Encountering Infinity, by Konrad Götz

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In Begegnung mit dem Unendlichen (Encountering Infinity, 2003) Konrad Götz, born in Munich in 1929, has compiled a wonderful series of macro photographs of stones, crystals and petrified organic material, following his earlier LichtGestein (StoneLight, 2000).  Götz is a member of the German Society for Photography and a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society.  The text is bilingual, with matching German and English.

Jochen Schimmang provides an essay in which he notes that Götz has said that his images have no meaning.  Yet thanks to our ability to impose pattern on the random, even though these are abstract the brain tries to interpret them.  In any case, the particular configuration displayed has presumably been selected according to an implicit aesthetic sense, as indicated by a couple of instances where a thumbnail of the entire specimen is included.  Further, the photographs do not appear to be ordered haphazardly, but follow each other in a way which emphasises the contrasts between them – as would have been required by Götz’s Royal Photographic Society panel.

His images may be produced mechanically, but there is much in common here with abstract expressionism, and for a few of these it would be impossible to say whether they were photographs or paintings.  For example, swirls of yellow and red in pietersite look like the interior of a furnace.  On the following page blue verticals in rock crystal could be distant skyscrapers in cold weather, or undersea volcanic extrusions.  The yellow and blue of petrified pine wood could be one of those aerial photographs showing ecological damage to a lake.  Red patches surrounding a yellow circle in an agate sample put me in mind of depictions of near-death experiences in which light is seen at the end of a tunnel.   A piece of Picasso marble could have been a charcoal and paint drawing of a thick sombre forest.

Some blur the line between organic and inorganic.  Black on pink goethite could be a kind of cell culture, another piece of goethite is composed (if that word is permissible) of red flakes on a pale background, like stylised poppies in a field of wheat.  Pictures can even seem wrong; the first in the book, of agate, is in horizontal bands, with yellow at the top and the rest strips of blue, with a little green.  Turn it upside down and it is an impressionistic view of a beach.  Schimmang addresses the subjective nature of the interpretation; not everybody will ‘see’ the same thing, obviously, and viewers will be able to mine the combinations of colour and shape in many ways.  Only the dullest I would add will see nothing beyond the marks on the page.

A second shorter section looks at the use of Götz’s work as a projected backdrop to a pair of musical compositions.  One was for a concert given in 1999 with piece by Werner Schulze of Vienna about the Catalonian philosopher Ramon Llull, in which music and visuals were considered a unified work.  The second was by Klaus Feßmann of Salzburg, Klangsteine (Stone Sounds), using a mixture of polished blocks of stone vibrating under moistened fingers and hands, the percussive sound of drops of water, and a cello.  The book concludes with remarks made by Götz at the opening of an exhibition, in which he talks about humans’ profound, spiritual, relationship with stones, and technical information on the equipment he uses is included.

Collectively the objects photographed occupy an ambiguous position between fragility and toughness.  Some evoke decay, while fossilised primeval algae bring into close-up, literally, preserved remains of early life on the planet.  There is too a link with crystal healing, which has its own set of associations.  Schimmang states that the photographs have been used to impart a sense of calmness to terminally-ill patients in hospital, and Götz writes about their therapeutic function in a clinical setting (claims borne out by endorsements on the dust jacket), though one might want to choose carefully: on the page opposite Schimmang’s statement is a violent mix of red, yellow and black in agate, which might suggest a hellish scene.  On the other hand someone may see a comforting warmth, like staring into a coal fire in childhood.  Their open-endedness is part of the fascination.

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