on the main facade of the Palast, the two white pilasters on each side of the emblem, the grid structure, and of course, the reflections in the glass.
Where architectural photography aims to record detail, unaltered for posterity and realism, Pousttchi abandons documentation in favour of deconstruction, strategically altering the building. She omits the white concrete framing elements on the facade and removes the coppery colour of its glass surface, transforms the massive sculptural wreath of ears of wheat, hammer and compass, state emblem of the German Democratic Republic, into a clockface, and repeats the front facade on the rear of the building.
The images are monochrome and are striated with digitally generated lines reminiscent of CCTV cameras or TV images as if it were an in-situ media appearance, seen through the filter of surveillance. In East Berlin viewers could receive the first transmission in colour, of the flag of the German Democratic Republic, on October 3 1969, broadcast from the newly constructed 368 metre Berliner Fernsehturm (Berlin TV Tower) seen behind the Palast, above, though only the richest could possibly afford a colour TV set. Pousttchi’s signature black-and-white raster comes from her photo series Starker Staat (Strong State; 2003), Take Off (2005), and The Hetley Suite (2008).
She makes it a ghost, a ’zombie building’. Pousttchi, with this after-image, thus challenges public memory of a recently present symbolic structure, one which significantly straddled the Soviet era and the reunification of East and West Berlin.
Iconic structures have since had Pousttchi’s attention. In an interview with Chris Dercon with she associates Echo with another work The City;
The 970 paper posters in my photomontage were applied to all four sides of the building… on the one hand, it was a building made of photographs. On the other, I could never have developed this photo installation without the archival photos of the original Palast. Here, too, then, the photographic aspect was involved. By the time I started my project, the Palast had already been pulled down, and only with the aid of existing photos could I elaborate its photographic afterimage. So Echo only came into being thanks to photography, and while it was in place it was itself a photo.
Another edifice is being reconstructed on the site now, the Berlin Stadtschloss. Again, it can only be rebuilt because there are photos that show what it once looked like. Here the relation between photography and monument is particularly clear.
In The City I bring together ten skyscrapers from different places to form a new skyline with photographic means. You’ll never see the buildings like that— photography alone sets them side by side.
Three buildings from The City reappear in her current shows; Bettina Pousttchi: Protection at Kunstmuseum, St.Gallen which opened two days ago and continues until June 17; in the ongoing Daniel Buren & Bettina Pousttchi at Kunsthalle Mainz, (December 15, 2017 – March 18, 2018); and in a third Bettina Pousttchi: Metropolitan Life at Museo Nivola, recently closed on January 14.
Pousttchi is canny in her exploitation of available, or specially selected, exhibition space. These works install enlargements of photographs of the tragic twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center, the Empire State Building and the Italiante Metropolitan Life Tower; each so immense that they barely fit the venues. The pictures of the buildings in each case seem to invade the space, rather than to hang impassively. Suspended like the continuous backdrop used in photography studios to produce a seamless background with no horizon or border, the strict rectilinearity of the architectural reproductions of the buildings also removes perspective, but restore the effect of craning one’s head to take in the prsence of a towering skyscraper.
In the case of the twin towers by Detroit architect Minoru Yamasaki (1912–1986) her reference to 9/11, the devastating terrorist attack on this symbol of global trade, is augmented by the presence of twisted metal. These are a reminder of the melted, crumpled girders of the wreckage, but turn out to be tree guards (protection?) carefully bent into freestanding forms by the artist at a small metalworks in Berlin and painted in shades through leafy green to khaki. In sharing the
In sharing the Kunsthalle Mainz venue with Daniel Buren the artists works compliment each other despite the threat of a clash between the strongly coloured signature of one with the monochrome greys favoured by the other. The gallery is subtly and softly toplit and Buren colours the light with filters appled in a metal framework that extends around the entire perimeter so that primary and secondary colours wash the white walls. On front of the frame a black and white checker sets up Mondrianesque Broadway Boogie Woogie in sympathy with the pattern of windows in the Art Deco landmark.
At Museum Nivola in Orani, Sardinia, the draping of Pousttchi’s Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower from the building’s classic pitched timber ceiling is also a response to the setting. Opened in 1995 after restoration, the gallery was originally the town’s washhouse and revered as a symbolic reminder community life. The reuse of the existing building keeps its basilica-like plan and arched windows.
The Met Life Tower, added to its Manhattan building in 1909 by architects Napoleon LeBrun & Sons, is modelled after the Campanile in Venice which itself is a 1912 replica of the original annihilated in a collapse in 1902, which in turn was a progressive augmentation of the 9th century watchtower.
Some contemporary criticism had been levelled the LeBrun’s attempt to impose Renaissance classicism on a skyscraper, but in 1960 the company became dissatisfied that the “ornamental details make the structure look much smaller than its actual height.” A renovation ensued, purely for the sake of aesthetics and nothing to do with amenity, that stripped off the marble quoining, arcades, brackets, balconies and other decorative details so that only the decorative rim of the clock remained, the pyramidal roof and cupola simplified to have the tower “match” their modern building on 23d Street. At a time when a movement to preserve in New York was just forming, architectural historian Henry Hope Reed (1915–2013) declared it “a disaster — but the stupidity current at the time.”
Pousttchi decapitates the Tower to align the arcade at the top of the skyscraper (which when built was briefly the world’s tallest) with the windows of the gallery, and a classical context. By draping the rest of the building, its ill-fitting skyscraper form, across the floorspace it is to transform it into a decorative tesselation, and to demote its corporate power.
None of the photographs enlarged and displayed are taken by the artist, though she selects and montages several to construct them, adding her signature raster of stripes, and so size is everything here in conveying complex ideas that vanish at the smaller scale of the original architectural photography, the intention of which is blown up to contribute a commentary on social, political and economic structures.