Alexander Laurenzo


The paintings of my grandfather, Paul Brachetti, with whom I grew up, surrounded me and gave me my first visual memories. I spent many afternoons in his atelier in Schwabing, the artists district of Munich, long before I started to go to school. There was a huge window on the studio's northside, under a roof of old wooden beams, and in winter the sound of crackling firewood from the burning stove filled the room.

This was about ten years after the end of second world war and parts of the city were still in ruins, and many men could be seen in the streets with only one leg, arm or eye. But breathing the scent of the oilcolours, the terpentine, and the varnish, filled me with a particular happiness, every time I stepped into the atelier of my grandfather. He died when I was fifteen.

About that time the art-teacher of my highschool offered an introduction to black and white photography. This was my first step into the red light district of the darkroom, with its alchemical magic of mixing agents, used for developing and printing.

There was a group of friends of mine at that time, who all took photographs and wrote poems. During long nights we discussed and interpreted our work, read books on french existentialism, listened to Jazzmusic and consumed lots of cheap red wine.

Many times we traveled together to France, to Provence and to Paris, where, in the Quartier Latin, we felt close to our idols: Camus – Cartier Bresson – Cioran – Sartre – Doisneau – Celan and many others. This was in the early seventies.

After school I started to study Philosophy at the University of Munich, but I also continued taking photographs. One day, to my surprise, I saw one of my pictures on the cover of a photo-art-magazine. Inside I found several pages with photographs I had taken and thoughts on photography I had written down. I must have left the material in the hands of some editor, probably at a fine art congress, way back, and had forgotten about it. So this was my first published work.
Once I had finished my philosophy-studies and acadmic life came to an end, I felt the need to learn a profession that would be challenging to my hands, eyes and creativity, and that is when I decided to become a photographer.

Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara, California, was at that time considered one of the better schools as far as the technique of photography was concerned. Students came from all over the world. This was in the early eighties and we, the protegé photographers, hit the Californian cities and the countryside, schlepping around our large format cameras, taking pictures endlessly, sometimes continuing deep into the night to capture even the moving stars as they crossed the sky.

With a couple of friends I got in touch with Ansel Adam's group „f:64“, where we were introduced to the subtleties of the Zone-System, mixing developers and fixing-agents according to the recepies of Adams, Edward Weston, Minor White and others.

Finishing school two jears later, I headed for New York City, where I was lucky enough to get a job as a studio manager with the warmhearted, witty and brilliant photographer Carl Fischer, all through 1985.
It was the year, Keith Haring started to draw figures on subway trains (sometimes
getting arrested for it) – we met Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, André Kertész, Andy Warhol, Duane Michaels and others. Manhattan was just fascinating, and it made my decision to return to Europe a really hard one.
Fortunately we never get to know, whether our choices are right or wrong. Things proceed as they are, and every left behind alternative, is only hypothetical.

The following year, together with a good friend and fellow photographer, Dominique Laugé, I opened a studio for commercial photography in Milan. For a decade I photographed marmelades and models, cars and cans, books and bracelets for advertisement – but contemporaniously, in my real life, I started to look for the essence of photographic pictures. My photographs became relatively simple. I did not care much about what I photographed – but about the shadow, and about the quality of light. Long lost memories came to the surface and I could not say whether they were mine or mankind's … fragments of philosophies where thinkers had contemplated light, far away, and long before photography.

„Tenebrae erant super faciem abyssi. Dixitque deus: Fiat Lux. Et facta est Lux.
Et divist Lucem a Tenebris.“

The first lines of the old testament are one of the earliest reflections about light and darkness. But also in the worship of the Egyptian Sun God „Ra", which reaches its most beautiful expression in Echnaton's „Chant to the Sun“ , we can follow this white thread of light through the ancient cultures – the temples of the Aztecs – Stonehenge – all ceremonial architectures, precisely positioned in relation to the rays of the sun.

In the classical age it will be Platon, talking about light and shade and perception, not only in his famous allegory of the cage, anticipating the laterna magica. In „Timaios“ there is a passage where he connects the visual sense with the beginning of philosophical thinking: „To my understanding, the faculty of seeing has a fundamental importance. Our reflections on the world as a whole might not ever have begun, if we had not seen the sun, nor the stars, nor the sky. Observing the changing of day and night, the passing of months and seasons and years, has enabled the creation of numbers, and our sense of time as well as given rise to investigations on the nature of the universe, through which we have reached the core of philosophy.“

At the beginning of the Middle Ages it was the neoplatonic thinker Pseudo Dyonisus Areopagita (around 500 A.D.), picking up on the theme of the light in his writings:
„De divinis nominibus“ and „De caelesti hierarchia“, who began a conceptualisation of metaphysics, that can be followed all through the Middle Ages. There he tried to combine pagan and christian ideas: The sun is the symbol of God. The light is spirit transcending itself. According to Dyonisos, divine light is permeating everything, is multiplying and manifesting itself within the infinite variety of all beings.

But light itself is hidden, invisible, until it falls on an object, a being reflecting it. Remarcable, how this metaphysic concept corresponds with physical reality: Let's immagine a dark room. One narrow beam of sunlight comes in from somewhere. But we can see it only on some dustparticles in the air or when it hits the floor.

Other philosophers of the Middle Ages will adopt the ideas of the Areopagita. The most influential among them is probably Johannes Scotus Eriugena (810-880 ca.). His thoughts about the nature of seeing are quite particular: rays, emitted from the brain, travel through the eyes and kind of embrace the objects we see. In doing this they are transformed and, thus enriched with information, turn back, through the eyes to our brain – all this with incredible speed. Light is catalizing and enhancing this process.

However – the first explicit treaty on the metaphysics of light will be elaborated in the 13th century by Robert Grosseteste, Bishop of Lincoln, and will carry the title „De Luce“. He sustains that all the universe is flooded with light. The visible proportions of the world correspond to a mathematical order through which light is materializing and diversifying itself, according to the resistance of the matter on which it falls. Beauty is the harmony of the proportions made visible by the all pervading light.

Making a large step in this trip through time I would like to mention a few lines I remember from Camus' „Myth of Sisyphos“. In this work Camus talks about the sensual luminosity of absurd thinking: „The absurd thinker is no longer looking for explanations and solutions. Everything starts with a most sharpeyed indifference“. Translated into the realm of technics – could there be a better description of the photographic camera?

Back in the early nineties:
In photographic pictures I was still searching for that essential quality of the subject, that cannot be seen in a first glance. Besides the light, it is the materiality, the sensuality of the object revealing itself to the observing eye.

It is in this time I encounter someone who seems to know more about my work than I do myself: Jean-Claude Lamagny. He is considered one of the profoundest connaisseures and critics of photographic art. I meet this gentle man with thick eyeglasses in Paris – the Bibliothèque Nationale. His studio is, like the interior of a tower, of small diameter, but with very high walls, which are covered completely with bookshelves. Stacks of papers, magazines and prints are on every horizontal surface. For a long time he looks at some of my prints, before he begins to develop his associations:
It is as if, with my pictures, I would dig into an earthbound and sensual darkness. Like in a dream where immagination remains connected to bodies and things. Some of the photographs show places that allow him to percieve the energy of a presence, not visible yet, as if objects are about to become alive any moment, but not clearly defined – rather as if seen for the first time.

Lemagny then suggests to read a philosopher who is, as he puts it, writing in the way I take photographs: Gaston Bachelard. And in fact – reading his books: L'Eau et les Rêves, L'Air et les Songes, La Terre et les Rêveries de la Volonté, was like meeting a language never heared before but at the same time profoundly familiar and comprehensible.

In more than one sense this was the time of coming home.

1997 I returned to Munich, where I founded my family.

Then, instead of continuing in advertising, I started to work for cultural institutions like museums and publishing houses. Digital tecniques replaced the craftsmanship of analog photography. Sometimes I enjoy the idea that, photography, having a relativly short history, gave some of us the oportunity to follow its development from the beginning to the present – every one in his own way.

When I was a young man, photography was my access to life, but in the same time it was a translation, a protective shield I could place between the immediate and myself. It helped me to keep distance and it helped me to carefully aproach the secrets of the world. By now both functions have lost their importance.

I am very thankful to every one who opened my eyes, beginning with my grandfather, and to life itself with all it's paths and with all the deveations it has made me follow.

Alexander Laurenzo
May 2009