History of the Visit
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It’s sometimes hard to remember that a world of surfaces – the world of photography – can in fact deal with what is underneath. If you see your camera as that tool that registers what is in front of it, then you might as well also think of a pen as that tool that transfers ink onto paper or of a keyboard as that tool that makes those characters appear on a computer screen. But it’s not about the ink or the characters or the pictures – it’s about what they carry.
It’s obvious to see how writing random characters will merely result in gibberish (unless you have an infinity of time, in which case you have a very small chance to produce a Shakespeare play). It’s much less obvious how taking a picture can be just like such a random act as well. To get beyond the random act you have to be able to see well, but you also have to be able to connect with what is presented in front of you, and to see how the photographs you’re making arise not merely from what is in front of the camera, but for the most part from what is behind the camera.
A good case in point is provided by History of the Visit by Daniel Reuter. These photographs deal only tangentially with what they’re presenting. There are rocks in the images, trees and some buildings, but it’s not a story of rocks, trees and buildings. It is, in fact, not even that clear what the story is, while it is very clear that there is one. (I’m going to refrain from spelling it out)
It is quite the irony that the seemingly most descriptive of all media can so successfully obfuscate a narrative, while, at the same time, making it so obvious. There’s always the tempting (and somewhat lazy) comparison with poetry, but photography isn’t poetry, and it doesn’t work like poetry. Photographs attack our visual cortex and then make their ways into our conscious self in ways that poetry can’t: You have to decipher the squiggles first, turn them into words, to then turn those into some mental equivalent, before it’s show time. This is what Francis Bacon spoke of when he said “Some paint comes across directly onto the nervous system and other paint tells you the story in a long diatribe through the brain.”
Just like that, Reuter’s photographs come across directly onto the nervous system. They transport feeling more than they transport information. They transport an atmosphere, a discontent, a confusion. They do their best to resist descriptive approaches to them. The viewer needs to feel them more than to look at them. If anything, these photographs have much more in common with music than with poetry. But they’re a strange kind of music – unlike music they do not seem to become much more familiar with repeated exposure to them. They are just like the feelings we all have, feelings that are so familiar, yet that feel so relevant and fresh every single day.
Jörg Colberg, "Daniel Reuter’s History of the Visit", cphmag.com
Photographic subjects are usually a distraction. While photography’s indexical nature is its greatest strength, it can also mislead, and point us into dead-ends of limited meaning. However, subject and meaning, while often distinct from one another, are usually entwined. They allow us access, while also pointing outwards towards a possible escape. Daniel Reuter’s History of the Visit is about a visit to Iceland, but looks are deceiving. Formally rigorous and concise, History of the Visit is a journey to the interior — a psychologically taut mood piece of haunting resonance.
Restrained and muted, the dark low-contrast images of the book take us across the landscape of Iceland, but avoid the dramatic vistas or popular sites. Cut branches, closed utility sheds, rocks and moss-encrusted fields are all shown with both close scrutiny and distanced restraint. Images of lichen, rocks and wind-swept grass recall the work of Paul Caponigro and similarly minded naturalist photographers, but strike a more darkly romantic and sinister tone. If Minor White ditched the Gurdjieff and started listening to Sunn O))) and Brian Eno, this is the kind of work he might make. The book’s copy, not always the best source of information, likens the work to electronic music, which seems apt. Although detached and seemingly minimal, the image’s dark tones and themes of obfuscation — closed doors, ropes, towering rock faces and fence-like growth — point to an interiority that is unknowable and beyond our reach.
Visitors are rarely afforded a deeper look at a country. At best, they skirt about the surface and gain occasional glimpses at a place’s depths. Reuter’s images seem to acknowledge this limited perspective of Iceland and don’t attempt to show us a definitive version of the country, not that that is even possible. Like Roni Horn, who also uses Iceland to mine and mirror a deeper psychological territory and investigation, Reuter’s work probes deeply — pointing outwards and inwards. Journeying along with Reuter, we may not stay long, but a visit doesn’t have to last long to affect you deeply.
Adam Bell, "History of the Visit", paper-journal.com