About the different series
Available as: Silvergelatine, selective toned. Limited Edition in the size of 50x60cm , 64x77cm, 104x125cm
INTRODUCTION BY RUBÉN MENDOZA
(Rubén G. Mendoza, PhD, CSU Monterey Bay, USA. Anthropologist)
As an anthropologist I have devoted myself to exploring the cultural landscapes of the American Hemisphere on a quest to recover my American Indian heritage. As a photographer I seek the spirit of the elders through the art of the imaginary. In recent years, however, I have been jolted from complacency by the extent to which globalization has wrecked the traditions, peoples, and places of the human condition, and thereby, the collective memory I have so long sought to capture through the eyes of the ancestors. It is from within this juggernaut of globalization that a new phoenix has arisen from the ashes into the light through the art, vision, and humanity of photographer Jan C. Schlegel of Nuremberg, Germany.
In recent years, I have become increasingly drawn to those forms of art and photography that speak to me from beyond the veil that so often shrouds the extraordinary. Some years ago I was drawn to a particularly unique collection of richly detailed and selenium-toned images of the tribal peoples of Africa and Eurasia. Whereas the anthropologist in me was instantaneously captivated by the enigmatic cultural narratives of the peoples depicted, the photographer in me soon recognized the commanding and relentless personal vision of a master photographer of the human experience. At that time, I could not have known that our paths would cross, and I would have the opportunity to know artist, adventurer, and photographer Jan C. Schlegel. In order to more fully comprehend the origins and significance of this extraordinary collection of unforgettable traces, it is first essential that we explore the origins of that quintessential inspiration that drives the man behind the camera.
Jan was born in the Black Forest of southern Germany on 13 September 1965. Jan’s youth was spent on Lake Constance, or Bodensee,where he underwent an apprenticeship in photography that changed the course of his life. First drawn to photography at the age of 12, his initial interests were with the technical side of the photographic process. By age 14, Jan devoted himself to his darkroom, fascinated by the apparition of the photographic image from trays of chemistry, light, and silver alone. In those days, Jan was transfixed on perfecting the technical processes entailed, but it was not then that he discovered the creative soul that today fuels his work. That would be left to winning an Agfa photography competition that led to a transcendent encounter with master photographer Walter Schels. It was there on Lake Constance that Jan’s apprenticeship began by way of a portrait seminar with the formidable creativity of Schels. At age 19, Jan was absolutely inspired by the power and the passion of that portraiture to which he was introduced at so pivotal a moment in the young photographer’s life. Jan acknowledges the significant impact of that time by noting that Schels was very passionate and absolutely driven, and it was made apparent that passion was synonymous with excellence. The young Schlegel was soon filled with an ardent desire and passion to produce truly powerful images that communicated the depth, individuality, and diversity of the human condition.
Immersing himself in portraiture, Jan was drawn to the works of prolific American fashion photographers Irving Penn and Richard Avedon, both celebrated for producing richly nuanced black and white portraits and still lifes through depictions of the fashion world, not to mention the common man and woman, which continue to resonate with and define the world of photography. Such were the inspirations for Schlegel’s own works, which resonate with Penn and Avedon’s artistic depth through the production of powerful black and white portraits of the diverse peoples and cultures that populate the landscapes of the human experience. For Schlegel, Penn’s photography of tribal and ethnic groups, and Avedon’s remarkable ability to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary, aligns with his own pursuits for documenting traditions and peoples beset by the corrosive effects of globalization and colonialism.
When I first met Jan Schlegel at San Francisco International Airport on 18 July 2015, I was immediately struck by the energy and determination in his eyes. En route to a Hippie commune in northern California for the purposes of producing images for a current project titled The Tribes of our Generation, Jan spoke excitedly about the people that he sought to engage and photograph on that trip through northern California. With over 60 countries and innumerable photography excursions under his belt, it was clear from the outset that Jan was among the most adventurous and seasoned travelers and photographers I had ever had the privilege to meet. Like his mentor, he was driven, passionate, and meticulous, but unlike his mentors, he bore the unmistakable hallmarks of a kindred soul, messianic visionary, and this by virtue of having maintained a presence of mind determined to push the envelope of photography in a quest to document the Other. His objective remains to capture the essential spirit and primordial essence of the tribal peoples and cultures whose very lifeways are increasingly threatened by the insidious encroachment of the modern world. Since our initial encounter, I have frequently sought to share Jan’s work with fellow anthropologists, photographers, and environmentalists in an effort to gauge their respective reactions to such extraordinary imagery. All have proven awestruck and mesmerized by a connection with the majestic beauty of the peoples and cultures depicted. And so it was that the opportunity to more fully know this kindred spirit was ultimately realized.
The images represented in this portfolio span but a cross-section of the many nations, cultures, and villages that Jan has envisioned through travel, photography, and communion with the Other. This collection as such selectively represents such diverse traditions as the Turkanaand Rendilletribes and villagers of northern and eastern Kenya, the Mursi, Suri, Ebore, Hamar, and Karaof southern Ethiopia and the Omo River Valley, Pokotand Massaiof Kenya, Beduineof Egypt and the Libyan Desert, Tauregof Algeria, Himbaof Namibia, Hazarof Afghanistan, Nuristanof the Hindu Kush, and Kalashiand Pashtunof Pakistan. In each instance, globalization, political and economic upheaval, religious wars, human trafficking, militarization, HIV, alcoholism, drug addiction, and the consequences of living in the shadow of conflict zones continue to exact a tragic human toll.
In an interview conducted with Jan in Nuremberg, on 8 January 2016, I was afforded a firsthand glimpse into the life of this prodigious and formidable photographic talent. To that end, the anthropologist in me sought to understand how it was that this man from the Black Forest of Germany could connect so thoroughly and spiritually with such diverse peoples as Ethiopian warriors, Taliban fighters, Nigerian warlords, and armed African vigilantes. Ironically, it was Jan’s description of a frightening encounter with an African predator that most decisively bolstered my understanding of his approach to life and the world of photography. During one such expedition into the wilds of Africa, Jan was awakened by a strong smell while lying within his tent, and upon turning his head, found himself peering straight into the eyes of a leopard. Jan stared unflinchingly into the eyes of the leopard, and the leopard stared intently back, only to return to the darkness of the forest.
Unlike his many such encounters, Jan’s approach seeks to represent the beauty, dignity, pride, and hope of a people who both live and cherish ancient traditions and cultures. As such, Jan often spends weeks embedded in remote villages and communities, living, eating, sleeping, and working side by side with his subjects as he comes to know them by virtue of his and their deeds and actions. This communion with his fellow human beings has proven essential to his photography. Bonding with his subjects has always been a fundamental need, and as such, Jan has always been prepared to forego photography so as to commune with those whose portraits constitute his growing portfolio. With the utmost respect for the elders, Jan often defers photographing them until the end of any given shoot, so as to permit them to maintain a respectful distance as others come forward to meet the photographer and his camera. Schlegel is absolutely committed to capturing the spirit of each subject through studied contemplation of individuals, faces, clothing, ornamentation, and the eyes that echo the windows into the soul of a community. In this way, he seeks to honor the integrity, beauty, and dignity of the Other by evoking the indomitable spirit and tribal ethos of these surviving spirits of the forest and desert.
Using a handmade wooden Ebony (SV45 Ti) 4×5 field camera with a tack-sharp Schneider 150mm APO f5.6 Super Symmar XL lens, grey canvas backdrop, and Profotoportable flash system outfitted with a 90cm softbox, Jan and his team capture the essence of a community through portraiture produced in some of the most remote and inhospitable regions imaginable. To that end, Jan awaits that moment of connection, when the eye of the photographer meets the eye of the subject such that the transcendence and intensity of that moment conjures a connection. It is in that moment that Jan communes with his subject, and thereby, accentuates the beauty, dignity, pride, and spirituality of a people through the unforgettable traces of a shared human community. So as to assure that he honors the very people and traditions encountered in the field, and the villages and nations of his travels, Jan seldom carries more than 100 individual 4x5 sheets of Kodak Tmax 400negative film on any given photographic expedition, and in so doing is limited to approaching his subjects knowing that every shot must count. In setting the stage for the photographic moment, Jan often spends days and weeks observing potential subjects in the marketplace and from within their villages. Only then does Jan request permission to photograph those he has come to know. Jan acquaints them with his protocol by way of first shooting Polaroids, or by triggering his cable release sans sheet film, only to load the camera when he and his subject have made that connection discerned through peering intently and introspectively into one another’s eyes. At that moment, Jan captures through minute details, textures, scars, imperfections, and via an abiding intimacy and intensity, the human element he seeks.
Jan refrains from digital manipulation or editing of any kind, and the selective toning process that he has developed is unique to his work. The many safeguards, and those risks undertaken to assure the honesty and integrity of these images of a vanishing way of life, are rewarded by way of the transcendent detail, and richly toned and textured manifestations of light and dark that constitute the work of this master of the medium. In the final analysis, there is no doubt that the collective works of artist, adventurer, and humanist Jan C. Schlegel constitute one of the most significant contributions presently available to document the vanishing traditions and marginalized peoples of a world in the throes of global conflict and cultural erasure.
The Tribes of Our Generation
Silvergelatine, selective toned. Limited Edition in the size of 50x60cm , 64x77cm, 104x125cm
INTRODUCTION BY LARS ELTON
(Lars Elton is a critic, freelance journalist and editor. He is the art- and architecture critic for the Oslo-based, daily newspaper Dagsavisen, and he has held the same position in Norway’s biggest newspaper VG for 16 years. Elton also writes about art and other cultural topics in a broad variety of publications.)
How is it possible that photography can move people to the root of their heart? Jan C. Schlegel manages to do that. His straight photography is naked in more than one meaning of the word.
This text could have had many titles. “Tattoos and urban subcultures” is perhaps the most obvious title. “From African tribes to the urban jungle” could have been another. “Finding solidarity in solitude” is yet another option. The many possibilities speak about an artist whose ability to trigger emotions, tell stories and construct narratives are manifold.
The obvious titles are seldom the best. And Jan C. Schlegel’s art is so strong that – in spite of all these options – I ended up with pointing at the most direct and sincere tool of communication we have as humans: Our eyes. A cliché says that the eyes are the mirror of the soul. The power of our eyes is best shown when another person looks you straight in the eye. That is the moment you might feel love. Or fear. Our eyes are powerful in every aspect of the word.
The choice of title points to the most important feature when Jan C. Schlegel’s art is concerned: His ability to use his eyes. He does that in a way that exposes people in a very personal manner. We, the spectators, are allowed to have a glimpse of the private personae, the real human being that hides behind a mask. It is those masks that make these models interesting. They are different because of their public appearance.
But the title is also talking about something else. Jan C. Schlegel encounters humans who are strange to us. They come from another culture or they look different in our eyes. On the street, in everyday life, most people would recognize them as strange. Some would say that they are threatening and avoid confrontation. Many men and women would be afraid to talk to them. We would easily have rejected their gaze and not made eye contact. But in Jan C. Schlegel’s pictures they look us straight in the eye. And thus a strange thing happens: Despite their differences they appear like someone you would like to give a hug and talk with for a long time.
The strange thing is that Jan C. Schlegel’s pictures remove the threat from the unknown. He became famous for his beautiful pictures of men, women and children from indigenous tribes in the deep heartland of Africa – and further on photographs of tribal people from different, distant parts of the world. His photographs picture them with pride and dignity.
With his new series “The Tribes of our Generation”, which is shown for the first time in the Oslo-gallery Willas contemporary, he takes a giant step towards his own culture. But the young women (and a few men) he portrays are as much strangers to most of us as the members of the African tribes. These youngsters are IT-girls and tattoo artists. They are idols of a new generation. They are stars on YouTube, Instagram and other varieties of social media. They are strangers to everyone who is not a part of that specific subculture.
These people are more alive on the internet than in real life. They are used to pose for the camera. They inhabit a make-believe-world where appearance is everything. That is why they fascinate us so much. They are not comfortable with the flaws and imperfections of everyday life. That is why they become so human in Jan C. Schlegel’s photographs. He has a special ability to make them relax in front of the camera. He makes them forget themselves. For a short period of time he makes them leave their appearance behind, standing naked and exposed to the world. They have their image intact, but we as spectators are allowed to enter behind their masks.
When you look at the pictures in Jan C. Schlegel’s new series, the model’s eyes are the last thing you think about. You look at their tattoos and piercings; the artistic hairstyles; the skinny, naked bodies; the details on their skin. You might even have a peek at their breasts and nipples. There is nothing wrong about that. Their nakedness is not sexual. It is only beautiful. And you might discover, gradually, that these people, the ones that many people avoid in the street, look nice and friendly. You experience that they appear fragile and naked, not only in the flesh, but also in the indirect, psychologic meaning of the term. It is all because of their eyes. That is the most important, special quality that turns these pictures into art.
The German artist Jan C. Schlegel (born 1965) made a remarkable debut in 2012. He already had a long career as a photographer. For many years the artistic side of his preferred media was something he did not think about, even less consider as an option for himself. When he made his debut as an artist, at Paris Photo in 2012, he had never heard of Irving Penn (1917–2009). The American photographer is one of the legends of the post-war era, and even if he is most famous as a celebrity- and fashion photographer, he is also a pioneer in the modern history of ethnographic photography.
It is this tradition Jan C. Schlegel has brought to a new level. He does the same as Penn when he places the people he photographs in front of a neutral background. They are in their well known, local community, but the situation caused by the photo-session does something to the subjects in front of the camera. The results were regarded as a sensation. The Lucerne- and München-based gallery Bernheimer Fine Art’s exhibited the pictures at Paris Photo. Suddenly Schlegel was ranked along with Penn and other great photographers. It came as a big surprise to the German photographer. Gradually he has found his way into the art-world.
It was his stunning pictures from Africa, of indigenous men, women and children living in remote villages and isolated tribes, that caused the attention. Jan C. Schlegel’s pictures were the result of a long lasting engagement that started ten years earlier, when he, after a drought disaster in 2002, volunteered to work with aid in southern Ethiopia. He was seduced by the people, and he returned several times in order to experience their warmth, their smiles and joy of life. But every time he returned to Germany and developed his negatives, none of the photos reflected his experiences. The people he had photographed looked poor, weary and sad, and he did not understand why he was not able to catch the one thing that he thought was crucial to his experience – their zest for life.
To cut a long story short – after years of hard work Jan C. Schlegel discovered the key. He found a way to communicate with people from different cultures. He developed a method that is universal and humanistic, which works either he photographs indigenous people or IT-girls. It has nothing to do with language. It is all about trust, about using your eyes and body language to communicate. It is about having enough time and being able to see and respect people as they are.
If you add Jan C. Schlegel’s technical skills, you encounter an artist who has the rare combination of technical and aesthetic personality. He works with traditional black and white film in a large format camera, and nothing is digitally edited. He has developed his own method of toning parts of his black and white prints. His perfectionistic demands add a special quality to the handmade prints, and because of the special toning process each print has its own individuality.
This text could have enveloped a lot of different questions. It would – for instance – have been interesting to write about the psychological aspect of tattoos and the human urge to decorate our bodies and environment. Or I could have dug into the world of IT-girls and tattoos. I have spent time researching these things, and I have looked at several thousand pictures of tattooed people. But all the research turned out to be of less importance when I understood what is really important. It is all about their eyes. After hours of reading and watching I understood that I would never find what I was looking for on the internet. I had already seen it in their eyes. The solution to all my questions was looking at me from Jan C. Schlegel’s photographs. That is what makes him a truly human artist.
Of Monster & Dragon
Salt Prints, Limited Edition of 5 in the size of 56x76cm (Arches Aquarelle paper)
When we see those little spiders, bugs or other crawlers we often see people respond by screaming, killing them or running away in panic like they are facing a monster or a dragon. Getting close to those little creatures shows their amazing beauty and detail that we normally never see. Some appear to me like they would be out of another world, or almost unreal. Taking the color away by turning them into unique salt prints emphasizes the amazing structures and patterns they have.
SALT PRINTING: THE EARLIEST PHOTOGRAPHIC PROCESS IN HISTORY
Since Aristotle (384-322 BC) there is evidence that men and women have explored the relationship between light and chemicals. Remarkably, it took until 1834 before William Henry Fox Talbot discovered the process of permanent chemically produced images created by light. His salted-paper prints were the ﬁrst photographic process to create a positive image from a negative. Talbot’s photogenic drawings and his continual discoveries had a profound effect on both photography and the development of printmaking.
William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1870) came from a privileged background. He was well educated, had a brilliant mind and was curious about the world around him. Fortunately for historians and photographic researchers Talbot documented most of his experiments.
In 1833 Talbot was on holiday in Italy with his new wife and family members. He became frustrated with his inability to sketch on paper. Even with the aid of his drawing instrument, a camera lucida, he could not capture the beauty of Lake Como. Utilizing his knowledge of chemistry he pondered ways of “ﬁxing” an image on paper. By spring 1834 Talbot’s ponderings became reality. He found the ratio between salt and silver nitrate that was essential to create and ‘stabilize’ an image. Talbot’s discovery of the salt print inspired the foundation for many future photographic processes.
In 1839 with the assistance of his colleague, Sir John Herschel, Talbot was able to ‘ﬁx’ this image permanently on paper.
The history of Talbot and his inventions is quite remarkable. His discoveries were the foundation of the photographic processes until today.
Salt printing is a hand-coated two-step process. First, the salt solution is applied to the paper and allowed to dry. Next is the sensitizing step when a silver nitrate solution is applied to the paper to form light sensitive silver chloride. Exposure to light changes the silver chloride to the image making metallic silver.
Due to the inherent masking ability of the metallic silver the salt print can create a greater tonal range than any other photographic processes and makes it to one of the the finest and nobel printing process. Even it seems to be one of the simplest photographic processes, it is one of the most difficult to control the outcome. However the intrinsic production problems have made it a 'forgotten' process.
The salt prints of Jan C Schlegel are done in the tradition of William Henry Fox Talbot and uses the same chemical compounds. The noble 100% cotton paper, together with carefully handled fixage through Ammonium Thiosulfate and a slightly gold borax toning followed by a two hours wash give the salt print a maximum durability.
Today you can find in museums (like in the Getty Museum in Los Angeles) the original salt prints made by Talbot without any sign of fading or altering.
Creatures of the seven seas
Platinum Prints, Limited Edition of 5 in the size of 56x76cm (Arches Platinum Rag)
The Platinum Printing Process
For people who collect photographs, platinum prints are known for their beauty, archival stability and unique, one-of-a-kind print statement. Made from the salts of platinum and palladium, these prints are also called “platinotypes” or “platinum” prints. Platinum is a noble metal on the Periodic Table and are resistant to oxidation. The platinum salt emulsion is imbedded into the fiber of the paper during the printing process.
As with most historical photographic processes, a platinum print is made by placing the negative and emulsion-coated paper in direct contact. Therefore, the size of the photographic print is equal to the size of the negative.
Platinum prints have a different “look” from silver gelatin or digital prints. All platinum prints have a matte, not glossy surface, because the sensitizer is absorbed into the paper rather than sitting on the surface. A platinum print also has a more gradual tonal change from black to white. To the eye accustomed to the punch of a silver gelatin print, a platinum print will often feel “softer” or lower in contrast. In reality there are actually more steps between pure black and pure white in platinum prints than in a silver gelatin print. This contributes to the deeper, richer feeling you experience when looking at these prints.
My platinum prints are made from hand-mixed and hand-coated emulsions. These sensitizers are mixed just prior to use, coated on the paper with a brush. Once dry, a negative is placed in direct contact with the paper, and then exposed to “actinic” or ultraviolet light. Exposure to the light source takes an hour or more, depending on the density and contrast of the negative.
The image tone of a platinum print can vary widely in color. These prints can range from a cool, slightly purple black to split tones of brown and warm black, to a very warm brown. The proportions of the different components in the emulsion, choice of developers and the temperature of the developer control the final colour.
As these emulsions are mixed and coated by hand no two prints are exactly alike and become unique art pieces.