The German Forest and the photography of Michael Lange
Archival pigment print
© the artist
With Under a Grey Sky being based in Berlin, and Berlin being in Germany, it is probably not surprising that the forest has been something of a theme during this the first year of the website. Those who have visited Berlin and arrived in the city by plane will have seen how the forests, dotted with lakes, make up much of the hinterland, and indeed, within the city itself. After all, how many city states have their own forestry department? But Berlin needs one, as the forests that the surround the city pay no heed to official boundaries, and even in parts of the Tiergarten – Berlin’s central park right in the centre – it is possible to lose yourself in the trees. With no mountains or coast for miles around, it is a walk in the woods that is the normal escape from the bustle of everyday life.
Back in January, reflecting on a walk in the Grunewald Forest (well inside the Berlin city limits) I considered the role of the forest – to my mind so often a spooky and perhaps even threatening place – in the mythology of German culture: “From the Germanic tribes emerging from the trees to thwart the imperial ambitions of the Romans, the forest has been a cornerstone of the founding mythology of German culture and identity. Those fairy tales that still inspire in me a sense of foreboding amongst the trees well into adulthood came, of course, from the forest heartlands of this country, collected by the Brothers Grimm as they travelled.” At the same time, the German History Museum in Berlin was hosting a special exhibition on that very topic.
Now, in a gallery on the Auguststraße, you can take in the wonderful photographs of Michael Lange in his exhibition Forest – Landscapes of Memory. Stepping in off the street on an icy day, I was surprised at the power of these images, often catching the forest in the immediate aftermath of a rain shower, or with a low mist hanging between the trees. The photographs were moving, wondrous and – dare I even say it – magical, with that fairytale quality that might be something of a cliché when it comes to writing about the German forest (look, I did it myself above) but one that exists for a very good reason. In the exhibition notes, the topic is explored further:
“For three years, the Hamburg-based photographer roamed Germany’s forests during the twilight hours. With unfailing intuition, he found there those places of retreat in which the imaginings of childhood condense, in sober nature documentary form, into impressive visual coinages. His photographs were created beyond the paths and hiking trails, often in the thicket and dense undergrowth. They testify to the delayed hazardous enterprise of the adult Self, finally to arrive at the place for which the childish soul has yearned over all these years. The photographs by Michael Lange are a foil, they can absolutely be understood as the result of an inner stirring. The works are determined by the repeatedly raised question of how silence can take shape in the image.”
I would urge anyone who is in Berlin to take the time to visit the Alfred Ehrhardt Stiftung on Auguststaße before the 23rd December, when the exhibition ends, and I would also like to take the chance to thank another talented photographer, Paul Sullivan, who pointed me in the direction of Michael Lange’s work in the first place.
Words: Paul Scraton