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In 2008 in New York during one of her international journeys dedicated to photographic research, Lucia Adverse, the artist from the State of Minas Gerais who was born in 1967, perceived in a very explicit way her interest in the contrast of light and shade in her architectonic black and white photographs and immediately decided to broaden the study of the dramatic qualities and the theatricality of this visual dialogue.
Lucia Adverse began a complete study of the theme of luminosity in photography, identifying German Expressionism as one of its principal precursors, followed by Cinema Noir.
Having decided to give continuity to the project through the intrinsic beauty of the theme, Lucia Adverse found diverse answers to her enquiries in Germany and discovered that the country still retains in its structure various monuments that are living examples of her research. Such monuments when preserved give continuity to the dialogue between light and shade in a daily and incessant process of revelation.
So the 2014 Der Sturm / The Storm exhibition of Lucia Adverse’s photography in the Inimá de Paula Museum presents the contemporary view of the artist in her reflection on History, translated in architectonic and visual detail.
In recent photography Lucia Adverse displays what the years 1910 and 1920 were like in Germany, a time when the country established itself as the most industrialized nation in Europe, also transforming itself into a world cultural center, producer of a wide variety of artistic and cultural manifestations.
Concentrating on the records of the artistic and cultural manifestations of that time, Lucia researched the Der Sturm magazine, conceived in Berlin in 1910 by the expressionist artist Herwarth Walden, which recorded not only the German artistic vanguard, but also reaffirmed to the world Germany’s expressionist vocation, its characteristics and influences on architecture, on plastic art, on music, on theater, on dance, on cinema and on various cultural manifestations of that period in Europe.
The German architecture of the same period affected not just Germany, but also the world, through the Bauhaus Foundation, a school established in 1919 by the architect Walter
Gropius in the city of Weimar, considered the official scene of the great changes in the Arts and in world architecture, generated by great names who were professors and denizens of the school such as Mies van der Rohe, Marcel Breuer, Paul Klee and Piet Mondrian, among others.
It was, therefore, in the years 1910 and 1920, through a hidden place of artistic expression that German architecture distinguished itself decisively and remarkably in history and developed characteristics which still influence us today.
The city of Berlin was thus one of the principal sites of the visual research of the photographer Lucia Adverse who, fascinated by architectonic photography, rendered her own interpretation of the capital, so herself becoming a witness to historic transformation through the Arts.
The twenty-three images presented here cause us to discover, through the intermediary of the artist’s photography and contemporary version, the saga of a city that always lived in a constant cultural and political storm but succeeded in conserving the pearls of its architectonic heritage which in modern times still suggest to us a visual dialogue between light and shade, in an endless play of poetry through image.
“Art has always oscillated between reflectivity and illusion.”
The form, style and characteristics of the construction of a city are intrinsically related to its history. If we observe closely the architecture of a city it will tell us a great deal about the culture and way of life of its inhabitants.
In 2008 I recorded the first photographs of the architecture of New York pertaining to this project, which was only concluded in 2013, always opting to develop these pictures in black and white.
Later on I noticed that the contrasting shades in this black and white treatment were somewhat reminiscent of the dramatic qualities of Cinema Noir lighting, a film genre which always impressed me, because of both the contrasting lighting effects in the filming and the theatricality of the various themes.
As a branch of my study I immediately started research, above and beyond film, into German Expressionism, the precursor of Cinema Noir, including its influence on painting and xylography. I returned several times to New York. At this point my work was already focused on and aimed at this theme. The capture of each detail in the architecture was thought out with the Noir theme in mind. It would not be my intention to repeat integrally what was expressed in cinema, only what was essential for the composition of my new work. According to James Monaco in ‘American Film Now’, Film Noir is not in itself a genre, but a visual style, and it was precisely this characteristic that served as the basis for my project.
“Cinema Noir is distinguished by an aesthetic of artifice, beginning with its black and white photography which escapes the naturalism of the real world, which is poly-chromatic, to baroque settings (essentially in Welles) or to theatrical ones; to lighting which is harsh , contrasting, without half tones; to perspectives that vary from close-up to depth of field with no ‘in betweens’. Ultimately it all takes us back to a sense of being in a non-natural universe of stealthy images, of contrived scenes. In this sense the ‘noir’ is contained within it, the style of presentation and the photography will be its basic reference in this type of cinema aimed so much at the aesthetic of simulacrum, at fragmentation and repetition.
Expressionist treatments such as shadows, looks and gestures reinforce the predominance of an aesthetic of close-up and fragments of objects.
Cinema Noir manifests itself as ‘skylight’ cinema. It is by means of the oblique glance that we perceive and discover what is hidden.
This realm of the fake is revealed always wrapped in a constant smokescreen, in fog or in rain, where transparency is seldom evident and the action happens mainly in the domain of the night.
In a similar manner, Cinema Noir utilizes artificial lighting to great effect: light and dark, black and white, in order to achieve high contrast, eliminating half tones. To compose a play of light and shade in an atmosphere wavering between the visible and the invisible, the reflection of an ambiguous reality, noir brings the mirror into the narrative as an element of metaphor”. (Cinema Noir: espelho e fotografia. Márcia Ortegosa. 2010)**
The entire work was photographed in three cities: New York, Berlin and Paris, with the intention to integrate a Brazilian city into the project.
New York City was the point of departure and was given the title Metropolis, a homonym of the Austrian Fritz Lang’s film (1927), which proposes a chaotic urban reality by the year 2026. A stratified society in which can be recognized differing social levels, each one represented by a specified architecture. The 1920’s building in the film’s poster is New York inspired and reflects the Art Deco style of the city’s skyscrapers.
Berlin was the place where the expressionist movement began, which so influenced the Cinema Noir aesthetic.
For this reason I proposed to broaden the project as far as the German capital. The name of the series “Der Sturm”, is taken from the German magazine linked to German Expressionism and published in Berlin, founded in 1910 by Herwarth Walden and considered the most influential of this artistic movement.
Cinema Noir was the recipient of other important influences from French poetic realism, which arose in French cinema during the mid-1930’s, with its themes of fatalism, injustice and ruined heroes, and from Italian neo-realism with its emphasis on authenticity. The term ‘Film Noir’ was coined by the French, always astute critics and admirers of American culture. During the Nazi occupation France was deprived of American films for almost five years; when they finally came to watch them again towards the end of 1945 they noticed not only a darkening of atmosphere but also of actual theme. The critics Nino Frank and Jean-Pierre Chartier wrote about these films in 1946.
In 1955, long before Film Noir appeared in any English language book, Raymonde Borde and Étienne Chaumeton wrote on this theme.
The Americans did not join the French in their perception and appreciation of Noir until a new generation of film buffs arrived in the film schools at the end of 1960.
For this reason, borrowing the name given to this remarkable cinematic style, I did a series of photographs, also in the city of Paris, and called it ‘Paris Noir’.
The Rediscovery of the Aura in Photos of Berlin. Photography by Lucia Adverse
An enormous light grey edifice with hundreds of darkened windows, its emphatic weight diminishing amid a somber sky, dismisses the background in continuous gradations, like a powerful ship parting the waves, its curved bow and its other extremity proudly surging forward at an oblique angle. The building has about fifteen floors and hundreds of rectangular apertures, dark cavities all arrayed in straight lines. Here and there lighter defacements appear as if reflecting another building whose apertures let through the rays of the sun.
This is the flagship photo that Lucia Adverse chose for the Der Sturm exhibition in which she presents her vision of the city of Berlin in twenty-three architectonic photographs in an ambitious undertaking that will challenge any art historian!
Der Sturm (The Storm) is nothing more than an explicit reference to the great cultural magazine of Berlin, which from 1910 to 1932 was the true vanguard springboard and artistic point of reference throughout Europe.
For more than twenty years, in its critical articles or exhibitions in the gallery of the same name in Berlin, Der Sturm presented all that was new or provocative in visual arts, architecture, literature, theater, music and cinema. So from 1911 it was the Der Sturm magazine that launched the very term ‘Expressionism’ to describe the aesthetic developed by the two most revolutionary artistic movements in Germany at that time: ‘Die Brücke’ (The Bridge) and ‘Blaue Reiter’ (Blue Rider).
In a reaction against Impressionism and Symbolism, artists insisted on a new form of expression, often aggressive or violent, in which the representation of reality would really be favored, banishing realism in order to express subjectivity, the state of the soul, and above all a revolt against social problems, in this way having no hesitation in restoring the myth of the savage in order to unleash more primitive impulses.
Borrowing expressly from a hundred year old movement in the History of European Art, the young Brazilian photographer Lucia Adverse immediately shows the same desire to subvert prejudice, impose the expressive power of photography and its power to transform reality. Her vision of the city of Berlin, inspired by the periodical ‘Der Sturm’, offers us twenty-three genuine architectonic ‘photographic tableaux’, composed according to the criteria of the most authentic German Expressionism, which we rarely see.
The Trajectory of a Young Brazilian Photographer.
What was the path followed by this artist which led to this achievement? Her development is significant.
Lucia Adverse initially studied Interior Design, but to create within confined spaces wasn’t enough for her. She quickly tore down the walls to arrive at the other side of design, opting for outdoor work, for photography that bears witness to, interpellates and displays the singularity of cities. Cities… What a vast field to explore! Especially for a native of Belo Horizonte, the great capital of the state of Minas Gerais, with buildings as high those in as São Paulo or New York, but surrounded by mountains, embraced by hills that provide tremendous panoramic views.
Having roamed around Europe, the United States and the Middle East, the artist understands that to capture the spirit of a city, its style, its history and also its future potential evolution, we have to know how to look and, more importantly, camera in hand, we have to capture signs, atmospheres, lights, the impulse of an urban photographic examination, the indications of a culture and the lifestyle of the inhabitants.
Six years ago, Lucia Adverse shot her first images of a series of photographs of the architecture of New York. Black and white imposes itself as the only way to be able to play with the contrasts of light and to express oneself in dramatic form, with a view to recreate in this manner the climate of Cinema Noir which she relishes, and the atmosphere of German Expressionism, imbued with images of great films whose frame of reference is the 1920’s, black and white silent films like ‘The Cabinet of Dr Caligari’ (1920), or Fritz Lang’s celebrated science fiction film ‘The Metropolis’ (1927), filmed in Berlin.
Lucia Adverse and the film ‘Metropolis’.
I watched this masterpiece again. To my surprise Lucia Adverse’s ‘Der Sturm’ series seems to be the urban universe of ‘Metropolis’ incarnate, as if, in modern Berlin, she really had found the buildings of the city designed by Fritz Lang nearly a century ago, as in a future visitation of those chosen for 2026, constructed day and night by robotic and completely servile workers. In Lucia Adverse’s photographs there also arise these enormous buildings with rectangular cavities, side by side, totally dark, sometimes vertical, sometimes horizontal. It’s as if the science fiction city had taken modern concrete form in Berlin, exactly as Fritz Lang imagined it.
However, on closer observation of the photography, ‘Metropolis’ appears more as a reference, a point of departure for her exploratory work, different from what Lucia Adverse presents to us, which is not really a vertical urban area where twin-engine planes fly around, but rather, isolated edifices or fragments of architecture, photographed one by one.
The twenty-three photographs of ‘Der Sturm’ really reveal a sampling of the urban history of Berlin in all its moments of local architecture, especially because the artist shows us not the prestigious architecture of the city’s most well-known buildings, but the everyday buildings, offices, ordinary houses or simple dwellings. A small ancient house with walls covered in ivy and a tree in the yard, a large façade with post baroque details, a popular construction in the modernist Bauhaus 1930’s style with its architectural entrance, an erstwhile town hall or Jewish commune featuring a gateway with four small lateral domes, a series of modern concrete facades, factories or office buildings typical of the last decades of the 20th century, and of course the above mentioned building of fifteen floors and its spectacular immensity.
Berlin, scene of the crime?
Furthermore, in the photos among the buildings of the German capital, we never see a single human being. Berlin, the capital of Germany is empty. In a famous analysis the philosopher Walter Benjamin commented on the apparent lack of humans in the photographic work of Eugène Atget in Paris around 1900 in districts threatened with extinction. We see the deserted streets of Paris and Benjamin describes them thus: “We rightly say that Eugène Atget photographed the streets in the way we photograph a crime scene, because the crime scene is also deserted. The objective of the photos is to offer up clues. In Atget’s work the photos start to become evidence for the judgement of history. This is the place where its political significance is found, its secrets…. And the photos leave the onlookers disturbed”. (1)
In Lucia Adverse’s work in the city of Berlin, which contains buildings, as in the film ‘Metropolis’, could this be a disturbing crime scene? Could the photographer be taking us into a trial of contemporary history in which the conditions of the great cities we live in put the evolution of nature at risk? The overall atmosphere of these twenty three photographs could convince us of this.
Fritz Lang said that he designed the scenes of the future along the lines of the skyscrapers he saw in New York in 1924, which struck him as “vertical sailing boats of sumptuous decoration suspended in a dark sky to dazzle, entertain and fascinate” – this somber sky that fascinates also appears in Lucia Adverse’s photos. In her turn she accentuates to the utmost these contrasts in her black and white, cutting in houses and buildings under the grades of black or grey sky, immersing us in an urban context in which even the photographing of daylight seems to have been done in the shadow of night. However, the photographer banishes the night, yet powerful lights illuminate the facades of buildings often scarred by the branches of naked trees displaying their winter skeletons, reproducing the American night effect (technically speaking) which extends along Berlin, as if the whole city was living under a permanent solar eclipse, as if the sun had lost its power of radiation and had become eternally black.
Lucia Adverse is certainly a fan of Film Noir. In her photographs, among the houses abandoned by their inhabitants, the bare trees and an almost extinct sun, the city of Berlin seems on the very edge of living through the darkest drama, perhaps even its own annihilation.
The Rediscovery of the Aura.
However, in the final analysis, it is not this that we will remember from the ‘Der Sturm’ series. Its luminous and disturbing weirdness emphasizes the impression that we are in front of a slightly unreal décor, where we retain harmony, power and extreme artistic beauty. With her expressionist aspect Lucia Adverse made designs with the utmost rigor and originates facades and blocks whose retreating lines are oblique, truncated in close-ups on the floors of the buildings, or a pyramid of high, translucent metal tubes, or long vertical takes, or two long lines of old cobblestones implanted into the asphalt, covered obliquely with the more recent scarring of pedestrians’ footprints, where the road disappears from our sight.
Just as she did in a prior series of photos of inspired curves in the architecture of Oscar Niemeyer, the great architect so much in evidence in Belo Horizonte, Lucia Adverse has pictorial models directly inspired by the abstract. This new series in the form of expressionist photos of Berlin show her great mastery of the spatial composition of image and places her talent among already famous contemporary photographers like Thomas Struth, Andreas Gursky and Jean-Marc Bustamente , who have evolved in their work an artistic concept in photography.
In the era of technical reproduction of photography, Walter Benjamin complained that the cost of an exhibition greatly exceeded its worth as far as erudition is concerned and led to the disappearance of the aura, which made each photo a unique object, especially when Man was absent. (1) Certainly Man is absent in the photographs of Lucia Adverse, but by capturing through architecture the spirit of the city of Berlin in the aesthetic aspect of the ‘Der Sturm’ series, she managed to deliver an intensely erudite worth.
In her expressionist, eclipsing black and white lights she fully restores, completely and in a vibrant manner, all her aura.
* Copyrights protected. The total or partial reproduction of this images is strictly prohibited. Photos copyright Lucia Adverse.