Grant Simon Rogers
Alles Liebe aus dem Baumhaus
Do you know the typography I have used in the title? It is called Futura and it leaps off the page for typographers as German and firmly from the 1920s. For me it is part of the remarkable design culture of this city that I now call home, Berlin. Following thirty-one in London, it is nice to look at different style of cultural identities, while remembering the typography of the street signs of the City of London were designed by a person who was, firstly a refugee and secondly a German national. Since moving to Berlin, I have been reminded of its design history almost daily. It is everywhere, on the shop signs, book covers and exhibition posters. Many of them advertising the centenary of The Bauhaus School. I have fallen for a fair number of cultural clichés myself - the concept of Berlin in the Roaring Twenties. What a different decade of The Twenties it has been in this century and it is only spring. I know Futura as much for its Englishness, used in the sumptuously beautiful films of Powell & Pressburger from the mid-20th century, as ubiquitous as Times Roman in 1940s British cinema. It is worth remembering that there was a German production designer on many of their films. These films with their “day for night” lighting technique continue to be a major influence on the way I make photographs. All of my photographs are daytime (daylight) pictures that are underexposed to appear dark, then lit with a flash that creates the theatricality of these highly dramatic views of urban flora. For the last few years, I have been concentrating on my visual art practice as a gallery photographer, firstly in London and now in my new home. My work is very simple, but I have practiced it now for over ten years to make it look so. I make pictures of flora in parks and the botanical gardens. I have included a few pictures as I believe they really do speak for themselves. I make 90% of my pictures in cities and love to work between colour and black & white.
My pictures are an observation of the changing seasons through our shared green spaces and parks in our homes cities. Ideas of “The New City” designed in the 19th century acknowledged the importance of green spaces for workers, and updated hunting and common grazing grounds, transformed former bomb sites as well as plague pits in London and Berlin by turning them into positive spaces for everyone to enjoy. These now highly curated natural environments still serve as a cultural time-out for those who would never consider going into a museum. I see these parks as a museum of flora and gardening, no less important than other publicly owned collections. They are important to the emotional health of a community.
My pictures are unashamedly beautiful, I look for it. This was scorned in my art school training, and rightly so. At that point I was being trained to drop what I already thought I knew, in order to experiment, to learn. After decades of learning I have settled into a desire to look for and share the beautiful. My rule is not to post-process my photographs, they are virtually straight out of the camera and I only make one or two of each subject. Otherwise, my computer could not cope with the digital litter that would silt up the hard drive. I have set myself a personal challenge: I do not use my pictures to collect memories. Every picture is an instant connection with the moment, the time, the season, the place, which can be relived through the emotional response elicited by the photographs. No viewer could ever know what I experienced in making them, so I have often played with the titles, trying to convey some of this wider storytelling. All of my experiences and what I have learned informs my creativity, as we are a sum of parts. My life of learning is in all of these pictures.
Like many visual artists, I had to have an income to support the ideas I had become accustomed to. For over 27 years, I was a lecturer for the National Gallery,The National Portrait Gallery and the Wallace Collection, in addition to being the Informal Learning Manager for the Imperial War Museums. I was a visiting lecturer for Central Saint Martins’ fashion journalism course (an extremely confusing but rewarding fit) and University College London. I am still a visiting lecturer for Christie’s Education in London. Since relocating to Berlin, I have taken on the minimum of teaching and have concentrated on my photography.
I am writing this in response to a question from Julie, “How are things in Berlin?”. The answer is: very strange. At the time of writing this, it is Day 26 of our lockdown. We are in our 3rd Floor apartment in the middle of Berlin, in a 3rd floor apartment surrounded by budding Linden trees, soon to be tree canopies. In a few weeks time, they will be in bloom and I know from past years that the scent is wonderful. My girlfriend Eva and I call it Our Baumhaus (Tree House). That name now stuck.
As for the isolation, I have to say with my hand on my heart, that I am really quite enjoying it. Of course, I would rather it was not something as life-changing as a global pandemic, but the isolation has sharpened my sense when it comes to deciding what is important. As a landscape photographer (of sorts), I can no longer make work. As a visual artist, I have returned to some of the other mediums I have previously worked with, mainly drawing and clay. Inevitably, the days fold from one to another with little variation other than what I can try to make. The drawings or clay figures are that diary entry for me. A memory of “that past present.” If you don’t do so yourself, I would recommend to give it a try. No one ever needs to see what it is you choose to make, if you feel shy about your ability. Maybe it is better if you don’t show them to anyone else, keep them secret. It’s nice to have secrets, something just for yourself. Whatever you do, it will help you in the present and then to recall the day-to -day when we have an opportunity to look back. “It felt like this…” Could it be that we are witnessing a renaissance of making and creating, as occasions for the usual consumption are cut short and shopping is not the experience it used to be?
Like many other artists, I have had an exhibition cancelled recently - Mise-en-Scenè at Atelier André Kirchner, Berlin. Actually the gallery had to close its doors, so the exhibition stopped. It is still up, but no one can visit. A breakthrough gallery for me, with a history of pushing forward new artists, it has a strong mailing list and wide critical support. I am writing “my exhibition,” when I share the walls with the talented German photographer, Markus Lehr, in a two person exhibition curated by the Hungarian artist curator Klára Némethy. So it is our exhibition, which is for me a lovely way of presenting work. We have not been able to revisit the gallery, but I know that someone has visited with a 3D imaging camera and recorded it for us. I will share it with you when I have access to their work. I’m not in a rush to do so as I am a little overwhelmed with the number of online exhibitions to visit at the moment.
Here in Germany Lockdown means Lockdown. It is not strictly policed, but observed using one’s own discretion for the most part. In Berlin, maybe a little less so. I have found that I am negotiating with myself, finding really good reasons that I absolutely must go out for this or that. But I never have. Some form of good sense has prevailed and I have always stayed put. We exercise at home and sit on our tiny balcony when it is warm enough. We are making time to listen to each other once again. I am not earning. I have had to reassess my ego and learn to be content to live off the generosity of another person. Logically, I can write that I have no problem with it but on the level that really matters, I have struggled. One unexpected thing to come out of this situation is that Berlin gives help to self-employed people and artists, which has lifted some weight off my shoulders. Mostly, I have had time to think. I have been forced to slow down. I have grown to the value of video calls. You can see the person - oh my, such a tonic! There is no substitute for that. I have family in the UK and try to stay in touch for my own moral as much as theirs. I know I am self-contained and self-sufficient because I don’t have to be. My heart goes out to all of you who are in this period of isolation on your own.
If you would like to find out more about my work you can always contact Julie at Darl-e and the Bear and contact me on Social Media. I am easy to find if you use my name.
Alles Liebe aus dem Baumhaus
Grant Simon Rogers
Berlin, April 2020