Review by Wayne Swanson •
What meaning could you find in a collection of picture postcards sent to one person? And what if you only looked at the pictures, not the messages on the back? And what if you then picked out only the ones with a certain orientation? What could such an arbitrary approach possibly tell you?
Photographer Lukas Felzmann finds meaning using a particularly oblique method in Apophenia. The title is a psychological term describing the human tendency to perceive meaningful connections between unrelated or random things. In this case, Felzmann uses imagery to construct connections between postcards that were sent to his father and his own photographs.
When Felzmann’s father died, he left behind a large archive of correspondence, all sorted chronologically and stored in cardboard boxes. Included were all the picture postcards he had ever received. Felzmann further sorted those postcards, choosing the ones with vertical images. Then he went through his own archive of photographs, pulling out vertical ones. “Soon,” he writes, “the two archives were talking to each other in my studio.”
The result is a free-association collection of appropriated and personal imagery. Felzmann juxtaposes these disparate bodies of work, creating relationships where there would not appear to be any. Randomly mixed, the postcards and Felzmann’s photos play off each other in ways that are sometimes obvious and sometimes subtle.
Some images directly relate to the one placed before or after them. Two postcards — one a 1870 painting of a young girl and the other showing swans by a pond — gracefully match Felzmann’s photo of a young girl on a playground teeter-totter. The curly beard of a doctor in a 1529 painting playfully mimics Felzmann’s photo of a young boy spraying water from a garden hose under his chin. A 1613 painting of a woman holding a severed head somehow matches his photo of a hole in a wall.
Throughout, he uses elements such as shapes, colors, gestures, and composition to make connections. As you randomly page through the book, you find images echoing forward and back, creating an extended conversation.
Felzmann gives it structure by linking the vertical orientation of the images (and the book) to the concept of zenith to nadir — he opens the book with images looking upward, and ends it looking down. In between, the images are organized by categories, such as animals and people, flowers, red-blue-yellow, and heads and monuments.
It’s a fascinating exercise in creating relationships from unrelated source material. But the result doesn’t have much to do with the personal relationship between Felzmann and his father. Felzmann links his family to his father by using images of family members to respond to postcards. But mainly the postcards are a conceit to play with visual issues. Chance and method are common themes in Felzmann’s work, and here he lets them run wild.
Of course, there can be no rational connections between postcards that Felzmann had never seen before and photos that his dad probably never saw. That’s where apophenia comes in. The connections are all in our head.
Previous Lukas Felzmann photobooks reviewed on PhotoBook Journal: Gull Juju, Swarm, and Waters in Between.
Apophenia, Lukas Felzmann
Photographer: Lukas Felzmann, born Zurich, Switzerland, resides San Francisco, CA
Publishers: Koenig Books, London, England, copyright 2018 (Trade Edition), Codax Publishers, Zürich (Special Edition)
Essays: Lukas Felzmann, Peter Pfrunder
Text: English, German
Hardcover book, sewn binding, four-color lithography, 192 pages, 9.5 x 13 inches, printed in Switzerland
Photobook designer: Markus Bosshard
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