Review: Broken Line by Olaf Otto Becker


Book Reviews, Photobooks

Why would someone load an 8x10 camera - a heavy and cumbersome piece of photographic equipment - into a small, inflatable craft and them move up the coast of Greenland to take photographs? There are probably many reasons for such an endeavour, and it would seem that picking just a single one would miss too many other important aspects. In that sense, treating Broken Line by Olaf Otto Becker as merely a book of landscapes, would be too one-dimensional.

Of course, Broken Line mostly shows landscapes, many - if not most - of them utterly unfamiliar to us. It is a barren world, with icebergs floating by, rugged cliffs, and glaciers; an uninviting world mostly hostile to life - and we get a glimpse of that, too, via views of houses. But it also is a world which offers the most beautiful light for a photographer, which results in the presence of an infinite number of subtle colours.

It is a rapidly changing world. Scientific consensus - only denied by the usual entrenched interests and by politicians and scientists bought off by those very interests - points towards a rapid melting of the Greenland ice via global warming (which creates what is called a feedback loop: the disappearing ice will reflect back less and less sunlight, only to thus increase the amount of energy available to heat up the atmosphere and to melt even more ice), a process that ultimately will lead to a transformation of not just Greenland, but also of places as different as Bangladesh and Boston: The melting ice will make the sea level rise.

This points to Broken Line as a historical record. In fifty years, the landscapes of Greenland will be quite different from what it looks like today. And Broken Line gives us a way to track the changes, since each photo in its title contains the exact coordinates of the location.

And then on top of all of this, Broken Line also shows the artistic vision of the photographer, whose eye for the sublime has produced some of the most intensely beautiful landscapes I have seen in a long time, all the while avoiding the trap of reducing to place to National-Geographic style kitsch. The quiet beauty of the photography in Broken Line invites us to come back to it.

Taken all this together, what else could one ask for from a photography book?