Berlin trip – window photography

During our trip to Berlin in half term, we were offered 3 briefs. I chose to focus on the one titled ‘Through the window, outside in/inside out’. Here I was to explore the window as an intermediate space of communication between exterior and interior, as well as its materiality and reflective properties.

I felt drawn to this in particular as this dialogue between exterior and interior could be used as a metaphor for the interior and exterior self, something I am looking to explore further in my FMP. Here I have segmented some of the photos I feel most successful that I took during the trip, according to the theme I feel they best espouse: materiality & reflection, looking in/out & framing, concealment, distortion, openings, with some text discussing each in turn.

Materiality & Reflection

I was particularly interested in this reflective quality of windows. At once, we are seeing through and also back at ourselves/our reality. It creates a new reality, one that only exists at that particular perspective, a fiction. It is therefore fleeting and ephemeral. Something the camera can exploit and frustrate. In this too, in the process of capturing that reflection I was often capturing a reflection of myself, a self-portrait that was not the primary intention of the photograph. These were intriguingly anonymised though, as I held it up to my face to see through the viewfinder, my face is obscured almost completely by the camera itself.

The reflective quality of glass in windows was apparently a central interest for Walter Gropius in the design of the Bauhaus school in Dessau, where he made use of spiegelglas (mirror glass) to enhance reflectivity, which we visited on our trip.

I was also interested to discover at the Bauhaus museum the photographs of Marianne Brandt, who was a student and then faculty member leading the metal workshop at the school. Here she had a series of self-portraits using a spherical reflective surface, choosing to make her face visible, which reminded me of a similar sketched self-portrait by M.C. Escher. These distorted reflections are interesting, though I do wonder if she was more interested in the materiality of the metal than the exploration of self here.

Looking in /out – framing

In review of the photos I had taken that could fit under this theme, I found that I did not like the aesthetic of many of them. I found the framed view wanting. Here the selected group lend a certain eery sensibility. I think from the mode of surveillance/observation that this takes. All of them seem to be off kilter for me as a viewer, and there is something particularly sinister with the harsh highlighting in the first picture, of the man at leisure. It reminds me of Hopper somewhat.

Concealment

When we toured the Boros Collection during our trip, we were introduced to the work of Peter Piller, who works from an archive of collected photographs from print and digital media, and in this case from the collection of a home photography retailer operating before Google Maps (who took aerial photos of in residential areas to sell to the residents). One of the series from this collection that we saw comprised 9 photos with houses where the window blinds were shut.

Sleeping Houses (with closed blinds), Peter Piller 2000-4

I found it interesting how he effectively analysed and catalogued these collections, identifying patterns in behaviour and in the stereotyped language of media imagery. Another series showed people washing their cars in front of their homes. I was interested to explore this for myself, and so took photos of windows that were obscured from external view in some way. Particularly interesting for me was the sense that these sleeping buildings were left derelict, or were more susceptible to graffiti. But too that the means of concealment/shuttering often provided intriguing colour. I especially like the colour scheme of the final photograph, with the sub-bleached pale mint green colour on the blinds, marrying with the mottled pastel pink effect of the distressed white-washed brick walls.

Distortion

I like these photos for giving a sense of dislocation. The exterior is not visible, reduced only to a blurred white light, and there is little detail in the interior to provide context here either. It subverts the purpose of the window for seeing in or out, and makes it more of an abstract form in itself – we see the window itself. The surrounding light (or absence of it) is in contrast to that which illuminates the window – we see the window as having a primary function of illuminating the interior, bringing the light in. But in each case this purpose is also somewhat undermined by dirt, or blinds, or colouration of the panes. I am most pleased by the depth and shade occurring in the first photograph here, the most abstracted, with the simplicity of just one pane of glass.

This dislocation was also explored by an artist I saw at the Kindl gallery in Berlin, who made a site-specific in the Kesselhaus there. She covered the 3 windowless walls with true-to-life floor to ceiling prints of the windows that are seen on the fourth wall of the Kesselhaus. When we observe these prints, we are simultaneously seeing the exterior, but not the exterior we would see were those windows in fact real.

Panorama, Bettina Pousttchi (2019)

Openings

I was also interested in windows where the distinction between interior and exterior was less clear – when the window is open or broken. A broken window implies some sort of violent act (whether human or not), in the act of breaking the glass itself, but also violating that boundary of exterior/interior. But whether cracked or open, it would still for us be defined as a window all the same.

Gained in Translation part 2 – my work

Following on from the cardboard structure I had created in the previous weeks (as a translation of the drawing I had made from my partner’s description of a plastic severed foot prop), we were tasked with further translating this into different materials – wood, and then clay moulding for a plaster cast.

My finished wooden piece

I enjoyed finding an even more generalised form for the wooden interpretation – I utilised some very strong timber (previously used as a wooden fencepost) as I wanted to evoke the solid and supportive role this object could take. Cutting and sanding this to smooth out a more organic form was hard going but I am pleased with the end result on the arch of the foot. The graining on this part also is very interesting, and unique to the material used – I think it adds a suggestion of movement and dynamism as well as materiality.

The most difficult was the concave jointing space that I cut out from the foot piece, to slot the cylinder within it. This was to replicate the joining mechanic I had used in cardboard, but it was too sharp a curve for the saw to do, so I had to cut straight towards the curve line and break off as many pieces as I could with the saw, before chiselling down by hand. This proved very hard work, and I did not quite achieve the finish I had wanted. I might find a different solution to this if I were to repeat this/look to produce a finished piece.

The cast plaster

I took quite a different approach with the clay/plaster sculpting – here rather than simplifying/generalising I explored detail that had featured in my cardboard structure, and some abstract forms. I first was interested in exploring the effect of depth and relief when carving the clay, though it was difficult to fully envisage what the finished result would be in the plaster reverse. I knew that I wanted to attempt a full standing foot like I had achieved in the other materials, so I doubled the depth of my clay to ensure I could achieve the height required. I’m not sure the generalised shape that I reproduced here is as effective with this material as the detail I captured, e.g. of the severed top of the foot in the bottom corner.

We were given instruction to prevent undercuts in our mould, which I tried to follow, but I think some of the finer detail in my design still meant clay was not easily removed from some of the crevices.

It’s interesting I think that here again we can see I am repeating the concentric circles/vortex motif that I have been exploring in survival!