by Shraddha NairJan 09, 2021
Solitude and serenity are synonymous with the season of winters. The snowflakes, the chilly wind, stripped bark of the trees, frosted leaves stand still as a constant reminder of the cold weather. Winter has served as a rich metaphor of what lies beneath the surface, the cold emotive presence revealed only in the extremity of the situation. Winter comes alive, once again, in the eponymous series by the German photographer Uwe Langmann. The wide expanse of the landscape covered in snow populates the works in the series and the isolated presence of home(s) and objects, such as an umbrella, unassumingly, but warmly invites the attention of the viewer.
Unlike a painter or a writer who initiates their work from a blank canvas, the photographer has a scene running in front of his eyes that requires a composition to be captured by the camera. Despite this distinguishment, the creative expression whether on a canvas, paper, or a film, is built on what we experience and practice. Langmann chooses the minimalistic style of composition for his work, which does not scream for attention, yet remains unwavered to propel a flight into inwardness.
Without crowding the composition of the works, Langmann offers definitive layers that refrain from disturbing the viewers’ perspective. A reflection of abstract and minimalistic aesthetic is hard to be missed in the works that underscore the admiration for fine arts. Langmann expounds, “I was more a lover of paintings and fine arts than photography when I was young and thus was very early on inspired by the works of Mark Rothko, Kasimir Malewitsch and other minimalists and abstract expressionists and also by Japanese art. So, it seemed quite natural for me to go into a rather minimalistic direction when I picked up a camera for my photographic work”.
The square format of most of his works embodies the vastness of nature. Searching for its representation in its entirety hints at the naivety on the part of the artist as well as the viewer. Nature and its surprise remain a step away from finding their all-encompassing reflection in any art form. The works from the series Transform by Langmann thrives on this. Harking on what Christopher Pinney mentioned about the “margin of excess”, Langmann’s work rendered in deep blues spiked by hues of yellow and orange, leaves the frames open for both the horizon to rise and the land to stretch abound.
Before Langmann ventured into the field of photography, he first worked behind the camera as a filmmaker directing and shooting experimental short movies. When his first project on the independent feature-length movie could not see the light of day due to financial crunch, Langmann decided to practice the art of direction of photography rather than moving images. Extending the appreciation of not letting a single frame be detrimental to the larger narrative of a good cinema, to the images Langmann cognizantly render the frame in bare colours that speak to each other to thread together the visual lexicon. Artist adds, “Cinema is still my second big influence. I am a keen fan of directors like Andrei Tarkovsky, Ingmar Bergman, David Lynch, Stanley Kubrick and also many Japanese directors like Yasujiro Ozu and Takeshi Kitano, all of which had an influence on me as a photographer, some in aesthetic ways, others in the kind of mood my images try to transport”.
Besides the influence of fine arts and cinema on the aesthetic sensibility of the artist that acutely navigates through the works, Japanese art also serves as a rich repository of inspiration. The conspicuous traces of the colour white in the works, whether it is from the series Winter, Haiku or Zeitraum, could be retracted to the traditional Japanese art. Langmann gives a lengthy account of this affiliation to a swathe of white, “When I started to take photography seriously and was trying to make my first steps in it as an artist it was wintertime in Germany. The landscape surrounding me was reminiscent of those minimalistic Japanese sumi-e paintings, which depict landscapes made of only a few carefully selected strokes of black ink on white paper. I really loved their aesthetic. So, one thing led to the other and I tried to incorporate this aesthetic into my photographs. This has become kind of my obsession in photography and most of my work centers around this aesthetic concept of minimalistic landscapes, created for example by overexposed snow scenes. There I try to use the snow in a similar way a sumi-e artist would use his blank sheet of paper”.
Describing the practice of walking through the different layers of ideation and execution processes as, “really hard as it varies heavily from image to image and series to series”, still Langmann succinctly informs, “there is always an aesthetic idea of how a particular image or series should look and feel like.” It might take days or even years for the artist to tangibly realise his creative style through the lens of the camera. Reinforcing the importance of the dictum “God lies in details,” Langmann says, “In the end, it's often just some very minor details that decide if an image is capable of transporting what I want it to”.
Harbouring the essence of the philosophy of Zen Buddhism, Langmann declares, “I try very hard to make my images as much as an ‘open book’ to the viewer as possible, without making them meaningless. It is the idea that true meaning can only come from within, not from outside. I want to give only a hint of fixed meaning. The rest should be happening in the mind of the spectator”.
Albert Camus in The Outsider mentions, “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer”. If the present is a reminisce of the past, if the meaning to the bygone is enriched by the current occurrences, then photographs by Langmann anchor a vantage point to make the invisible visible under the calm and meditative sky.