Our houses (Unsere Häuser / Le nostre case)
A wetplate project for the 16th Werkstattwoche Lüben
Würde (Dignity) in Our Houses project
‘Our Houses’ is the title I decided to give to the project I carried out during my residence at the 16th Internationale Werkstattwoche of Lueben, Germany. This is why.
‘Würde’ (Dignity) is the motto that was given to all artist attending the 16th Internationale Werkstattwoche of Lueben. That motto should bound all the works produced during the art symposium. So my work as well.
How can I implement Dignity in my wetplate works in Lüben? that was my question, which has found an answer in the magnificence of the little village itself. Here comes the explanation.
The village of Lüben
Lüben is a very small village in the north of Germany, surrounded by crop fields for tens and tens of kilometers. It roots in the very ancient past, being settled more that a thousand years ago.
Close to the former Soviet block border, counts thirty one houses in total, for roughly hundred inhabitants. Most of them are dedicated to farming, from cow breeding to crops. Other work outside, in the nearby surroundings, as well as more far away, in companies or local businesses.
The village has its main and only social core in the Lübener Tenne, the local inn, which attracts people from all over the neighbourhood.
So, a very small village in the middle of nowhere and with few points of attraction. Why one should care of such a village?
The arrival in Lüben
In spite of my crude introduction, the arrival to Lüben is one of the most beautiful experiences you can have. I remember my first time here, six years ago. I loved the long and winding road to the village, bounded with birch trees, clean and smooth, in the middle of corn fields. Then the main road, that cuts the village in two sides, along which two rows of beautiful houses, from old style to more recent one, embrace you until the end point to the main ‘square’. This is the center of the village, where the most antique buildings are displaced around a star of paths that yield to several old farms.
Such a view recalls the visitor that Lüben is not a modern village. It has a history. A history that its inhabitants are proud to keep and show.
From the very first house at the entrance of the town, until the very last one built few years ago, the house number 31st, Lüben is a jewel of a town. Kept as no other, show as people here take care of their own properties as well as of their common good.
From facades, to court gardens, from walk paths to country roads that run away to the fields, everywhere I can breath Dignity of living. Lüben, its houses and its people are the Dignity I was looking for.
So here comes my project For the 16th Werkstattwoche of Lueben.
‘Our Houses’, a wetplate project for Lüben
I decided to take a family portrait in front of each respective house. The family, that can be from one single person to an extended family with kids, should be dressed like Sunday, or even better, at one’s choice. The beauty of the gowns should reflect the beauty of the houses.
Our Houses is the title of the work, and each plate will be titled with the German words ‘Haus N. XX’ (House No. XX). In order to maintain a certain privacy for the families, I started titling my plates with the pretty anonymous title ‘Haus’ (House) followed by the simple street number of the house in town. You know who you are, others shouldn’t bother that much more.
The picture should look like a staged pose. I don’t want to take a fake snapshot of a daily moment. There is no daily moment here. There is the family, well dressed like for an important moment, and the house they are so proud of.
Both the house and the dressed family should show the beauty of their village. This set up should express the dignity of belonging to Lüben. Family and house, both at their best.
The wetplate collodion process
All photos are intended to be taken with the old technique of the wetplate. The village has already seen me at work, arriving with my portable darkroom and setting up the one-century old wood-camera on the heavy tripod, the chemistry and the trays around, getting ready for the family to show up in their beautiful gowns. The plates come out at once from the portable darkroom. They are visible right away.
See what Andrea Griess, art curator, has written about the 16th Internationale Werkstattwoche 2023 and about my work at this link.
The collodion process gives a sort of allure to the images. The imperfections I’m looking for in my plates should counterbalance the perfection of the staged pose. The final result will be an aluminum plate reproducing the portrait of a family in front of its house with a photo technique that makes the picture looking like antique, hand-crafted. A work of art.
Dignity, the family portraits, Our Houses and the collodion wetplates
Dignity is given by the families of Lüben and by their houses. Me, by my side, I will try to capture that dignity with my collodion art, full of imperfections. I will try to do it at my best possible level and even beyond. That’s my dignity. To do my best is my commitment. Even if that best is contaminated by chemical stains and flaws. Those flaws are in my opinion necessary to keep the final picture alive.
The picture should then be floating in a kind-of state of never-ending journey, aimed to a higher state of dignity, which should always be a possible target to pursuit, for the human beings we are on this Earth.
A work in progress
So far, July 2023, eight houses have been pictured, during the 16th Werkstattwoche Lüben. Every picture takes time to be completed. From taking an appointment with the family, to the necessity of a time of day when the light shines at best on the facade of the house. Last but not least the slowness of the wetplate collodion process itself.
All these necessary steps make every picture a real challenge to complete. Wetplate is a slow process, it demands for time. Nevertheless such a time is paid back, with a fascinating aluminum plate with a silver image that recalls past centuries, when photography was at its beginning.
Our Houses, an event for Lüben
This project should possibly become an event for Lüben, extending the shooting phase to an exhibition of the plates and then to a book for to celebrate this moment in the history of the village.