Close your eyes and open them again.
Looking at photographs, we easily could get the impression that they tell us stories.
Stories about life and death, stories about little moments and big events.
Just by looking at photographs we travel to different continents,
we look in the eyes of strangers, and see catastrophes and poverty.
We see the unknown and the illusionary. But all we see are surfaces.
The stories told are told us by our inner voice.
Photographs are magic surfaces that evoke our memories and emotions.
We look. And then we look away.
There are strict rules at what we may look and for how long.
Photographs fulfill our need to follow up our curiosity,
without being restricted by societies unwritten laws.
We see faces, we see eyes, we see private spaces.
We look and see without the necessity of contact.
We might even experience the illusion of intimacy.
Photographs allow us to see everything we want to see,
without taking any risks.
Many times we use photographs to depict the world as a curiosity cabinet,
populated by humans whom we believe to be different from us and we call them freaks.
Look at the fat one, look at the sick one, look at the poor one,
but we are different, yes we are different.
But we are not.
Photographs don´t tell the truth.
Photographs don´t give us any worthwhile information.
Photographs are nothing but empty reproductions:
they show us the surface of reality in bits and pieces.
So we might as well throw away the burden of trying to copy reality.
And we could get rid of the illusion that photographs exist without words.
And we could leave behind the ideas of objectivity and truth, and now,
now we might be free to use photography in any way that we can imagine.
Invariably photography has to point at something that can’t be seen.
And it must not show everything that is there to be seen.
Because otherwise – the obvious would hide the essential.
Stets muss die Fotografie auf das verweisen, was nicht zu sehen ist.
Und sie darf nicht alles zeigen, was zu fotografieren ist.
Denn sonst würde hinter dem Offensichtlichen das Eigentliche verloren gehen.
The world being as real as it can be,
we only can approach it through interpretation,
give it meaning by the use of signs, referring to reality.
And sometimes the world encounters us merely being a sign,
pointing to somewhere else.
I am fumbling my way, my eyes wide open but failing to see,
trying to grasp reality.
Looking out for a point of reference.
The old lady in her wheelchair detected the little stone and asked me to pick it up for her.
She felt it and kept it in her hands for a while.
Then she dropped it to the ground.
Smooth little round stone,
I found you in my pocket today.
from „Gärtners Reise“
I want you to be.
Life tells many stories, but most of them remain unheard.
/ His hand on her hand, she feels his touch.
And the journey begins, wearing a summer hat,
stopping for short breaks, tomatoes on the table,
sun falling on her face, small clouds up in the sky and above all the fresh air.
/ Everyday moments can be so trivial and yet it is these moments
that are the source of real happiness.
And even if the ground you are standing on seems to be slipping away,
and from one moment to the next it feels like everything has changed,
even then you need to experience the occasional uplifting moment, however short it may be.
Falling Down and Rising Up Again –
that is how Sibylle Fendt named one of her projects.
And there are days, which are hard to stomach – days,
when you really feel like it’s best just to remain in bed or stay put.
But then all could be lost – or so we are made to believe.
Sibylle Fendt takes pictures of people that are emotionally,
mentally or physically damaged but are nevertheless willing to fight.
They are fighting for their health and for an inner equilibrium.
To be ill means you are different.
It means you are unable to function.
Being ill often means you are seen as suffering from a defect.
/ And we, who remain able to function – however much we may be struggling –
look away and try and avoid reading the writing on the wall.
/ But Sibylle Fendt manages to capture what it is we are trying to avoid.
She makes us take a closer look and makes us realise
that those suffering from illness are not as different as we may think.
Gärtners’ Voyage is not a report about the mental and physical decline
of a woman suffering from dementia and it is not a report
about the sometimes indescribable effort
that goes into caring for a person who is increasingly loosing control
of themselves and their bodily functions.
/ What we see is a man and a woman, presumably a couple.
We see the man mowing the lawn and see the woman standing by,
looking somewhat incapable.
We see the man hanging up washing and see him getting the woman dressed.
We see him doing her hair and notice that he is holding her like a child.
/ Something seems out of balance. But we can only presume so, we do not know.
Because photos do not offer extensive information,
they are unable to shed light on the context
and they cannot fully explain what is going on.
They simply depict a given moment.
But sometimes they illustrate more than can be seen at first sight.
That’s it – plain and simple, and yet it can be so much more complex.
/ Often however photos are accompanied by words.
They change our perception of things and images.
The knowledge of Elke Gärtner’s disease is the key
that opens Sibylle Fendt’s work to our wider understanding.
/ Looking shy and introverted, in an empty hall,
which is lit up but still quite dark and shady,
a woman is gazing at the floor.
It may not be cold in this room,
but it looks as if she is shivering nonetheless and holding on to herself for reassurance.
/ Memories disappear, they vanish bit by bit. Places and streets be-come unfamiliar,
as do objects and loved ones. Even the present starts becoming something that is unfamiliar.
/ Nothing is tangible, there is nothing to hold on to, everything seems dislocated.
Life becomes an approxi¬mation and the gaping hole is filled with something
that is known as fear. And this fear starts to spread and multiply.
/That is how it might feel, deep inside. And in situations like this it helps,
if someone is there. /That woman is like a child now and is happy that someone is there.
She senses that she is being touched. That is something that will last.
It helps to deal with the disorientating and fear-ridden loneliness.
So often photographs depict the obvious misfortune of others by showing shocking images.
And in pictures like that it is not ourselves we are looking at – we are not the starving body,
we are not the people, who appear to be so different to ourselves.
The stimulus is overpowering, the distance is too great,
we avert our gaze without really being deeply moved by what we have seen.
/ Sibylle Fendt’s photos, if at all,
only very cautiously depict the everyday hardship that life entails
for people suffering from dementia and their relatives.
/ A plaster on a shinbone, a burn on a hand –
they both hint at the dangers that Elke Gärtner is continuously surrounded by,
because she is no longer able to take care of herself.
/ And so Lothar Gärtner takes responsibility for her,
continuously, re¬lentlessly, 24 hours a day, until – despite all his efforts –
a mishap occurs that cannot be prevented.
/ And all the time it is clear that one of them is going to outlive the other.
But time will pass until then.
And so the two Gärtners set out on their last journey together.
Courageous indeed, but also upsetting.
/ Husband and mobile home become the last anchors of stability in this woman’s life
/ He holds her tight. And long after she has lost the ability to speak,
she writes down a simple sentence on a notepad.
A note that is presumably addressed to him.
The sentence is repeated three times:
I want you to be.
We rarely hear about the kind of love
that is evident in these pictures.
It is very well observed whilst avoiding sentimentality.
It has an element of everyday love about it,
but at the same time it is also something very special.
And that is when we think, this is how things might be and this is real.
Sie ist 19 und kommt aus Eritrea. Jetzt wohnt sie hier,
in einem der Blechcontainer wohnt sie,
auf vierzehn Quadratmetern wohnt sie,
sie wohnt zusammen mit fünf anderen Frauen in diesem einen Raum.
Noch nie habe ich sie über eine ihrer Zimmergenossinen reden hören,
aber ich weiß, sie wünscht sich weit weg.
Die junge Frau ist nicht von ihrem Handy zu trennen.
Sie spricht unaufhörlich mit dem, den sie ihren Mann nennt,
„my husband“, sagt sie immer wenn sie von ihm spricht,
er ist jetzt in einem anderen Land,
auf der Flucht wurden sie getrennt.
Und das Schokoladeneis tropft ihr auf die Hand,
weil sie nicht dazu kommt auch nur einmal daran zu schlecken,
weil sie unaufhörlich nur mit ihm spricht.
Morgen darf die junge Frau zum ersten Mal zur Schule in der Stadt,
und heute erzählt sie mir von ihrer Schwester,
um die sie sich sorgen macht seit neuestem,
weil auch sie sich aufgemacht hat auf den Weg nach Europa, über Libyen,
und dann über das Mittelmeer.
Sie erzählt, wie sie selbst in einem Boot saß auf ihrer Flucht,
mit 450 anderen Menschen, und das Boot war leck, und der Motor stank,
und sie trank das Meerwasser, und als sie dann erbrechen musste,
war das Erbrochene ganz gelb.
Und dann zeigt mir die junge Frau,
sie zeigt mir auf dem leuchtenden Rechteck ihres Telefons Bilder von Frauen und Männern,
sie zeigt mir Bilder von Müttern und Kindern, von Jungen und Mädchen, sie zeigt mir Menschen,
die bis vor kurzem noch Träume hatten und jetzt ertrunken irgendwo im Wasser liegen.
Und ich sah die junge Frau an und war ganz ohne Sprache und verstand nicht wirklich etwas
und jetzt am Abend kommt die Traurigkeit und eine Ahnung von dem, was ist,
und eine Ahnung von dem, wie das alles es sein könnte, für diese Frau,
die in diesem Blechcontainer wohnt,
auf ihrem Handy Bilder von Toten und dem Schweigen ihrer Schwester innen drin im Kopf.
Sometimes I am tired of photography…
Hardly any photographs or photographers pass the limits of the visual mainstream.
But this frustration of mine with photography
could be very well nourished by my daily confrontation with my narrowness,
with my limitations producing a body of work.
This is a photograph of my sister. I was a little kid then, as she was too.
In the meanwhile my hair turned grey, and we have grown distant to each other.
Not art but memory. The movement of time engraved into one image.
Innocence, the future still to come, and now that we look at this document of a past moment in our life,
we might realize that the future we were dreaming of in very vague terms never has arrived at our doorstep,
and that the dreams we had then, they were the innocent dreams of our youth,
and now our youth is gone, and our dreams are gone, and doors are closed by an invisible hand.