Review: Recollection by Walter Niedermayr


Book Reviews, Photobooks


What do we know about Iran? Not much probably, apart from those stories about the current president and the country’s quest for nuclear weapons. How many people know that the country’s history dates back thousands of years? How many people know what the country really looks like? I’ll be honest, I know a little bit about the history, but I know more or less nothing else. Thankfully, there now is Recollection by Walter Niedermayr. (more)

Maybe a good way to broaden one’s horizon about Iran is to simply look first. We can’t expect to develop much of an understanding from just looking, of course. But we can hope to get a better idea of what we are actually dealing with. Once you dive into Recollection you will understand what I mean.

Niedermayr’s photography usually relies on diptychs, triptychs, quattrotychs (it that a/the word?) of photographs, which all use what one could call his signature style. The images look “washed out,” so the skies typically are white or very light blue. Many of the individual panels are very panoramic, so the combined images tend to be vast and wide. In Recollection, this results in a large number of fold-out pages, probably the only way to show some of the work.

Not all the images in the book are huge panoramas, though, there are quite a few smaller scenes, pairs of images that get a little closer, the closest one being the backs of a group of women’s heads. This variety helps make the work more accessible - the photographs don’t end up overwhelming the viewer because of the vastness of the scenes.

The imagery in Recollection covers a wide range of scenes, ranging from little playgrounds to vistas of newly built apartment buildings to public recreational areas to city views to vistas of old mosques and/or temples. I wager that most people’s ideas of what Iran looks like will easily be shattered by seeing this wide variety of imagery. What is more, the country’s incredibly rich cultural heritage clearly shines through.

As I noted above, just seeing images will hardly produce deeper insight. But it will at least hint at the vast gaps in our knowledge of a country that currently exists in our minds as some sort of absurd cartoon. For those who want to learn a little more, the book’s essay by Amir Hassan Cheheltan about Teheran offers a first, good starting point.

Lastly, I need to add that Recollection is a beautifully produced book. It has just the right size to allow viewing of the fold-out pages, without coming across as gratuitously large. Its design is very elegant, which very nicely complements the photography. A beautiful book that hopefully will find its way onto many book shelves.

Recollection, photography by Walter Niedermayr, essays by Amir Hassan Cheheltan and Lars Mextorf, 144 pages (many of them fold out), Hatje Cantz, 2011