In a few hundredths of a second the shutter closes, capturing the moment. It will be one of our few ways back to it when the past has become a foreign country. The image is perhaps slightly out of focus, the colours too bright or too dark and we pick out little details in the background which we hadn’t noticed at that all important moment when we took the picture. For many years, I preferred to look at the photos of others; the portraits of Cartier-Bresson, the carefree heyday of early twentieth century French society in Lartigue’s exquisite shots, the pared down minimalism in Irving Penn’s work. Since I started blogging however, I became interested in recording the things around me, the places that I discover, the changing light. Often when looking at my pictures afterwards, I become aware that I hadn’t achieved what I set out to do, that the eye sees things differently from the lens and that there is still so much to learn. I think back to Andreas Feininger’s wonderful but daunting book on photography where he describes how we must silence all of our other senses in order to focus purely on seeing.
For lovers of photography, there can be no finer place in Berlin than the C/O Berlin on Oranienburger Straße. Located in the former Postführamt, it’s one of the true really authentic places in an area which has become a tourist trap. Paint peels off the walls, a friend of mine claims it smells rather like GDR disinfectant was used inside and there are still the old markings of a basketball court in one of the rooms upstairs. I love going inside the C/O because it’s not all clean and polished and because what really matters is the art. When I heard there would be an exhibition of Peter Lindbergh’s work, I wondered whether it would appeal to me. He’s recognised as one of the greatest photographers but there’s something about fashion photography that generally puts me off. The images are often glossy, airbrushed, the girls are anorexic and the clothes overpriced and awful. Stepping inside the C/O exhibition, I felt relieved to discover gritty, beautifully composed shots, starting with those taken on the streets of Berlin. Grainy black and white images of Alex and the statues close to Unter den Linden, photographed from a moving car make me feel that this is someone who has grasped the essence of the city I love so much. A film shows him walking through the forest with his good friend Wim Wenders while Lindbergh steps in front of the camera for a change as Wenders’ wife photographs them. If the girls are still slender, the locations are wonderful; in disused factories or deep in the woods. Small imperfections are visible on the skin and most amazing of all for me is the portrait of Jeanne Moreau with all the layers stripped away. There is simply her wonderful face, full of expression and character, still with fire inside her. I admire her fearlessness for showing herself as she really is and also Lindbergh for finding that beautiful. It makes me hungrier than ever to capture that decisive moment.
At the C/O, Oranienburger Straße 35/36, 10117 Berlin daily from 11-20 until 9th January, 2011