At the entrance to the exhibition Predicted Autumn by Jochen Lempert at the Musée d’art contemporain de la Haute-Vienne, in Rochechouart, fireflies have traced onto three negatives, in a darkroom, a line evoking an abstract calligraphy. Could it be the first lines of a poem, metaphorically? This triptych that plays on epigraphs, introduces the German photographer’s research: a scientific observation of nature, light, and the passage of time, which is expressed by constantly evolving experimentations in the photographic medium.
All of the rooms face the valley, functioning like so many chapters in a book, within which each wall resembles a white page. The blocks of text appear to be erased in favour or a narrative made of photographic comparisons. Fauna and flora, omnipresent behind the windows of the château, are the protagonists of thematic micro-histories deployed within each of the spaces. While photography still represents the material remains of its model, the Barthesian “that which was”1 deals emphatically with the living character of certain subjects here. These subjects are sometimes imprinted on the paper’s surface through the physical contact of their own bodies. Small insects, plankton, and plants are placed inside the artist’s camera obscura. These images exist independently of one another, yet from their encounters – among themselves and with the landscape – a new discourse emerges. This principle of free association, notably developed by Arthur Rimbaud in his correspondence, attests to the eminently literary character of the artist’s work.
Whether they are formal or conceptual, these analogies allow us to imagine the singular attention that an artist such as Jochen Lempert brings to bear on everyday life and what is so extraordinary about it. The interpretation that Lempert proposes, over various phases, is as poetic as it is biological. The flight of migrating birds, the veins of leaves in each season, or clouds of volcanic ash reflect various research undertaken throughout the history of art, through ethological, botanical, or geological phenomena. Some photographs are indeed formally similar to the architectural and plant typologies developed by some of the artists of the German New Objectivity, while others recall chronophotography. In Lempert’s work, whether it is the movement of his own breathing, while lying on the ground when he places the camera on his chest to photograph a starry sky or shots of the pathways of the stars: (cyclical) time is often the subject.
In Predicted Autumn, gelatin silver prints on matt baryta paper are hung without frames, thus presenting themselves to the gaze without any distance implied by the museum context. Thus presented, the images produced by Jochen Lempert elicit an impression of proximity and familiarity: “in a world littered with photographic relics, [having] the status of found objects – unpremeditated slices of the world”.2 It is therefore impossible not to recognise, in a contemplative attitude and with some emotion, the squirrel perched on a branch, the detail of a fold in a Botticelli canvas or the seahorse observed from behind a coral reef. Perhaps this is where all the poetry of this exhibition resides. It allows the visitor, in a world of frantic consumption of images, to convoke a few fragmented and fleeting individual memories. All of these photographs call on the collective memory and thus seem to be addressed to the visitor, so that each one in turn can latch onto them and integrate them within their own anthology of images. “And suddenly the memory revealed itself.”3
- Roland Barthes, La chambre claire (Paris: Gallimard, 1980), 120. [Our translation]. See also Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1999).
- Susan Sontag, On Photography (London: Penguin Books, 2014).
- Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time: Swann’s Way, trans. C. K. Scott Moncrieff, William C. Carter (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014).