“We Got Ignition”, digital print from color pinhole negative by Hanns Zischler
“We Got Ignition”, digital print from color pinhole negative by Hanns Zischler

Some photographers find creative reward in post-production, in making the final print. Others find more satisfaction in the process of capturing the image. It is in this act of photographing that inspires our artist, Hanns Zischler. Currently on exhibit at the Garden of the Zodiac Gallery, Zischler presents a retrospective of work from 2010 to 2018, in Light Laid Asleep Light Awoken.

With child-like exuberance, the veteran actor, writer and photographer uses the simplest of equipment, a pinhole camera, to record his journeys. A pinhole camera consists of a basic light-safe box, with a hole on one side (the aperture) and opposite a place for light sensitive material or digital sensor. Pinhole cameras are known for their extended time exposures, soft focus, and natural vignette.

Freeing himself from the burden of high-tech, he relies on his knowledge of photography fundamentals, his intuition, and a little serendipity to deliver a surreal and mysterious view.  Whether it is traversing the canals of Venice, hiking the shores of the Danube, or ascending in a hot-air balloon, Zischler finds poetry in the landscape.

The exhibit contains 36 of Zischler’s photographs. Most are presented as individual prints, with a couple in series, and they represent roughly the last ten years of work. Zischler is somewhat of a purist, in that he primarily concerns himself with choosing the film and shooting the photo, leaving the processing and printing to others.

He shoots onto traditional color film, often from expired stock, and scans the images. His digital prints range on the smaller side, from traditional 8 x 10 to about 20 x 24. For this exhibit however, six of his color images were enlarged onto 60-inch digital print paper.

The enlarged prints have a substantial presence. Extreme enlargements from film negatives reveals the grain of the film (the clumps of silver and dye.) This can become distracting, depending on the application. An effect not unlike the pointillist painters, like Georges Seurat.

“Venice Passing By” Zischler.

The graininess gives a sandy softness to the series “Venice Passing By.” The three photos, shot while travelling the canals, exemplify the representation of motion and immediate presence that is so much of a part of the pinhole method. The mysterious streaks of light and blurred buildings enliven the experience.

A remnant of a wake and the deep blue reflecting the classical buildings above give the only clue to the watery surface of the canals. The enlarged grain could easily overwhelm images like these, but it is kept in check by a softness of focus and ghostly blur so associated with these cameras. The grain is subtle enough, as in the gravure method of printing photographs in books, and the serves to enhance the water and sky.

This graininess is much more evident in the two pieces from his hot-air balloon series, “We Got Ignition!” and “Up and Away!” Here the grain is brought to the point of becoming visible particles of color. Viewed from the appropriate distance however, the effect can be described as viewing the scene through a light mist on glass.

The result is surreal and captivating. Since photos of this size are meant to be viewed from a distance of at least the diagonal measurement of the print, these large prints are best viewed from about 6 to 8 feet back

Some pinhole devotees are quite involved in the mechanics of the process, creating their own cameras. Zischler finds himself more interested in the resulting imagery. In from the recent past, “Pinhole photographs make visible and express the passage of the fleeting moment, they cross a silent world: wind, smoke, the falling snow, the drizzling rain.”

“The Lady and the Lake II” by Zischler

With the substantial reliance on time exposure, the process also allows the artist some creativity in placing elements or models into the scene and removing them before the full exposure. “Lady and the Lake,” illustrates the playful application of the concept. A series of four shots of a lake, with our subject in various levels of presence, from fully solid to mysteriously transparent.

In “Dandelions” and “Bumblebees Heading for the Sea.” Glints of mysterious sunlight invade one scene, and a blast of wind blurs a swarm of flowers in the other, or are those the “bees” of the title? These two works are good examples of the mysteries and serendipitous results that can come from a process that leaves so much to chance.

In “Brides of the Wind, Highly Excited” we find a triptych of a pink flowering shrub, but in each shot an intruder enters, a ghostly flash of movement, dancing into the foreground. A self-portrait of the artist stands out for its commentary on time and patience. In “Self Portrait before a Rough Sea,” our artist stands to the left, Gatsbyesque, the wind beating his white linen coat. Pants rolled up for a stroll on the beach. The camera has a presence, though in shadow. He looks out to the sea, waiting patiently, hands in pockets. The long exposure smooths the rough sea of the title, as much of photography is said to smooth out life.

Zischler, who has resided in Berlin since 1968, is something of a renaissance man. He is an author, an essayist, a publisher, and actor, with over 250 movie, television and documentary credits to his name, and a photographer. His began his photographic work about 50 years ago, and for the last 30 years or so, he has shot almost exclusively with the pinhole camera.

Light Laid Asleep/Light Awokenis on display through August 4th. The Garden of the Zodiac Gallery, 1042 Howard Street, is located in the Passageway in the Old Market. For further information, contact the gallery at 402-341-1877.

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