Review by Gerhard Clausing •
Traditional family photo albums and internet visuals of families are commonplace, often full of clichés and mostly of use only to those appearing in the photographs and possibly their closest relatives and friends. On the other hand, to see family members and friends professionally observed in formal portraits, with full collaboration and over a period of 30 years, takes it to quite a different level.
Andreas Mader has succeeded in providing a meaningful viewing experience as we share his family and friends in this photobook. Not only did Mader have intimate access to the participants, he includes himself in the depictions as well. This photobook manages to generate a special sense of participation for the viewer, as we get to partake of the succession of generations.
How does the outside viewer gain access to the people shown in such a project?
First of all, the folks in the portraits must be able to reach you. You have to get a sense of openness, a willingness to give of themselves, to share a part of their life with you. The individuals need to come alive for the viewer. Mader’s portraits certainly excel in this regard.
Secondly, the viewer needs to get a sense of the intent of the photographer, a feeling of good will (Ger. Wohlwollen), as well as a sense of joyful participation on the part of the participating subjects. They also need to feel comfortable as they are shown on their home turf. Check!
Most importantly, the images need to project a sense of purpose that goes beyond the individual portrait. This project really shines in this regard. We watch the same individuals grow up and grow older, and we get nostalgic about the passage of time, the theme that holds it all together. This is where melancholy can get to us: we are reminded of the transience of our existence, and we sense the interconnectedness of it all.
You can search for various individuals and family groups at different points in time throughout the book as you recognize them, or use the index of first names in the back, which also includes the year each image was taken; this helps you create a whole out of the parts. Below I have juxtaposed a few relevant pages from various parts of the book to give you an idea. Images 1, 2, and 3 show Herveva with her parents at three stages of her life. 4, 5, and 6 are images that include Eva, the mother, in 1991, 1993, and 2016. 7 and 8 show Benno and daughter Pia in 1997 and 2016. Image 9 allows us to compare the difference two years make in the lives of Pia and her mother Bettina. Well, these are only a few examples, but you get the idea about what holds this book together and makes it special.
The play Our Town by Thornton Wilder comes to mind, except that in Mader’s project the viewer’s imagination is involved in wondering what makes these families tick, what their lives are about. Just as in a play, we are also able to draw parallels to our own lives as we study the work. A lyrical text by Klaus Merz provides additional food for thought regarding the succession of generations. This book makes us witnesses to the passage of time in a microcosm that transcends itself to become universally applicable. Viewing it is a most enjoyable experience!
I should also add that this project, like so many others, benefited from the input of Hannes Wanderer, a unique creative force in the photobook world; we still miss him and will always remember his astute and friendly expertise and dedication.
This photobook is an outstanding example of how visualizing the personal realm can be elevated to a level of professional fine-art brilliance.
Andreas Mader – Days, Life / Die Tage Das Leben 1988-2018
Photographer: Andreas Mader (born in Bamberg, Germany; lives in Winterthur, Switzerland)
Publisher: Fotohof Editions, Salzburg, Austria; © 2019
Texts: Poem by Klaus Merz
Language: German and English
Hardback, illustrated cover, sewn binding; 208 pages, paginated, with 100 images, an index of people and years photographed; 21.5 x 26 cm (8.5 x 10.25 inches); printed in Germany by Wanderer
Photobook Designer: Kai-Olaf Hesse