Barbara & Michael Leisgen

Born in 1940 in Gengenbach (DE). Died in 2017 /
Born in 1944 in Spital a. Pyhrn (AT) / He lives and works in Aix-la-Chapelle (DE)

Mimesis (Die Natur erzeugt Ähnlichkeiten - La Nature produit des Ressemblances)

Black and white photograph, tracing paper
90,5 x 73,5 cm
Year of Purchase: 2004

In the 1970s, the early works of Barbara & Michael Leisgen came as a counterpoint to conceptual photography, notably that of Bernd & Hilla Becher’s typology school of Düsseldorf. The series that the five Frac pictures are taken from belongs to practices operating since the early 1960s: the recording of a natural imprint, research into the body theme and experiments with Land art. Barbara Leisgen’s silhouette is set, and leaves its fleeting trace in landscapes; the actions involve stretching out her arms to follow the contours of undulating countryside (the Paysage mimétique and Mimesis series), or to include the sun in an arc drawn by her arm while she is seen from behind in the centre of the image (Die Beschreibung der Sonne – Description of the Sun_). While this last title, like a later one (_Writing of the Sun), harks back to the Greek etymology of the original ‘photograph’, the ‘heliography’ of Nicéphore Niepce, from ‘helios-graphein’, writing with the sun, it is conditioned by the human will framing it. This is not merely imitating nature through its gestures; it describes, in the sense of tracing, and channels it as well. The landscape is then repossessed in a subjective manner. Which is what inscriptions on tracing paper placed over the photographs of Paysage mimétique (Mimetic landscape) and Mimesis, la nature produit des ressemblances (Mimesis, nature produces likenesses) tend to produce, while the latter’s title explains the approach as being to start out from the bodily gesture. This somehow tames the natural elements, forcing them to follow the human. The pictures recall the visions of German Romanticism, notably the pictures of Caspar David Friedrich, whose painting Morgenlicht is the figurative model for the Mime-sis works, although his paradigm for considering nature as sacred is amended. One might see this as an anthropocentric romantic perspective such as the French Romantic view gave us. And yet, despite the sublime aspect of the photographed scenes and the preciousness of the prints which, beyond black and white, allow us to imagine a range of colours in the dazzling light, their images also refer back to the naivety and intrinsic nostalgia of souvenir photographs. The actual viewer is placed in a specular perception, being led to look at a woman posing in a natural expanse. In this the Leisgens are the precursors of current landscape approaches relying simultaneously on a modernist and postmodernist viewpoint, like the pictures of Torbjørn Rødland and Ilkka Halso.

Frédéric Maufras