Archive for December 10th, 2017

10
Dec
17

Book review: ‘Walter Mittelholzer Revisited’ from the photo archive of Walter Mittelholzer. Scheidegger & Spiess publishers (2017)

December 2017

 

Scheidegger & Spiess (publisher) 'Walter Mittelholzer Revisited' from the photo archive of Walter Mittelholzer (front cover) 2017

 

Scheidegger & Spiess (publisher)
Walter Mittelholzer Revisited from the photo archive of Walter Mittelholzer (front cover)
Edited by Michael Gasser and Nicole Graf
1st edition, 2017
Pictorial Worlds: Photographs from the image Archive, ETH-Bibliothek Volume 6
Text English and German
Hardback
192 pages, 47 colour and 158 b/w illustrations
20 x 26 cm
ISBN 978-3-85881-543-9

 

 

Do you have a new book fetish? I know I do!

I just love the feel of a brand new, unopened book. The density and quality of the boards, the dynamics of the graphics on the cover… and then, opening the book for the first time, the thickness of the paper, the typography and layout, and the quality of the photographic printing. But above all, it is the smell of a new book that is so intoxicating. I like nothing better than to stick my nose into a new book and savor the smell.

Every new book is different. Each has their own unique aroma, which is caused by a number of chemical reactions used when they are manufactured. “The smell of new books can be attributed to three factors: the paper itself (it smells good because of the chemicals used to manufacture it), the ink used to print the book, and the adhesives used in the process of book-binding.” Which brings me to the book under review today, Walter Mittelholzer Revisited from the photo archive of Walter Mittelholzer, published by Scheidegger & Spiess (2017).

This just under A4 sized hardback book is handsomely produced by Scheidegger & Spiess, No. 6 in the Pictorial Worlds: Photographs from the image Archive, ETH-Bibliothek series. It feels good and solid in the hand. The 23cm thick book has a plain white cover with minimal text. Inset into an embossed area of the cover is a photographic print of Mittelholzer’s Flugplatz in Addis Abeba [Airfield in Addis Ababa] c. 1934. This is an elegant opening statement (see above).

Thick boards lead to plain, light grey endpapers, and on to the pages of the book themselves: excellent quality paper with a slightly textured surface with eminently readable typography. The Editors Foreword and Introduction (with bibliography), printed in both German and English, takes up the first 47 pages of the 192 page book. Images on these pages are rather small and are inset into the text with titles underneath; footnotes are at the bottom of each page.

As for the images themselves, the are well printed within the body of the book, mainly four horizontal images per page with vertical images one to a page. Colour saturation and reproduction is excellent with the images moving from cool, blue tones to warmer yellows and browns. Contrary to what the name suggests, black and white photography is never truly black and white and there are many variations of colour in black and white prints including split toning (a mixture of cool and warm tones together). The printing in this book perfectly captures the colour tonality of the original photographs. Large photographs are printed across the gutter of the book. In the main this works reasonably well, but on occasion (such as the photograph on p. 110 of an African sitting on the ground in camp), the gutter runs right through the subjects’ body, rending the image almost unreadable. In this instance, a fold out of the photograph with the fold repositioned to avoid the figure would have been a desirable outcome.

In terms of the work itself, one cannot underestimate the determination and courage that Mittelholzer possessed in undertaking dangerous journeys through various continents early in the 20th century to document the life of people and place. The reliability of the aircraft, and the hostility of some of the population were constant threats: you only have to look at the photograph Captain Wood and Wegmann still found a cozy spot in the cabin filled with gasoline and oil barrels (1930-31, below) to understand the inherent dangers of flying in those days, surrounded by gasoline and oil barrels. While it could be said that these photographs are just “tourist” photos and Mittelholzer a keen media entrepreneur, marketing “the pictures of his travels to Spitsbergen, Persia or Abyssinia on all channels: in books, films and in the press” – they rise above the purely commercial in their use of aerial photography to transcend and abstract the landscape into pattern and form. The “airplane eye,” a symbiosis of man and machine, was a way of collapsing space… “The verticals that had hitherto defined the artistic gaze had suddenly become obsolete. The tilting of viewer space and oblique perspectives from both above and below were elevated to a new program for both architecture and art.” (p. 35)

Less savoury is Mittelholzer’s patronising view of Africa and its peoples and cultures, even as he and his fellow travellers constantly searched for the most “natural”, the most “authentic” Africa (in their eyes). From a contemporary perspective, these photographs must always be looked at through the prism of colonialism, for this is a white, European male view of these continents and their people. Today, the colonial stereotypes implicit in the photographs are as strong as ever: black / white, male / female, empowered / disempowered seen through the male gaze. More troubling still, and something the Introduction does not shy away from, is Mittelholzer’s connections to the National Socialist party in Germany, the Nazis.

“His images also won approval of the Fascists. His contribution to the German anthology Flug und Wolken published after the Nazis seized power in fact comprised not just photographs but also one of the three prefaces, the other two being the work of Herman Göring, the “Third Reich’s” commander-in chief of the Luftwaffe, and Italo Balbo, Fascist Italy’s aviation minister. Göring for his part lavished praised on the “high artistic appeal” of a book showing the beauty of the “conquered world of the clouds.” (p. 35) You could also add, the conquered lands of the people – for Germany, Britain, Italy and France all had colonies in Africa. His flights in 1924 to Spitsbergen to assist Polar explorer Roald Amundsen and a year later to deliver a plane to Persia were both undertaken for the German aircraft manufacturer Junkers.

Reading between the lines, Mittelholzer seems to have been untroubled by his relationship with the Nazis, perhaps even sympathetic to their cause? His celebrity status allowed him access to elite circles, people such as Baron Louis von Rothschild, socialites, bankers and publishers to fund his expeditions. This state of affairs reminds me of that celebrated German photographer, Leni Riefenstahl – climbing on the back of ambition and closeness to power, whilst denying that she did anything wrong or knew of the despicable acts that were being perpetrated under the National Socialist regime. In the end it’s all about ambition and ego and what you are willing to sacrifice to achieve your goals. Bear that in mind when you are looking at these images.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to Scheidegger & Spiess for the review copy of the book, and for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Pictures from Cape Town to Spitsbergen: How aviation pioneer and photographer Walter Mittelholzer became a media entrepreneur.

 

Walter Mittelholzer. 'Castell in Aleppo' 1925

 

Walter Mittelholzer
Castell in Aleppo
1925
Persia flight 1924-1925
Silver gelatin photograph
12 x 17 cm

 

 

Entrance to the citadel of Aleppo, 1925. The citadel is one of the oldest fortresses in the world; its origins can be traced back to the 3rd millennium B.C. The ongoing Syrian Civil War has left it badly damaged.

The Citadel of Aleppo is a large medieval fortified palace in the centre of the old city of Aleppo, northern Syria. It is considered to be one of the oldest and largest castles in the world. Usage of the Citadel hill dates back at least to the middle of the 3rd millennium BC. Subsequently occupied by many civilizations including the Greeks, Byzantines, Ayyubids and Mamluks, the majority of the construction as it stands today is thought to originate from the Ayyubid period. An extensive conservation work took place in the 2000s by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture in collaboration with Aleppo Archeological Society. Dominating the city, the Citadel is part of the Ancient City of Aleppo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1986. The Citadel has received significant damage in the ongoing Syrian Civil War. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

Walter Mittelholzer. 'Buschehr aus 800 m Höhe' 1925

 

Walter Mittelholzer
Buschehr aus 800 m Höhe
1925
Persia flight 1924-1925
Silver gelatin photograph
12 x 17 cm

 

The peninsula with Bushehr on the Persian Gulf, 1925

 

Walter Mittelholzer. 'Flugplatz Isfahan mit A 20 am Boden' 1925

 

Walter Mittelholzer
Flugplatz Isfahan mit A 20 am Boden [Airfield Isfahan with A 20 on the ground]
1925
Persia flight 1924-1925
Silver gelatin photograph
12 x 17 cm

 

Isfahan, historically also rendered in English as IspahanSepahanEsfahan or Hispahan, is the capital of Isfahan Province in Iran, located about 340 kilometres (211 miles) south of Tehran.

 

Walter Mittelholzer. 'Wilde Schlussszene des Opfertanzes [Wild final scene of the sacrificial dance]' 1926-1927

 

Walter Mittelholzer
Wilde Schlussszene des Opfertanzes [Wild final scene of the sacrificial dance]
1926-1927
Silver gelatin photograph

 

Walter Mittelholzer. 'Die Expeditionsteilnehmer: René Gouzy, Arnold Heim, Walter Mittelholzer, Hans Hartmann' 1926-1927

 

Walter Mittelholzer
Die Expeditionsteilnehmer: René Gouzy, Arnold Heim, Walter Mittelholzer, Hans Hartmann
1926-1927
Silver gelatin photograph

 

Walter Mittelholzer. 'Dornier Merkur, CH-171 "Switzerland" der Ad Astra Aero AG auf dem Zürichsee vor dem Afrikaflug' c. 1926

 

Walter Mittelholzer
Dornier Merkur, CH-171 “Switzerland” der Ad Astra Aero AG auf dem Zürichsee vor dem Afrikaflug
[Dornier Merkur, CH-171 “Switzerland” of Ad Astra Aero AG on Lake Zurich before the Africa flight]

c. 1926
Silver gelatin photograph
13 x 18 cm

 

Walter Mittelholzer. 'Westabsturz des Mokattamgebirge mit Niltal' 1929

 

Walter Mittelholzer
Westabsturz des Mokattamgebirge mit Niltal [Western Plateau of the Mokattam Mountains with Nile Valley]
1929
Silver gelatin photograph
9 x 12 cm

 

The plateau of Mokattam near Cairo, 1930. The balloonist Eduard Spelterini also photographed this landscape from the air during his 1904 expedition to Egypt.

 

Walter Mittelholzer. 'Fremdenverkehr vor der Sphinx [Tourism in front of the Sphinx]' 1929

 

Walter Mittelholzer
Fremdenverkehr vor der Sphinx [Tourism in front of the Sphinx]
1929
Silver gelatin photograph
9 x 12 cm

 

The Pyramids of Giza with the Sphinx and tourists, 1930. The archaeological excavations there began with Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign of 1798.

 

Walter Mittelholzer. 'Totentempel Ramses III., Theben' 1929

 

Walter Mittelholzer
Totentempel Ramses III., Theben [Mortuary temple of Ramses III, Thebes]
1929
Silver gelatin photograph
9 x 12 cm

 

 

Walter Mittelholzer (1894-1937) was a pioneering aviator and cofounder of Switzerland’s legendary airline Swissair. From his earliest flights, he was also an avid aerial photographer, and his spectacular views of the Swiss Alps have been popular ever since he began publishing them in the 1920s. Mittelholzer also participated in expeditions to more distant locations, supporting his activities by selling photographs and receiving donations from patrons. Today, the Mittelholzer archive is part of the vast image archive at ETH Bibliothek, the main library at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich).

The sixth volume in Scheidegger & Spiess’s Pictorial Worlds series, Walter Mittelholzer Revisited reproduces two hundred of the most striking and historically significant photographs from the archive. Together, the photographs document Mittelholzer’s extensive travels, including trips to what is today Iran, Ethiopia, and the Svalbard Islands of northern Norway, as well as his 1926-7 trip to Africa on the seaplane Switzerland, which made Mittelholzer a household name both in aviation and photography. Rounding out the book is an essay that revisits Mittelholzer’s activities from a contemporary perspective, with a focus on the issue of colonialism and his patronising view of Africa and its peoples and cultures. The book will appeal to anyone interested in the history of photography.

Walter Mittelholzer (1894-1937), aviation pioneer and one of the co-founders of Swissair, is best known as a great aerial photographer. In particular, his photographs of the Swiss Alps are still present today. Less well known are Mittelholzer’s flight expeditions abroad, with which he also proved to be a keen media entrepreneur. He marketed the pictures of his travels to Spitsbergen, Persia or Abyssinia on all channels: in books, films and in the press. The breakthrough came Mittelholzer with the Africa flight 1926/27 in the seaplane Switzerland from Zurich to Cape Town. Mittelholzer’s flights were financially supported by important industrialists and bankers of the time and had the declared intention of making aviation popular in Switzerland.

The new volume of the series Bilderwelten sheds light on 200 media images and an essay on Mittelholzer’s media presence, inquires into the African image of the aviation and photo pioneer and tells how Swissair stood out against a largely colonialistic backdrop.

Pictorial Worlds: Photographs from the Image archive, ETH-Bibliothek, Vol. 6

Edited by Michael Gasser and Nicole Graf
1st edition, 2017
Text English and German
Hardback
192 pages, 47 colour and 158 b/w illustrations
20 x 26 cm
ISBN 978-3-85881-543-9

Imagery. Photographs from the image archive of the ETH-Bibliothek. Volume 6

Text from the Scheidegger & Spiess website

 

Walter Mittelholzer. 'Krater des Kibo' 1930

 

Walter Mittelholzer
Krater des Kibo
Teil des Kilimanjaro-Massivs [Part of the Kilimanjaro massif]
1930
Silver gelatin photograph
13 x 18 cm

 

 

On his Kilimanjaro flight Mittelholzer flew over both Mount Kibo (this image) and Mount Kenya, one of Africa’s highest peaks, 1930.

Mount Kilimanjaro with its three volcanic cones, “Kibo”, “Mawenzi”, and “Shira”, is a dormant volcano in Tanzania. It is the highest mountain in Africa, and rises approximately 4,900 metres (16,100 ft) from its base to 5,895 metres (19,341 ft) above sea level. The first persons known to have reached the summit of the mountain were Hans Meyer and Ludwig Purtscheller in 1889. The mountain is part of the Kilimanjaro National Park and is a major climbing destination. The mountain has been the subject of many scientific studies because of its shrinking glaciers and disappearing ice fields. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

Walter Mittelholzer. 'Tanken in Mongalla' 1930

 

Walter Mittelholzer
Tanken in Mongalla [Refuelling in Mongalla]
1930
Silver gelatin photograph
9 x 12 cm

 

 

Refuelling stop at Mongalla, Sudan, 1930. Oil and gasoline were supplied to the various way stations by the Anglo-Dutch company Shell.

Mongalla or Mangalla is a community in Jubek State in South Sudan, on the east side of the Bahr al Jebel or White Nile river. It lies about 75 km by road northeast of Juba. The towns of Terekeka and Bor lie downstream, north of Mongalla.

During the colonial era, Mongalla was capital of Mongalla Province, which reached south to Uganda and east towards Ethiopia. On 7 December 1917 the last of the northern Sudanese troops were withdrawn from Mongalla, replaced by Equatorial troops. These southern and at least nominally Christian troops remained the only permanent garrison of the town and province until their mutiny in August 1955. Mongalla and the surrounding province was then absorbed into Equatoria Province in 1956. The town was taken and retaken more than once during the Second Sudanese Civil War (1983-2005). (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

Walter Mittelholzer. 'Massaifrauen mit Kupferringen als Schmuck' 1930

 

Walter Mittelholzer
Massaifrauen mit Kupferringen als Schmuck [Massai women with copper rings as jewellery]
1930
Silver gelatin photograph
9 x 12 cm

 

 

The Maasai are a Nilotic ethnic group inhabiting southern Kenya and northern Tanzania. They are among the best known local populations due to their residence near the many game parks of the African Great Lakes, and their distinctive customs and dress. The Maasai speak the Maa language (ɔl Maa), a member of the Nilo-Saharan family that is related to Dinka and Nuer. They are also educated in the official languages of Kenya and Tanzania, Swahiliand English. The Maasai population has been reported as numbering 841,622 in Kenya in the 2009 census… (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

Walter Mittelholzer. 'In der mit Benzin- und Ölfässern gefüllten Kabine haben Captain Wood and Wegmann doch noch ein gemütliches Plätzchen gefunden' 1930-31

 

Walter Mittelholzer
In der mit Benzin- und Ölfässern gefüllten Kabine haben Captain Wood and Wegmann doch noch ein gemütliches Plätzchen gefunden
[Captain Wood and Wegmann still found a cozy spot in the cabin filled with gasoline and oil barrels]
1930-1931
Silver gelatin photograph
9 x 12 cm

 

Mittelholzer always flew with a copilot so that he could take photographs while in the air. Here, he himself is at the controls. Seated in the cabin alongside the oil drums are the mechanic Werner Wegmann and the expedition organiser Georg Wood, 1930/31.

 

Walter Mittelholzer. 'Marrakech aus 200 m Höhe' 1930-1931

 

Walter Mittelholzer
Marrakech aus 200 m Höhe
1930-1931
Silver gelatin photograph
9 x 12 cm

 

 

Like many Moroccan cities, Marrakesh comprises an old fortified city packed with vendors and their stalls (the medina), bordered by modern neighbourhoods, the most prominent of which is Gueliz. Today it is one of the busiest cities in Africa and serves as a major economic centre and tourist destination. Tourism is strongly advocated by the reigning Moroccan monarch, Mohammed VI, with the goal of doubling the number of tourists visiting Morocco to 20 million by 2020. Despite the economic recession, real estate and hotel development in Marrakesh has grown dramatically in the 21st century. Marrakesh is particularly popular with the French, and numerous French celebrities own property in the city. Marrakesh has the largest traditional market (souk) in Morocco, with some 18 souks selling wares ranging from traditional Berber carpets to modern consumer electronics. Crafts employ a significant percentage of the population, who primarily sell their products to tourists. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

Walter Mittelholzer. 'Kano' 1930-1931

 

Walter Mittelholzer
Kano
1930-1931
Silver gelatin photograph
9 x 12 cm

 

 

Kano is the state capital of Kano State in North West, Nigeria. It is situated in the Sahelian geographic region, south of the Sahara. Kano is the commercial nerve centre of Northern Nigeria and is the second largest city in Nigeria, after Lagos. The Kano metropolis initially covered 137 square kilometres (53 square miles), and comprised six local government areas (LGAs) … The total area of Metropolitan Kano is now 499 square kilometres (193 square miles), with a population of 2,828,861 as of the 2006 Nigerian census. The principal inhabitants of the city are the Hausa people. As in most parts of northern Nigeria, the Hausa language is widely spoken in Kano. The city is the capital of the Kano Emirate. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

Walter Mittelholzer. 'Typen aus dem Atlas: der rastlose Händler' 1930-31

 

Walter Mittelholzer
Typen aus dem Atlas: der rastlose Händler [Types from the Atlas: the restless dealer]
1930-1931
Silver gelatin photograph
9 x 12 cm

 

Berbers at a cattle market in the High Atlas, 1930/31

 

Walter Mittelholzer. 'Felsgrab Khazne al-Firaun, Petra' 1934

 

Walter Mittelholzer
Felsgrab Khazne al-Firaun, Petra [Rock Tomb Khazne al-Firaun, Petra]
1934
Silver gelatin photograph
6 x 6 cm

 

Four-day visit to the ancient, rock-hewn city of Petra, 1934. Petra was rediscovered for the Europeans by the Basel adventurer Jean Louis Burckhardt in 1812. Mittelholzer often followed the routes taken by earlier explorers of Asia and Africa and saw his own “expeditions” as continuing their tradition.

 

Walter Mittelholzer. 'Kaiser Haile Selassie, Addis Abeba' c. 1934

 

Walter Mittelholzer
Kaiser Haile Selassie, Addis Abeba
c. 1934
Silver gelatin photograph
6 x 6 cm

 

 

Haile Selassie I (23 July 1892 – 27 August 1975), born Tafari Makonnen Woldemikael, was Ethiopia’s regent from 1916 to 1930 and emperor from 1930 to 1974. He also served as Chairperson of the Organisation of African Unity from 25 May 1963 to 17 July 1964 and 5 November 1966 to 11 September 1967. He was a member of the Solomonic Dynasty. …

Among the Rastafari movement, whose followers are estimated at between two and four million, Haile Selassie is revered as the returned messiah of the Bible, God incarnate. Beginning in Jamaica in the 1930s, the Rastafari movement perceives Haile Selassie as a messianic figure who will lead a future golden age of eternal peace, righteousness, and prosperity. Haile Selassie was an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian throughout his life. He is a defining figure in Ethiopian history. Haile Selassie died on 27 August 1975 at the age of 83, following a coup d’état. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

Walter Mittelholzer. 'Itu-Mann vom Südosten Abessiniens [Itu man from southeastern Abyssinia]' c. 1934

 

Walter Mittelholzer
Itu-Mann vom Südosten Abessiniens [Itu man from southeastern Abyssinia]
c. 1934
Silver gelatin photograph
6 x 6 cm

 

Walter Mittelholzer. 'Dankali-Mädchen [Dankali girl]' c. 1934

 

Walter Mittelholzer
Dankali-Mädchen [Dankali girl]
c. 1934
Silver gelatin photograph
6 x 6 cm

 

Walter Mittelholzer. 'Flugplatz in Addis Abeba [Airfield in Addis Ababa]' c. 1934

 

Walter Mittelholzer
Flugplatz in Addis Abeba [Airfield in Addis Ababa]
c. 1934
Silver gelatin photograph
6 x 6 cm

 

Walter Mittelholzer. 'Übergabe von Schild und Degen an Walter Mittelholzer' c. 1934

 

Walter Mittelholzer
Übergabe von Schild und Degen an Walter Mittelholzer [Handover of shield and sword to Walter Mittelholzer]
c. 1934
Silver gelatin photograph
6 x 6 cm

 

Walter Mittelholzer. 'Sudanesischer Kolonialsoldat des englischen Imperiums' c. 1934

 

Walter Mittelholzer
Sudanesischer Kolonialsoldat des englischen Imperiums [Sudanese colonial soldier of the English Empire]
c. 1934
Silver gelatin photograph
6 x 6 cm

 

 

Scheidegger & Spiess website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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