Review: Wald by Michael Lange


Book Reviews, Photobooks




“The woods,” Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm wrote, “stand for a place where human custom and civilization have not yet found an abode.” This is not from the folk/fairy tales they collected, but from the muss less well-known German dictionary they compiled. It’s not hard to see the amount of mystery, if not outright myth, that is being projected onto (or maybe into) the woods, the Wald. Germans have long had a long and deep fascination for the forest. Thus it would only seem natural (Germans might prefer the word “logical”) that a photographer would venture to photograph in the woods. As you can easily guess from the title, this is what you get in Michael Lange’s Wald. (more)

Just like any primordial (or seemingly primordial) environment, the forest combines the sublime with the terrifying. Visiting it, being subjected to it, entering it makes you realize that you just went to a place at the edge of the world as you know it, and any wrong step will take you away. You don’t fully understand what that “away” might be, but you sense that it would probably not just end your life, it would annihilate you, it would swallow you whole, leaving absolutely nothing behind - not a sound, no bones, no remnants of clothes, just absolutely nothing. This feeling is as exhilarating as it is absolutely terrifying: You’d leave this world without a trace.

How do you photograph this? How can you photograph this? You don’t. You can’t. All you can hope for, I think, is to point your camera into some direction, make good pictures, and then hope for the best. Hope that people will find a bit of that excitement and terror when looking at the photographs. Which is, mind you, a pretty tough task. Lange has done this very well. Wald, while occasionally bordering on the decorative, contains a large number of impressive photographs, photographs that for the most part contain a feeling - and not just all those trees, photographs that thus convey that feeling. Here it is, the sublimely terrifying.

Wald, photographs by Michael Lange, essay by Christoph Schaden, poem by Wolfgang Denkel, 80 pages, Hatje Cantz, 2012