Tag Archives: history

Vampire Mythology and the Photographic Process

Recently I have started to teach as Visiting Lecturer at the Photography course of the Royal College of Art in London.

As a result my thinking swerved ever so often around the fundamentals of the phenomenon of the photograph. It’s history, processes and general involvement in the human condition. In broad strokes I tried to explain to myself what a photograph actually is?!

Here now I want to follow one train of thought about its past. It came to me, while thinking about the photograph as coming into existence only in darkness, on the dark side of a two-way hole. In the photographic process the image of something in the world is projected up side down into a small dark chamber. In one of its earliest forms on a glassplane covered with light sensitiv silver salts . It’s a delicate matter to create a photograph as it is destroyed to blackness when exposed to long to the violent bombardment of photons send out by our nearest star.

The earliest photographs are taken by Niepce and later by Daguerre and Fox-Talbot. Curiously the period of swift inventions of different photographic processes falls in exactly the same period as the popularisation of vampire stories in Europe . The first one being “The vampyre” by the physician John William Polidori in 1819. The vampire in his story is a middle aged count that seduces young women to then drink their blood , which helps him to prolong his undead existence. No photographic processes are showing up in the story, but this can’t be surprising, because the first photograph will be taken only 1827 by Niepce and then 1835 in much better detail by Daguerre. Only after the invention of the photograph certain characteristics seem to infuse the vampire mythology.

The processes I have in mind are the extreme sensitivity to light by both : The photographic film and the Vampire. If any of them is exposed to light too long, they are destroyed. Another aspect concerns the appearance. The ghost character of the photograph: showing in effect the imprint of something that has been and is no longer. In its own way it is undead. On the more material side, silver plays a role in both contexts . In vampire stories as poisonous to the creature , in photography as the element that is crucial for creating a light sensitive substance out of its salts.

The upside down character of the photographic image , projected onto the back of the camera box correlates with the upside-down as a signifier for evil . Language and symbols upside down or backwards have been used to signify evil. The vampire incorporates the upside down character in its animal form in some of the mythology :The bat. In Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” he descends a wall of a castle head down like a lizard.

The hole and the act of piercing a hole is a central part of the vampire narrative and at the same time the hole is crucial for the process of photography. The vampire leaves small holes in its victims, who it empties out. In effect it creates Camera Obscuras made of hollow bodies.

Some of the inter relations might seem far fetched, but in its accumulation and in respect to the similar historic timeline I suspect a cultural cross fertilisation from the knowledge about photographic processes into the mythology of the vampire story. The open source character of Daguerres method created a surge in interest and involvement in making photographs. It rose into the public mind. The French Gouvernement had asked Daguerre and Isodore Niepce to publish all their findings without patent in return for a state pension. They took up the offer and many interested citizen started to reproduce the process Daguerre had developed.

At the same time in 1835 the first modern mirrors were invented by Julius von Liebig . He had found a way to apply a thin layer of silver to a glass plane. When turning the plane around a highly reflective surface had formed. The first photographs with their layers of silver iodide were very closely related to mirrors.

As it’s well known the Mirror also found its way into the Vampire myths.

The Vampire Mythology was and is arguably so successful as it allows reinvention and development of new aspects. So it’s not surprising that in its beginnings it had been infused by the very popular semi magical processes of the just invented medium of photography.

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What is an engine?

“The engine” watercolour on paper , 2018

Toughts on Modernity and Repetition

Modernity started with tools that created the possibility of precise repetition of movement and then of production of objects. Modernity is based on precise repetition of movement. All engines, all industry, all production. Saying this; Understanding this as an artist I am not interested in precise repetition. I am bored by precise repetition. I detest precise repetition and therefore in a sense I am an enemy of Modernity and an enemy of the processes of technology. Precise repetition is a form of controlling future. A predicted movement happens with high probability. All engines are based on predicting the future. An engine is a machine that predicts and controls its own future. A machine that doesn’t behave in a predicted way is cause for anxiety. My father has difficulty to create a controllable future for himself. He is in this respect an opposite of an engine and I love this about him………………………………………………………… #writing #thinking #modernity #engines #drawing #ideas #predictingfuture #repetition #movement #history #world #industry #philosophy #stateofmind #artprocess #humanity #artist #art #contemporaryart

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Life

It has been a very windy day today and the streets were covered with seed pods. I picked up one of the pods and opened it. I was amazed about the tiny embryo I found. It is strange how similar all beings seem at their beginning. It felt breathtakingly odd, like a surgical operation and made me appreciate how deeply all life on our planet is connected. How life is truly one large organism.

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Some thoughts on vases and cups

A short article on the important role cups and vases played in human culture, technology, economy and understanding.

A cup is an universal object. Something ancient with qualities to be found in almost every living thing. As a form it resembles the cell. The body. It’s opening is facing up to the sky . Always. Often when filled with fluids it mirrors images of the sky.

The size of a cup is related to the hand. When held together two hands can hold almost the same amount of fluid.

Bottles have a mouth . Drinking is like kissing. As kissing is a form of ritualised feeding through the mothers mouth. Their is a sexual aspect to touching something with your lips. In history cups and grails took on functions in rituals.

They combine three important aspects of life : they hold food or water, they face up to the sun , the light , they create order through membranes and resist entropy.

Cups and time

When cups came into existence time began for humans . A cup proposes a standard , a measure. The world becomes measurable. A cup connects visually time with space. It hands time to people away from the sky where it had been for millennia. Only the Sun and the Moon made time visible before. Now pouring out a cup is a measure for time, that works independently of the sky.

The cup as aggressive metaphor

In recent times the dominant economic structure has been the consumer society economy. Here the cup has become the metaphor that is applied on to everything. This happens on the background of trying to make everything measurable, consumable and therefore tradable. The qualities of the cup/vase have become an aggressive doctrine.

Human culture, technology and civilisation would be impossible without the existence of cups or vases, but we have to be careful not to fall under the dictatorship of the cup.

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The fairytale of our hands, eyes, ears and toes

We are dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants. Their faces have many eyes and their thoughts  smell of memories. Since 1855 they double in size every ten years. Their eyes shine like computer screens and their hair has grown into the furthest corners of our planet. They breath in our thoughts but don’t seem to breath out . Like infinite balloons. We are pregnant with their babies and provide their skin. At the end they swallow us  and the only thing that is left is a hole and a shadow. The giants aren’t solid or fluid. They become less and less mortal with every year. They are made out of humans and born out of limbs but aren’t human themselves. For our sake they aren’t self aware yet. They run faster than evolution. That’s why they don’t make us good.

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“Zorba the Greek”

Zorba shows Basil his scars

Recently I watched again the film “Zorba the Greek” . It brought a thought to the surface that had been popping up again and again :

Our world ,the Middle European and Middle American, is mainly ruled by a generation of politicians ,economists, businessmen and lawyers which have been born after the last world war. Their policies and decisions can’t be ruled by an existential experience of war . (and so can’t mine)

The decision of the UK government to start a war with Iraq is an example. As I recall reading in the independent the head of the army warned Tony Blair of the consequences of beginning a war.

But war had openly become a tool of politics again. It had been secretly and under limited circumstances for years ,but never as openly. Which indicates, that also societies existential feelings towards the topic have drifted. Although the protest against the Iraq War was larger in numbers than the protest against the Vietnam War its drive wasn’t as consequential. It was just further away from the last existentially experienced war and therefor had much less effect.

The widow cries before she sleeps with Basil

The widow and Basil

The film ” Zorba the Greek” comes from a another time. It seems to be woven out of a substantially different fabric altogether. It appears ancient brutal. Humans are faced with a cruel tribal society, a resisting nature and all the basic factors that limit human life. Michael Cacoyannis the director of the film had been in the war and so the members of the cast. Something swings beneath its images and words that is harder and sadder and more alive than in films made today in Europe. Its a feeling I have and I probably do a lot of very good films of today great injustice, but I just haven’t felt this undercurrent anywhere made in our time. It doesn’t seem possible. Visibly “Zora the Greek” is not a war film ,but the material its made from : its actors, its words, its images are soaked with war.

Madame Hortense on her deathbed

The main characters in the film must watch the women they love die, powerless, without being able to stop it. They are failing and stripped down to the bone. Still they celebrate whats left. They dance together. The important thing is love and its celebration and protection. This view which Zorba personifies springs out of a life where he had fought ,killed and raped. Out of the experiences of war.

A villager cuts the throat of the widow

I am not the best advocate for my observation, as I have never experienced war. It is a detached observation. But in the way the film ” Zorba the Greek” disturbs me and stands in front of me like an ancient animal points to this gap in my life experience. The film is hard , direct and beautiful. There is no metaphors in it . It is what it is.

Zorba and Basil dance together

Markus Vater

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