Der Grund (Assignment 2), final version

This project took a few rounds of revisions. Notably: an old photo album wasn’t working (too cliched), the plan to produce a purpose-made concertina 6×4 album did not feel right either (too large, too common).

In the process, I also kept resequencing the work until I had a version, with ‘chapter breaks’ that worked. The dummy of 5x6cm images (printed on a single A4 sheet) revealed an unexpected degree of perfection in the small-scale, hand-held format. I proceeded to test two giclee papers (photo mat and Hahnemuehle Rag), both about 300gsm weight, the latter an open-structured paper. Producing the folds on the latter is just possible, it creates breaks and an open structure that fit with the theme, the size remained perfect.

I tested a variety of covers, and settled on a reverse inkjet print on a thin vintage (1950s) tracing paper, pasted on, which means the writing sits ’embedded’ in the paper structure, the closing mechanism is a simple elastic:


A video of the final sequence is here:

Der Grund (2) : revisions to Assignment 2

I had taken a series of additional photographs for this assignment back in Spring, mainly following the tutor advice on including other people, different locations; so, much of the revision then focused on different grounds, perspectives but also doing a series of photographs with me and my father (my father being the son of the photographer of the initial set of photographs that inspired this project).

There are two main proposed changes:

  1. the photographs and their sequencing
  2. the material outcome


The photographs and their sequencing

The initial project was realised as an online flipbook, here.

Early on I marked the following as changes: if in book form as it:

  • remove: spread 12-13, 14-15, 26-27.
  • retake: 25 (colour cast can’t be post-processed); also on bed!
    >> don’t want to retake it; reducing saturation (-30) works quite well.

<< this responds to the tutor advice of it being too repetitive and laboured in its current form.

Looking through the sequence again, I am even tempted to remove than the initially marked spreads.

The photographs I chose to take in addition are the following:

… I will need to print these and then work on the sequencing with the earlier photographs (both archival and those that I took)

The material outcome

Initially I was keen on having a luminous, back-lit outcome for this, hence the online flipbook. But looking back at it, that preference was mainly my own rather than one grounded in this actual project. For the final resolution of the project I have settled on an actual album, either just a small 6×4 album, or, more likely a slightly larger album which allows for utilising the negative space on the page to reposition some of the historical images with current ones.

I am currently experimenting with a simple shop-bought album for this (which in its ordinariness seems fitting, rather than a handbound one).



risk and attachment (adventures in analog)

Much of my photography over the past few months involved getting to grips with my new used medium format camera, a light meter and excursions into processing and moving analog to digital (assignment 1: Office at Night was the first project to use a film camera).

Last week I begun to process the film in the local community workshop space. It didn’t go to plan. These facebook posts are an account of risk, attachment and memory in my photography. The events have been really useful in helping me figure out where attachment lies in the images, what a processing flaw may also tell me then about ‘faulty memory’ and the truth claims within a photograph. There is also something in here about ephemerality of the images that I am interested in taking: I was figuring out the ease or lack thereof for restaging, retaking some of these images and realise that the easiest one to re-do involves a 12-months wait until the trees are about to burst again, and hoping that there will be sunny weather during that time.

Gesa Helms 12 May at 19:47 ·

I am discovering that processing my own films is a fairly high risk strategy. After closing the door behind myself and standing in the most complete darkness for the second time ever, and contemplating that well-known fear of the dark and its very temptation, I realise that I must not switch on the light. I also realise that I may not be able to load the film, one after the other, onto the spiral. What if the two films aren’t properly separated, what if my fingertips are greasy, what if I don’t seal the tub properly. I am working calmly until someone starts to knock: are you alright. Yes. Ten minutes later, another knock. Are you alright? Yes I am, and somehow the people outside the dark seem concerned. Maybe I ought not to be alright? The clip disappears. And why do I keep thinking that the film unrolls off the spiral rather than onto it? I had carefully chosen which films to process first: neither California nor Curtains in their entirety, so that if something were to go wrong, I wouldn’t lose all of the images. As I keep working I am thinking back to the images that remain hidden for the time being and that I am winding onto the spiral.

Once I finish I return to the workshop. Someone starts to talk to me, and he keeps talking all the time until I leave another 30+ minutes later. I take him to be the technician whom I haven’t met yet and he is to usher me along as I seem to not know what I am doing. He panics once the beautiful German machine that is to process C41 starts processing straightaway without heating up first, and I realise that there is an entirely new strand of risk coming in the way of images… he keeps talking and I am trying to assess whether this new risk means just a bit of extra time or the loss of four films. Remembering that my hands had been warm at some point, we eventually reconstruct that the chemistry was still so warm as it was freshly mixed for me that Yobo didn’t need further heat.
I learn a lot about the compact travel arrangements of photo agencies in the mid-1980s which would pack such a machine onto their photo assignments (the most compact film processing machine every produced); about the layout and aerial photography of Sennelager, and that this former British army camp is in fact near Paderborn (I heard the name so often when men would tell me that they were in Germany too, but never established where exactly it actually was).
In the end, I have nicely aftershaved four rolls of film drying and taking colour. They have images on them as I can see.

I walk back home through the park and it looks entirely different to the days when I hung out there just 2.5 weeks ago: no more shadow shapes and the skyline is completely different. Just as well that risk remained a statistic for today.

This latency thing is utterly fascinating. It intrigues me almost more than the images. It meshes with memory in a most curious manner.


Risk did manifest itself in more than statistic and I now have a set of what looks like seriously underdeveloped images. Curtains will have turned black, Thomas’s and my face will be absent against a dark sky, and shadows on the pavement in full sun a kind of apocalypse pre-told. It looks like a faulty temperature gauge, and my trust in Vorsprung durch Technik misplaced (or perhaps in its maintenance routine). One response may be to take photos I do not care about. But there will possibly be other responses too. Time is enforcing itself again and it will be Tuesday before the scanner will show me the actual nature of what befell my images. Just as well I didn’t load the remaining two rolls, then all curtains would have been blackened. And, hello, trusted snappy shit who haven’t scratched any of my negs before.
I do not want to take images that I don’t care about. But that means there’s this thing about attachment again.

Okay… dearest four film rolls… I guess he was NOT the technician, and it possibly wasn’t the temperature gauge but the excess water in the bottom of the tank. His instructions on when to close the valve and to run another cleaning cycle with a closed valve were opposite to the ones I was given 40 mins earlier by one whom I know to be a technician and which resonated with the instructions on the wall…

I remember thinking that some tech seems to have a lot of leeway, and how exciting that was. I think it may, but it also has effects (currently borne by myself as to working out whether ephemerality of images that I care for is really what I should be focusing on).

I may have experienced mansplaining and I mistook it. That hasn’t happened very often. But then, when I noticed he wasn’t interested that much in what I was contributing to what I thought was a conversation, I could have attended to that misreading a little more, but in any case: the valve was closed at that point and it wouldn’t have made any difference to the excess dilution of the developer.

There may be a performative story in here.


Reflections on A2: Der Grund

Demonstration of technical and visual skills (35%) – materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills.
Working across original, scan, printout and on-screen: the images for this section are diverse: the main body produced for this assignment consists of formally composed, fairly abstract photographs (partial self-portraiture) of my feet on a variety of grounds (variations of my bed, blanket, boxes), taken with different lenses (though primarily a short telelens) on Lumix G and digitally post-processed. Other images are found family album images (either from my own family or purchased online); these are rephotographed as objects or scanned.
The presentation of the material is, as per assignment laid out in a bookform, digitally, in doublespreads. The sequencing is unfolding across the book: opening out from a series of motion-blurred images to gain a focus on absent feet, a standing in of these feet, and a juxtaposition of family album images and response, before moving out of view again. The majority of images are full page single images, occasionally interspersed with a blank page. A few doublespreads are more complexly composed by repeating or creating a tension between past and present (source/response) images.
I was intent on creating a contemporary response to the family album image and wanted to do so with the digital camera and a rather considered and formal aesthetic layout and composition, dominated by colour fields, limited objects and clear lines within the image.
I worked with natural light and a reflector. I worked with an A mode on the images and autofocus and the former lead to different hues in the tones of the fabric surfaces, which wasn’t ideal and meant careful Lr adjustments of these in post-processing. With the composition being fairly coherent across the images, the autofocus mode was a good way of ensuring focus on my feet, for further shoots in this manner, I would set manual aperture/speed and work with auto-focus or a rope/stand-in to measure distance.

Quality of outcome (20%) – content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas.
This assignment took in a rather different form of research to A1: it was working with the course materials, exploring different approaches to curating and working with archives; notably taking inspiration from Joachim Schmid, a critical engagement of Kessels’ work and then also Trish Morrissey and Hans Eijkelboom: as providing a stand-in, a trickster figure appearing in the other families to pretend to be father or mother roles. This role of camouflage added some form of lightness to an otherwise potentially heavy way of dealing with being the granddaughter of NS officers and soldiers. The formal composition of my own self-portraiture in tone was however very different to both Morrissey and Eijkelboom’s work.
The statement for the project leads into a family narrative that positions myself as author within a web of familial relations and obligations; it is in nature story-like and confessional and is based on research into the working modes of Sophie Calle and also the writer Chris Kraus: working with personal material, subverting it, adding oblique angles and remaining primarily performative while seemingly confessing. As such, I have felt able to position the diverse material in a personal, biographical field while also creating a distance to my personal live. The statement also closes with the questions that remain for me – as for many of my generation and the previous one – as to the incomprehensibility of the NS and Holocaust (despite having read and discussed so much about it) in the context of having only known these men and women as (often very loving) grandparents.
Trish Morrissey’s work Front is discussed as her acting as an imposter but also as a trickster: of allowing to intervene both seriously and committed (e.g. by naming the women she stands in for in the title of her works) and playful (taking on different roles, guises in these images); I found a resonance with this work more so than possibly others around the family album: to be able to be light-hearted and with a heavy heart at the same time: to cut across different emotional registers with a body of work and I feel that I have managed to achieve this in this project.

Demonstration of creativity (25%) – imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice.
With this series I had developed a brief and compositional sketches prior to taking the photos and proceeded to explore different formal setups. Each shoot was then processed and developed further in relation to the results and further insights the images yielded. Taking them off the picture plane and rephotographing them was one avenue I pursued: on the basis of the manual montages in A1, the found photos were rephotographed and included; the drawings over, angling and cutting out of the feet was explored but abandoned as it took me into a different reaction; I also pursued this with digital montages which I also did not include further.
I investigated carefully the setting and stage as to what its materiality (a wooden box on a soft mattress) was adding to the inquiry of ‘finding my footing or the ground that I am standing on’; this performative/ processural discovery fed in strongly into the further development (of shots that show me in unstable positions; and of the video for exercise 2.3).
For the book form, I selected and removed several additional layers to the work and focussed strongly on the interaction between past and present images and my own ‘standing in’.
I am content with the amount of discovery, analysis of early images and how these shaped the final project: while conceptually inspired, this concept arrived out of the observation of a simple photographic mistake: the omitting of feet on the picture plane which then became an investigation into the wider implications of being ‘footless’ or ‘ungrounded’ in these images and in their author’s (my granddad’s) relationship to myself, as a daughter of this family.

Context (20%) – reflection, research, critical thinking (learning logs, critical reviews and essays).
From the starting point of the project, this became a rather practice-led research: using the previous photographs to explore the next ones; during this time, I read the texts around this part of the course and reflected on their import in relation to my own family and part-invented (as in complemented with contemporary photographs and unknown found images) photographs. The coursebook’s focus on typologies filtered into the project in the form of Schmid’s work; the re-staging and intervening in family settings through Trish Morrissey’s work. None of these are explicit as such in the statement as I wanted the statement to work in some form of a private revealing of a family album (as thus to be performative in gesture while taking a confessional tone).

Assignment 2: Der Grund

This project starts with a family album cliche: last October, my father hands me a box of photographs of his father, dating almost entirely from the time 1941-1945. I always knew my gran’s photographs, which for the past 12 years lived in their photo albums in what was my teenage bedroom. Between c1976-1992 she and I looked at them again and again: her, with longing, recounting her youth; I in fascination over my gran as a young woman only slightly older to what I would soon be myself. She often wore the League of German Girls (BDM) uniform in these photographs. I only have known my grandfather as a young man through a couple of photographs in her albums from around 1939-41. I have known and loved him right through my childhood and up until he died when I was 30 years of age.

This box of about 200 photographs constitutes my archive for this project; it is neither public nor easily accessible; instead it is almost the opposite: hidden and fairly private.
I view his images through what he saw. His subjects were known to him: comrades, superiors, friends, possibly lovers; fellow Germans, mostly Luftwaffe personnel, some civilian men and women, all based at a munition camp outside Oslo in Nazi-occupied Norway. They were the occupying force. One wouldn’t guess from the photographs if it wasn’t for the mens’ uniforms. There is a lot of raspberry-picking, coffee tables, theatre performances, a few explosion tests – he was an ammunition technician, a bomb defuser as he would explain to me as a small child. Of course, he was also a bomb builder, as I would realise later. The ones defusing the bombs were generally concentration camp inmates. They were often killed in the process.
It takes me several weeks to notice an absence: many of his subjects have no feet; they seem to have feet missing in incidental ways. Frequently, the ground that they stand on seems invisible, perhaps not even present at all?
I notice this absence and wonder if he noticed it too? When taking the photo? When seeing the print? Maybe when seeing the prints after the war from which he returned unharmed, with only a short spell as a British PoW, quickly declared de-nazified, as so many of his contemporaries.

My grandfather is also the subject in some of the images. Him and his comrades clearly shared photographs, so I see him how his comrades saw him. At least one photograph is however an — unintended — self-portrait. He, too, is without feet.

I started to take my own photographs interested in this absence. Seeking my feet on camera to stand in, I quickly discover, requires something to stand on. And yet, a stable footing on the ground that I have sought out for myself is difficult to find.

‘Ground’ in German also means ‘reason’ — as much as ungrounded is unreasonable in English.
This series is at once a labour of love and an act of refusal. I discover how close these two intentions are for me in one of my last photographs. My gesture of refusal, of turning away, towards the wall, mirrors almost exactly his own self-portrait seventy-five years previous, possibly even down to the hands that are placed on my hips. His and my photographs confirm that I am my grandfather’s granddaughter.

What ground did these men and women stand on? What grounds did they have?


The photobook is embedded as a link to this first image.

Sample images from the book are further down.

Note on image qualities of scans: I currently have only a low-quality scan of the images in my grandfather’s box. I am intending to retake these as photographs and/or high quality scans for a final version of this assignment.


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Der Grund (2) : another album

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[again: click on the image to see the flipbook]

I did another sequence of photographs yesterday, and another short film. I was hiding the box under sheet and blanket and took two sequences of photographs. Towards the end of the second shooting I was beginning to try out more different compositions: standing on one leg, movement blur etc.

Overall, I was quickly beginning to realise that my making the images more professional also aestheticised them much more and moved them into abstract. I always wanted the feet on box to be quite formal, well lit and composed, but somehow wasn’t quite prepared to the abstraction that this would incur: the images have become art objects much more so than documents of a recording.

I spent last night and this morning editing them and trying out sequences: the pillow case/ covering the box theme is gone; I have sequenced the images so that they explore ‘standing’ and ‘leaning’, interspersed with some of the key images from my granddad’s photographs as well as the typologies. The middle sequences explores the disappearing in various forms.

I also inserted a different ending: not the military ‘family’ photograph but a response to it (which I had constructed as a refusal/ opposition, but placing them next to each other on the spread, I realise that it is also a 1:1 stand-in, probably even with the same hand gesture – on hips/ in pockets). I will sit with this for a couple of days and then continue.

In terms of the rich media components: they are absent in this: the gif’s playing with perception seems gimicky for the current state; the video sits better on its own aside to this… compositionally, at least).

Any thoughts or comments are very welcome!

— there is only little post-processing yet and in particular the hue and saturation need adjusting for the blankets and trousers; the warm reflector shade in a few of them is also an issue, so I may need to reshoot these.