BURKHARD SCHITTNY, Fineart
ostwärts / facing east info
OSTWÄRTS / FACING EAST
From the series LEGACY OF FEAR - THE WAR WITHIN ME // LEGACY PROJECTS 2011
framed c-prints / 40 x 60 cm / 19 x 24 in / 5 + 2 AP
framed c-prints / 140 x 210 cm / 55 x 83 in / 5 + 2 AP
Photography is always linked to memory; it records what has occurred in the past. But ‘new’ photographs are also able to preserve the past, as in the series "Facing East", part of the serial project "Legacy Of Fear - The War Within Me" by Burkhard Schittny. He has travelled far afield in order to create afterimages. It is a journey into his own family history, the history of the second world war, into the trauma of displacement.
The artist's parents come from Glatz in Silesia, Klodzko in today’s Poland. In 1946 Schittny’s mother was displaced and forced to flee west. As a mere ten-year-old, now a refugee, she left her hometown on a cattle train. The photographer’s father, Robert Schittny, had just turned 18 when he was a soldier in the Wehrmacht, fighting right up to capitulation on the Eastern front.
66 years after his father, in March 2011, Burkhard Schittny visits the sites of fear and war-time trauma. At the sites where the father had been involved in fighting, where he had fled from the approaching enemy, Burkhard Schittny points the camera towards the east. "Facing East" means: he turns the camera in the direction his father had been fearfully looking towards.
These are calm and still images. Ditches covered in winter leaves, a field and grey sky in the distance. Fences. A plastic bag, a discarded bottle, an isolated farm, disused train tracks. Left-over snow from the previous winter. Rotting wood. A road, birch trees. Birch forests that have lost their sheen. In Slavic folklore the birch tree is a holy tree providing protection, but in May 1945 nobody would have expected any protection at all.
The son is driving through this land, is looking for images. He points the camera towards the east, takes dark, flat, desolate and slightly eerie pictures of an early spring not yet exuding any warmth. He photographs the landscape, a burnt field, ditches, dams and fences - and asks himself: could my father have been here? Where did he seek shelter?
A compass helps the camera point eastwards, it leads Schittny’s eyes over the terrain of violent confrontations, over the fields of war, over soil that became a crime scene. The father, he seems present in his absence. Where his son presumes his father to have stood, where he feels or believes to feel his father’s presence, Schittny applies a degree of focus in an otherwise slightly out-of-focus picture.
The sharper focus evokes a ghost-like presence while the lack of focus signifies absence. In photography, the focus affects the image's sharpness, a term that also describes the mechanical properties of a knife - the dichotomy between photography and violence is once more brought to bear in this series of images. The acts of war, the events of May 1945 may have left no visible traces in these images - they are nonetheless acutely present. Photography is linked irrevocably with the past.
Marc Peschke, 2012