Stadtmuseum to show impressive camera-obscura photographs by sighard gille starting today

Freedom Column. Photo: Sighard Gille

Photo: Sighard Gille

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Today, Tuesday, 4. June, at 6 p.m. a special exhibition will be opened in the Stadtgeschichtliches Museum in Bottchergasschen. The museum shows works of the well-known Leipzig painter Sighard Gille, whose paintings are usually rather large in the neighboring Museum of Fine Arts to see. For years, however, Gille has also been working with photography – and with a very special kind of photography at that. One that very much suits his painter’s view of the world.

But for this kind of photography, you can’t just go to the nearest store and buy a camera for it. On the contrary. For the painter, working with a pinhole camera was initially also "a protest against the high-tech craze," as museum director Anselm Hartinger describes it, who is now happy to be able to open an exhibition with Gille’s photographic images that suits the city museum.

For the past two decades, the Stadtgeschichtliches Museum has continuously devoted itself to photography. In the exhibition, the well-known Leipzig painter Sighard Gille now presents a comprehensive show of his photographic work with the pinhole camera. The focus here is not on the documentary, but on the artistic and, in this sense, on something unusual, even strange.

And so, of course, the painter’s very special view of the city. Gille has deliberately decided against the increasingly upgraded high-performance cameras that have been available since 1990 and that give many amateurs the deceptive feeling that they are now automatically taking artistically valuable photos. The 78-year-old also learned photography from scratch in 1960 and worked as a photographer and photo lab assistant before taking up his studies at the HGB in 1965.

But Gille also shows with his pinhole pictures that you need the eye of the artist who recognizes the gripping pictorial moment in what he finds, sets up his camera, aligns it correctly, presses the shutter release and then waits for minutes until he has this picture on film.

Monument to the Battle of the Nations with Gloriole. Photo: Sighard Gille

Monument to the Battle of the Nations with Gloriole. Photo: Sighard Gille

Hartinger describes the technology behind this as downright archaic. And in fact Sighard Gille goes back not only in the history of photography, but also in the history of photography. Even great painters of the Renaissance already used a camera obscura, even if they could not yet capture the resulting images on film.

The camera obscura (lat. camera "vault"; obscura "dark") is considered one of the first apparatuses for projecting images. Some light falls into a dark room through a small hole. The object placed outside is projected through the hole onto the opposite inside of the room by means of the light rays reflected by it. There it becomes visible upside down and mirror-inverted.

Since 1989, Sighard Gille has been working intensively on the early form of the camera obscura as a photographic apparatus: the pinhole camera.

Instead of a lens, this one has only a tiny opening as a pinhole. Through this a roll film is exposed behind it. The diameter of the hole, the intensity of the light and the exposure time have a significant influence on this process. Gille’s small camera obscura equipment can be seen in the exhibition.

The artist builds his pinhole cameras himself from older camera models. Not from very old ones, but from those simple models that were available for little money before 1989. He uses different models equipped with a roll film in 6×6 medium format with 12 exposures. This makes the negatives more manageable and more convenient to process and enlarge. The pinhole camera photographs taken by Gille of his hometown of Leipzig were all taken with the reworked "Pouva Start". This was the real amateur camera: easy to use, plastic body, inexpensive.

Riquethaus. Photo: Sighard Gille

Riquethaus. Photo: Sighard Gille

The artist removed the simple rotating lens from the Bakelite roll film camera and poked a small hole in the camera. The roll film behind it does the rest. With his "Pouva Start" Gille was also photographically on the road in New York, Hamburg, Jerusalem and Rome.

And he took this path because the results are very different from what one usually achieves with automated cameras. Only patience is needed. Because it takes several minutes to expose.

Gille is particularly fascinated by the alienation of familiar objects that results from the significant soft focus of the pinhole camera. It is also typical that movements are not represented. They blur or disappear almost completely on the developed shot, because with exposure times of up to 45 minutes, the people rushing through the frame don’t even show up as silhouettes anymore. Metropolises like New York, Rome or London appear frozen and seemingly deserted.

The blurring is characteristic for this technique. Gille succeeded in developing the pinhole camera technique into an art form of its own, creating new image compositions. Also new perspectives on long known motifs, which Leipzigers can compare directly in the exhibition on the basis of their own city. Familiar corners become more robust, almost impasto like in Gille’s paintings. The details disappear, but the light makes the scenery look more vivid, as if animated, as if the striking buildings in their force just emerge from the background.

Beginning with photographs taken during his first trip to New York in 1996, the exhibition shows some 60 works from the cities of Rome, Jerusalem, London and Hamburg, where Sighard Gille repeatedly modified the construction of the camera. The 60 or so pinhole camera photos with Leipzig motifs are presented for the first time.

Some photographs in the exhibition were also painted over by Gille. The artist sees strong parallels and interactions between painting and working with the pinhole camera. The pinhole camera reduces, takes away, simplifies. The blur dominates and the reduction to chiaroscuro, to the essentials, is decisive. With about 120 photographs, Gille creatively implements the mode of action of the pinhole camera, surprises through the alienation of familiar motifs and thereby opens up new forms of expression and perspectives for the viewer for a more intense examination of the city.

Exhibition opening: Tuesday, 4. June, 6 p.m. at the Stadtgeschichtliches Museum (Bottchergasschen). Speak: Dr. Anselm Hartinger, director of the Stadtgeschichtliches Museum Leipzig, poet Peter Gosse and art historian Nadja Staab, who curated the exhibition.

Musical accompaniment: Simon Bodensiek saxophone, Mayjia Gille, vocals and Arto Makela, guitar.

exhibition duration: 5. June-18. August 2019, opening hours: Tuesday through Sunday, holidays 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Admission: 5 Euro, reduced: 3,50 Euro, children and teenagers up to 18 years free of charge.

An accompanying book will be published for the exhibition: Sighard Gille: Camera Obscura. Leipzig, Museum of City History Leipzig, ed. by Anselm Hartinger. Leipzig 2019, ISBN 78-9100034-82-2, 12,50 Euro.

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