Fotograf Magazine

Panoramic Vision in Grey

The Langhans Gallery in Vodičkova street, Prague, held an exhibition of panoramic photographs by Ivan Lutterer (1954–2001), who had been connected to the Langhans Gallery through the tight bond of his restoration activities – he devoted several years to the maintenance of negatives and to creating new prints for the Langhans “Gallery of Celebrities”. The retrospective was organized to commemorate his unfulfilled fiftieth birthday and is accompanied by the publication of a book. Images of bleak scenes, deserted embankments and islands, drab and decaying suburban corners, stations with kiosks, and abundant and various sheds on building sites in the center of Prague in the Eighties evoke feelings of despondency at the monstrosity of the totalitarian way of life, or rather, the stagnant languishing in its general greyness. In the effects of Ivan Lutterer there survive not quite three thousand panoramic photographs. Their perspective of “expanded” seeing – somewhat unusual today – only intensifies their spectral undertones. Panoramic photography, popular with amateur photographers of the previous turn of the century, following the invention of the # 4 Kodak Panoram camera in 1899 (the one that Josef Sudek, among others, used), has in its pure, unadjusted form a strange effect, imposing on us a different reading of what we see. In contrast to “classical” compositions, they stand up to the point of view of the human eye, and at times even surpass it. The widest possible angle in photography, while still maintaining a standard sharpness, created by a traditional lens and camera is 90°; Lutterer used a Panoram 6×18, which produced images at an angle of cca 140°. The simple technology – the lense is driven by a small spring that circumscribes its orbit and recedes back, without the possibility of focusing – is highlighted also by Lutterer’s photographs being exhibited (both in the gallery and in the book) without adjustment. Moreover, the narrow black frame has been left in.
Panoramic shots are not created simply due to the photographic paper being inscribed by light which penetrates through an open shutter for a given time period, but also by the moving lens, which gradually circumscribes a section of a circle. Between the events recorded on the left side of the image, and the events on its right, there is therefore a certain delay. Such photographs stand out for their special relationship to time, since the image contains, often imperceptibly, different moments of time. As such, they capture something that never actually existed; as if several film frames were seamlessly linked in one frozen shot. Although Lutterer in no way emphasizes this specific quality of panoramic photographs, it is clearly noticeable in his photographs and endows them with a strange kind of meaning and intensity. Taken together with the simplicity of his “banal” subject matter, their panoramic width seems at times almost ironic; at other times, however, this “expanded” banality becomes oddly sinister.
The photographs of Ivan Lutterer were made with a camera with a rich prior history. From Sudek’s collaborator Jiří Toman it passed to Jan Svoboda, and then in 1977 to Lutterer’s friend from FAMU, Jiří Poláček; he improved on it by adding a contraption, a small wire which functioned as a viewfinder, indicating the real size of the resulting shot. In 1984 it was with this camera that Lutterer took his first shots of Spořilov. Ivan Lutterer created his panoramic photographs chiefly during the second half of the Eighties, and his activity was both geographically and thematically quite narrowly defined. The photographs were created not primarily for exhibition, and were instead characterized by by an approach analogous to that of entries in a diary. They revolved around the same places, mostly taken under an overcast sky, predominantly in winter and fall. Lutterer was especially attracted to locations in the Prague neighborhoods of Spořilov, Bubeneč, and Libeň, the Střelecký Island, deserted playgrounds for children; but primarily those places in one way or another connected to his childhood or to places he had lived. He would mark his photographs by simply noting the time and place: Praha, Libeňský ostrov, 15. 12. 1987 for a tranquil picture of a part of an island with huts, surrounded by a frozen river with pieces of fallen trees.
The photograph of a playground at the outskirts of town, surrounded with dilapidated buildings (Liberec, 2. 4. 1987) or else of a factory sub- merged in the smoke in the background (Praha, Libeň, 12. 12. 1986), or the statue of a saint confronted with the backdrop of prefab houses (Kadaň, 23. 11. 1987) sensitively reveal the inappropriateness of an encounter between contemporary dereliction with the nostalgia of times past, revealing the bleakness of a childhood spent under socialism, with its destruction of values. His depiction of half-naked human bodies as exhibited at popular swimming pools is close to being horrifying. The cover photograph is chosen well, gaining the status of a symbol: the riverside with a railway bridge in the background, with a ferryman’s wooden cabin and a boat half-submerged in the water, one keel sticking out as a quintessence of vanity and loss of purpose (Praha, Císařská louka, 31. 3. 1988). A similar effect is achieved with large areas of mud, riven by the trucks heading for building sites begun long ago; at times there appears in the background an element seemingly from another time, a gas container, a panorama of the castle, crosses or stone saints huddled in an all-encompassing fog of soot. People feature hardly at all in these unpopulated photographs, and when they do they are but fleeting witnesses (and appear somewhat inadequate). A few shots of the festivities of the period are taken from a greater distance, as inostensibly as the shots of the riverside. As a photographer, Lutterer comes and goes silently, putting his photographs in sequence without commentary. If he is searching for something, it is his personal attitude to the photographed. The texts of the book are by Anna Fárová and Václav Sokol, and mention Lutterer’s extraordinary sensitivity, which eventually lead to his tragic death in Richmond, USA, in 2001, where he was studying photographic restoration and conservation; it appears that the madness of the contemporary world became unbearable for him.
Lutterer has gained more recognition for group projects than for his solo work. The cycle Český člověk (Homo Bohemicus) was the result of repeated journeys with his colleagues from FAMU, Jaroslav Malý and Jiří Poláček, around the Czech Lands with their mobile studio, in the course of which unstylized portraits of anyone who happened to come by were created; Letem českým světem (The Czech World in Brief), done in cooperation with Jaroslav Bárta, Zděněk Helfert and Daniela Horníčková, documented, from the distance of a hundred years, various parts of the country from an identical point of view and in similar technical conditions as J. R. Vilímek did in 1898. Both cycles have the common feature of a conscious denial of the uniqueness of the photographer’s vision and his intervention by setting out from very narrowly defined parameters (as part of the original concept) – unified lighting, neutral backgrounds, a minimal intrusion into the presentation of the people portrayed in the first cycle; the effort at achieving as faithful as possible an emulation of the point of view of the historical photographs in the second. To some extent, therefore, we are dealing with a “topographical”, sociological approach to photography. In Lutterer’s own panoramic photographs, there is a similar effort at the broader, more long term portrayal of phenomena, only with a sense of melancholy more intensely present.
The format of the photographs determined the oblong shape of the book, in which some of the photographs are given a double page layout, with most taking up the upper half of a page. The simple, elegant graphic design is the work of Lutterer’s friend and collaborator, Jaroslav Bárta, whose Studio JB published the book in 2004.

lenka dolanová