A conversation with Rudolf Steiner about his exhibition Ricochet
By Miriam Edmunds
“I always imagine that I am in this area for the first time to see everything in a new way…”
The artist and photographer Rudolf Steiner talks to Miriam Edmunds, research associate at Photoforum Pasquart, about his long-term photographic project Ricochet, which is being shown for the first time at Photoforum Pasquart.
In 2013, the Biel-based artist and photographer Rudolf Steiner began his work on the long-term project Ricochet. Steiner photographed the landscape and architecture around his studio in Biel and Rondchâtel with a photo robot converted for his purposes. The photo robot produces several dozen to several hundred successive shots, which Steiner assembles into a single photograph on the computer. Due to the 10 to 30-minute recording times, the light and weather conditions can change between the individual shots and create visual aberrations in the final photograph. Thus Steiner’s photographs are both disconcerting and appealing. Symbolically, they reflect human intervention in nature, while at the same time depicting the uncontrollability of natural phenomena. The pictures of the series Ricochet invite the viewer in a subtle way to think about the shaping of the landscape by man.
You have been working on Ricochet since 2013. Has the project always been designed as a long-term project?
No. When I started experimenting with the camera system, the landscape around my studio was the easiest and most convenient location. It was only over time that I discovered the richness of the “nearby” on the basis of the results and then took the time to extend the project over years to see and photograph different seasons and light situations.
You use a photo robot to take photos for Ricochet. How did you get the idea to use the photo robot?
I bought the Gigapan Pro camera robot for a commercial job. Working on high-resolution Gigapixel panoramas gave me the idea of combining the possibilities of the camera robot with the extremely reduced depth of field of a 400 mm telephoto lens with maximum aperture. This system gave me the possibility to apply the reduced depth of field of a telephoto lens to the angle of view of a “wide angle lens”. The unbelievably high resolution is then added virtually for free.
How can one imagine a photo session with the photo robot? Were there any preparations that had to be made due to the use of the robot?
The preparation for a photo session was rather good shoes, warm clothes and enough batteries in the bag as well as a lot of patience than technical approaches. Apart from that I often wandered relatively aimlessly with the robot in my backpack, the tripod and the camera into the landscape, looking for motives. On some days there was no picture, on other days I discovered many new motives during the long waiting time until a picture was taken, which I would not have noticed before.
What difficulties did you have to overcome to work with the photo robot?
One difficulty was certainly the complexity and weight of the equipment. There was also a longer and frustrating trial period until I had found the right settings and workflows for “stitching” the many photos on the computer. My approach to photography is rather intuitive, but this required a lot of hard work on the computer. Moreover, for a long time I was very unsure how I should judge this kind of photography and whether it was worth the effort.
Christophe Fovanna wrote about Ricochet: “There is always an inner dimension — psychological, metaphysical, philosophical, etc. — that is decisive for a landscape photograph.” Would you agree with this statement? What made you decide to become involved in landscape photography?
I can agree with this statement, even though the choice of a certain motif is, as I said before, an intuitive process. The “inner” dimension, which Fovanna writes about, comes into play above all in the selection of “valid” photographs, where — kill your darlings — you have to say goodbye to cherished images in order to create a coherent “whole” that is valid beyond your own perception and sentimentality.
The process of taking pictures with the Gigapan device is of course hardly suitable for portraits, and as can be seen in my book and the exhibition, my motifs can only be assigned to the genre of landscape photography in the broadest sense. There are also interiors, architecture or urban situations, banal details, waysides etc.
You take pictures around your studio in Rondchâtel, in Biel/Bienne and the surrounding area. How do you find your subjects?
Through attention. I am often attracted by a certain light situation, a constellation of colours, the shadow of a bridge on the bushes, the red apples in the tree, the clouds above the hills. I also always imagine that I am in this area for the first time, to see everything in a new way and to pay the right attention to every detail.
What is the significance of the aberrations visible in your photographs?
In the very early stages, they were almost a reason to bury the project, as they ran counter to my ideas about images. It was only with time and after some consideration/reading/research on the medium of photography that I recognised the aesthetic and content-related value of these “errors” and consciously included them in my approach.
Were there also moments when you found the result after stitching the photographs disappointing?
This happened more than once. Although: in the course of time, my expectations have also changed. A picture that I found disappointing could turn out to be great after a few years. I first had to learn to mistrust my expectations and allow new perspectives.
What does the exhibition title “Ricochet” mean?
“Ricochet” is French and refers to a shot that bounces off the ground before hitting the target. But the term is also used for bouncing, ricochets, slates, and in French the term is also used for photo books when one page or image refers to another, “cette image fait ricochet à l’autre”.
Ricochet’s scenography is more reminiscent of an artist’s studio than a classic museum room. Was that your intention?
This raises the question of what a classical museum space and a classical presentation actually want and who it serves. Instead of framed “windows” into another world, I wanted to create a situation where the viewer is never sure where the picture is actually located and how much it is worth. A picture, whether printed on newsprint or on high-quality material, remains the same picture — only the value changes. In this sense I wanted to give the pictures a reference, not only their value. The eye goes from one picture to another, the body follows in space and has to position itself in this diversity. This can be exhausting, but also pleasurable. There is nothing to read about it, the pictures speak for themselves.
Was it clear from the start that you wanted to design the exhibition rooms in the way they are presented today?
No, but once the rooms had been defined, it became clear relatively quickly that one more wall was needed to prevent the rooms from becoming too large and that the horizon would have to be defined with the picture rails. The picture rails also make the whole presentation look provisional, as the pictures could be changed at any time.
What is the significance of the wallpaper you have designed, which is shown in the exhibition space?
The drawings on the wallpaper are representations of the “bouncing” of the ray of vision in the landscape, a ray of vision which, according to Plato’s theory of perception, emanates from the eye and strikes the object, not the other way round.This philosophical dimension is important to me and could become active as a question mark in the background with the implementation as wallpaper.
With what insights would a visitor ideally leave the exhibition?
Perhaps with the knowledge that the necessary attention should be paid to every moment.
The exhibition Ricochet opened on 19 September 2020. It is currently closed until further notice, following to the decision of the authorities of the Canton of Berne to shut all cultural venues on 23 October.