Reading the Surface

Reading the Surface

By Jessie Bond.

I’ve saved a photograph by Jochen Lempert as my desktop background so that I’ll look at it every day. The black and white image is very simple, almost abstract. Lempert has captured small, light coloured pieces of matter floating in front of vegetation. All of this is out of focus and it’s hard to discern what the floating things are. In some places their form is slightly clearer, almost in focus but far from crisp. They could be tiny flowers drifting past in the breeze or equally they could be small insects, circling on a still, hot summer’s evening. Lempert’s photograph has caught them suspended. They form a pattern across the image, in varying shades of grey. Everything is soft and blurred and the visible grain of the film he uses adds to this effect. Yet, like in many of his photographs, this evidently once moving scene has been caught in a harmonious composition.

Of course waiting for the right moment is nothing new to photography; the click of the shutter at the fortuitous time has always been key, termed by Henri Cartier-Bresson the decisive moment. Yet the significance of the moments Lempert is capturing is not always obvious or apparent. This is no high definition high-speed nature photography, revealing secrets of anatomy or perfectly freezing movement. Perhaps that is why I want to look at this image everyday, to consider and reconsider what it is that Lempert is pointing towards.


Lempert trained as a biologist and started taking photographs full time in the 1990s. He always works in black and white and prints his photographs with analogue methods. His subject matter is an extension of his former career; he finds images in the natural world, although often within a humble, everyday realm. Rather than the spectacular or the exceptional, Lempert shows the fascinating, subtle correlations and patterns that occur on a regular basis. The photographs that Lempert makes feel like a celebration of visual phenomena but also ambiguous propositions. They are being taken for the sake of themselves, they are not here to illustrate a point. They feel autonomous, they do not prompt the need for language to explain or expand the where, the what, the why.


(In the picture above a cyanotype photogram made by Anna Atkins for her book Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions)

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