In today’s world of digital cameras and enhancing Instagram filters, it is easy to improve on reality, and cast a sheen of beauty on the most mundane subjects.
Such manipulation has no place in the repertoire of contemporary German photographer Ricarda Roggan. The Dresden native has dedicated her career to classical analogue photography.
Disciplined in its construction and meticulous in its lighting, her work has made her one of Germany’s most important photographic artists.
Now Kunstverein Hannover, an art gallery in the north central German city of Hanover, is hosting a retrospective of her work from the last 13 years entitled “Echo.” While the name suggests a look towards the past, the artist told Handelsblatt Global Edition that there is another meaning.
“It is a wonderful title, both open and poetic,” said Ms. Roggan. “Everything has its own echo, everything has its own reaction and counter-reaction.”
Many of her photos do indeed seem pregnant with the past, and demand a reaction in the present. Their silent attraction lies in how these everyday objects or spaces invite us to wonder what happened to them in their past lives.
In her “Attika” series, for example, she cleared out all the junk from an attic, leaving it empty save for the chinks of light falling through the roof tiles. It is a standard attic that would be familiar to most viewers. However, without any dust or bric-a-brac, we are free of the memories of others, and can project our own in their place.
“My work is not about communicating a direct message,” said Ms. Roggan. “In the broadest sense, everyone brings their own meaning to it.”
Her success as an artist – her photographs sell for between €4,800 and €16,000 ($6,100 to $20,000) – shows that her style of elevating the everday to the mysterious has broad appeal.
Ms. Roggan, born in 1972, studied under the German photographer Timm Rautert at the Leipzig Academy of Visual Arts before gaining a master’s degree in art at the Royal College of Arts in London.
As for how she finds inspiration, Ms. Roggan said that if she actively looks for it, she may not find it. But if she keeps her eyes open she can often spot something more interesting.
Her interest in the beauty and inner life of objects is explored in her latest series, “Apokryphen,” or apocrypha. She has taken objects such as an ashtray, a spoon and a glove, and has photographed them bared of distractions, producing an intimate, sober effect. The observer is left wondering how the spoon got its tiny dent, and who wore the glove before.
Ms. Roggan is a clearly a fan of flea markets, too.
“I didn’t know when to stop, and what I found there was so random,” she said. “Then I built stages and lit them all in the same way. They are like little actors – some say a lot, some say nothing.”
She then turned her attention to museum objects once owned by famous artists, such as Kurt Tucholsky, the German-Jewish writer, and Wilhelm Raabe, a novelist. We see, for example, philosopher Martin Heidegger’s pocket watch, something he may have used every day, perhaps even loved, but there is no way of telling. The same goes for Mr. Tucholsky’s pen.
“Although it perhaps has nothing to do with his work, there is a mark on the pen,” said Ms. Roggan. “Tucholsky lived as a human, and this is a human moment.”
Her “Garage” series of crashed cars is equally stark and human. There are no distractions, just wildly crumpled metal against a black background. There’s no sign of the perfection of car design, just traces of violence, scratches and gaping metal wounds. It elicits sympathy. They appear vulnerable and almost human rather than as just flawless machines.
Ms. Roggan said she does not have a favorite photo, but relishes rediscovering old ones 10 years later.
“It’s like meeting old friends, and saying, ‘How have you been? How have you aged? Are you well or have you suffered?’” she said. “Some, like the 2006 Attika photos, have gotten better with the years. Some are like stable friends, good but there’s nothing new to hear from them.”
The exhibition runs at the Kunstverein Hannover until January 4.
Jill Petzinger is an editor at Handelsblatt Global Edition in Berlin and has reported from Berlin and Shanghai on politics, culture and business. To contact the author: email@example.com