A Photographic Rush

Accepting no commission, photographer Lothar Wolleh accompanied Joseph Beuys to his first international exhibition at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm in January 1971 to capture the essence of the installations and the artist behind them. Using no additional lighting, the photographs produced are raw and poignant, simply depicting the process of an art project coming to life without effects and without drama.  This collection is currently on display at Hamburger Bahnhof and is an exhibition to be quietly and thoughtfully enjoyed, the modern prints leave a lasting impression, slowly unravelling the progression of an idea being realized.

Blurring and mirroring are among the techniques used to accentuate the honest, yet unreal and dreamlike nature of the images.  A year later, 51 of the photographs were reproduced to create the “Underwater Book”, showing Beuys installing his legendary “The Pack” and “Elastic Foot Plastic Foot”, as well as portraying him in thought or conversation – a sneak peek into the workings of an artist.  The artworks themselves are being exhibited alongside the photographs, with captivating highlights such as a dark mirror giving (according to an enthusiastic art student) a view into the darkness of the underworld.  Perhaps a bit sceptical on that theory, but it was impressive and interesting nevertheless.

A Book Of Photographs Lost Underwater

This was all fine and well; the exhibition stunning and the photographs indisputably beautiful, but the idea had not yet been stretched far enough.  It appears that it should just be a run-of-the-mill photography display, with exquisitely reproduced prints of – don’t get me wrong – awe-inspiring photographs.  However, in the middle of the room is what seems to be an empty box.  Yeah, so what?  This contains the Underwater Book, the final collection of the most impressive photographs from the time in Sweden.  The title of the book is, surprisingly, to be taken literally.  The final step in Beuys’ artistic process was to submerge the book in a basin of water.  We’re not quite sure how you’re expected to turn the pages, but it certainly looks cool.

  • Hamburger Bahnhof Lothar Wolleh. Joseph Beuys at the Moderna Museet, Stockholm, January 1971. September 4th– November 25th 2012. 

Article written by Colleen O’Brien