Texts from “allmineral”

All texts by David Sittler

Fundamental Elements Of Globalised Working And Living Environments, Photographically Documented

An artistic study of the quotidian as illustrated by global production facilities that operate allmineral machinery and, by extension, a photo atlas of postmodern living conditions.

Over a period of eleven years photographer Torsten Hattenkerl travelled with his camera to production plants scattered around the globe that operate machinery manufactured by allmineral. To this exploration he added other locations which he felt were appropriate for his project as outlined in this process. Using industry photography as his starting point and incorporating the genre itself as well as the traditions of documentary photography, he has developed his very own form of reality-based yet aesthetically sensitive photography that is utterly convincing – even at a time of the much cited glut of images (a result, not least, of amateur photography) and the potential image blindness brought on by oversaturation. One of the mainstays underpinning the development process for the book and the photo atlas was an experimental and playful, yet equally collaborative element. Indeed, the task of selecting the photographs from the body of work was entrusted to photographer and artist Marta Pohlmann-Kryszkiewicz, who was also instrumental in finalising the sequences of images, the contrast of motifs, and the juxtapositions. So perhaps it is fair to say that what has emerged here is a type of para-documentary photography. With the photographs dialogically reworked as prints to begin a new life of their own on the studio walls, and with the conscious addition of a second artistic view of the photographer’s own images, the perspective which the selected photographs now give us of the world has been expanded, adding other associative contents than those which intuitively guided the photographer when he first pressed the shutter, contents which, even if they are not objectified, are at least trans-subjective. The accompanying text interjected throughout the book is designed to evoke other conceptual responses to the visual input, responses originating from a different framework of experience than the art photography itself. It sees itself as an invitation to the viewer to engage closely with the photographs and to surrender to whatever stimuli might suggest themselves in a self-reflective (and even critical) way, for us both as individuals and as a society. Hattenkerl has adopted a two-pronged approach. On the one hand, it is ethnographic and biographical, with Hattenkerl for instance revisiting the school he once attended decades earlier during a sojourn abroad; on the other, it is artistic and documentary in nature: objective, but also sensitive and empathetic. Thus he has sought out visible structures and characteristics that define all the depicted locations of allmineral machines, individually complemented with other locations as scenes of globalisation. The stock of images in the photographer’s own imagination and in Pohlmann-Kryszkiewicz’s image memory has meant that, during the reconstruction of this geo(photo)graphy in the studio, the images no longer have “only one author” and their own separate impact; rather, they have been condensed into an ensemble used to represent the nature of the global present in a photographically convincing way.

Citing various genres within this wide arc spanning all manner of working life environments (e.g. landscapes straight out of a western), pointed motifs and aesthetic structural analogies – between adamantine machinery structures and organic plant formations – Hattenkerl in each case captures the intertwined nature of the work and life settings, the natural and artistic landscapes, the leisure and work settings, the mechanical and cultural technology which in corporations such as allmineral converge with his photographs. We are likewise privy to the harsh landscapes on the margins of urban civilisation that are also the point of origin of the resources necessary to maintain that very urban life, resources which allmineral, among others, is dedicated to extracting and processing with its grading plants.

The photographs illustrate some of the myriad movements of materials and people associated with installations such as those erected by allmineral and their environments, as well as with today’s global traffic of materials, people and images of the same. The images portray the tracks and trails of these movements and transportation convoys along roads and production lines as well as infrastructures identifiable by their stated use and therefore their implicitness as well as their complex design. For all the precision and rectilinear straightforwardness of these assembled mechanical giants, when captured from certain photographic angles they sometimes almost look like some peculiar industrial jungle. Hattenkerl also invites the layperson to view in a different light all the dirt which inevitably takes hold of the outer shell of these huge machines; indeed, no sooner have they been showcased as clean than they are put to use sorting different grades of materials, often with water, itself associated with purity: initially simply (or less negatively connotated) as a haptic visual surface property characteristic of the work involved. He depicts the inevitable embeddedness of the machinery and the processes impacting the landscape and the soil, an embeddedness far stronger than the categorical separation of industrial culture and natural landscape would normally imply in the way it is conventionally conceived and emphasised in our modern-day thinking; as it is, almost every natural landscape has long since been “civilised”, even those far removed from major conurbations. Hattenkerl is likewise on the lookout for a nature that is artistic, symbolically emotive or culturally charged, like anthropomorphic animal figures, but also for trees and plants that have either almost seamlessly adapted to the industrial landscape – like the tree that doubles up as a road sign – or somehow contrived to “photobomb” a scene, for example one featuring plant operations. So organic plants not only serve to structure the surface of an image; they are self-referential as fellow creatures of the factory premises and a globalised world increasingly aware of its vulnerability in the wake of climate change. Site-specific cultural elements are not omitted either whenever the photographer’s structure-seeking gaze alights on these quotidian lives; rather, they are experienced in a whole new way.

The structural principle of the accompanying text is such that it emulates and textually complements the manner of the photographic exploration of workplaces scattered about the globe. Indeed, the text is not intended to complement the artistic expression of Hattenkerl’s works by affording a conventional interpretation of the images themselves. Rather, it sees itself as an autonomous metaphorical textual fabric that engages with the photographs, a dialogue-based interaction that is also an analytical-theoretical contrapuntal accompaniment. As a critically genuine, cautious, but also sensitive para-documentation of the processes and nuances involved, the (in the best artistic sense of the word) idiosyncratic outlook on the production facilities and the activities is designed to stimulate the reader to see the images as an exploration of globalised life-worlds by aesthetic means capable of inspiring new discussions of the theme itself.

The artistic essence of Hattenkerl’s photographs therefore does not consist of a radically stated aesthetic contrast with the classical (and, in its documentary approach, perhaps even more sober) industry photography of, say, Bernd and Hilla Becher. Rather, in exploring the factory premises and the natural yet artificial environment that surrounds them, Hattenkerl appears to have evolved a method for capturing, collecting, grading and recombining basic elements in an artistic photographic way which amounts to a sensory experience distilled here specifically for our benefit, much in the same way as allmineral’s separation processes themselves. Perhaps his method can be seen as one which, metaphorically speaking, processes the essential minerals or source materials in the appearance of allmineral’s machines into the raw materials that make up the processes of imagination and thought. In so doing he manages to distance himself almost imperceptibly, here and there, from the depicted to a plane of image composition while remaining materialistically sensitive to the materiality and reproducible haptic qualities of each site. The text chaperones the artistic approach with its commentaries and assists the photographs by inviting the viewer to engage closely with the way in which the nature of the production plants has been photographed using this method, as a dynamic part of a globalised world. The photographs also have the potential to inspire any interested company employees who may already be familiar with some or many of these production sites to see the way their company looks through different eyes, eyes less blinded by routine and conventions. Not least, the photographs provide a playful look that seems all the more intense and refined as a result of the rhythmic arrangement sensitively paced to appeal to the visual interaction. It is an arrangement that guides our attention not just towards the technical operational aspects of production or the practical requirements of the production process, but also to pauses, quiet tones and simply other aspects of (working) life. On the one hand, the series and tableaux serve to highlight the characteristics of different locations in a structuralist way; on the other, double-page spreads focus micrologically and also condensingly – through contrasts – on the individual aspects of a photograph or location. At one point, single photographs confront us conclusively with a particular view; elsewhere, alternating formats conjure up the sensitive awareness that allows the photographs to act beyond their scope and interact among themselves.

For all the intrinsic artistic and aesthetic values of individual photographs the viewer is offered nonetheless a perspective that remains easily accessible and does not disregard the practical dimension of everyday life and individual emotions. Indeed, Hattenkerl not only systematically depicts the globally similar and common traits of an engineering aesthetic; he also trains a bright spotlight on the individuality of our own personal roots that are familiar to each and every one of us from our own experiences, on production sites that are embedded into the specific landscape and the culturally shaped environment, and also on a number of possibly less noted locations.

The text of the book has been purposely structured into nine modules, enjoining the reader to browse rather than read each module, one after the other, or as a whole in a single sitting. The divergent concept is likewise clearly signalled by an index introduced right at the beginning. This allows the text to be placed even more forcefully into a constructive tension, initiating a dialogue with the photographs and the viewer as well as their own potential experiences. Finally, the image texture as compiled by Hattenkerl and Pohlmann-Kryszkiewicz enables a personal aesthetic experience of this exploration of the world by following the book along its series of images as well as across them, in turn generating a separate dynamic. The text, for its part, emerges as yet another voice engaging with the photographs on its own terms. It invites the viewer to take a closer look and reflect critically and undogmatically on what is portrayed. The modules are orientated – metaphorically and concretely – according to the basic elements of grading plants such as those manufactured by allmineral, but also according to the characteristic structures of the production sites depicted and their environment in general; and, last but not least, according to the leitmotifs of the photographic works of Torsten Hattenkerl himself. All three aspects are highlighted in their reciprocal relationships to one another. In this sense I wish everyone the most enjoyable of journeys through these photographs!

Supporting And Enduring Structures

Foundations and frameworks between dynamics and stability

Even supporting structures weighing several tonnes can somehow appear filigree, or even elegant. A supporting structure such as a framework is not just about lifting and sustaining; it’s also about a complex interplay of tensile and tractive forces offset by the strength of its struts and supports. Frameworks also strive to dissipate the structure’s gravity and load-bearing capacity into the ground, drawing a certain strength of stability from that very process. Through their shape they even manage to express the aesthetics of their load-bearing function. A similar effect is achieved by a capital, i.e. the projecting top section of a classical column in Ancient Greek temples. Indeed, the Roman architectural theoretician Vitruvius claimed that the capital was in fact the perfect interpretation, modelled on the human body, of the effort involved in lifting a huge weight, with the functionalism reproduced through the design shape. And although shapes such as these do not occur in the architecture of modern industrial plants of the kind we see depicted here, this way of looking at architectural elements is by no means obsolete; one need only think of the aesthetic proposition that “form follows function”. A closer look at the metal frameworks in the photographs reveals at the very least the differences in thickness and position, which in turn point to differences in load-bearing function; just as captivating, perhaps, is the play of light and shadow that emerges whenever supporting structures such as these catch the slanting sunlight from an oblique angle. Elsewhere, large load-bearing machine housings take on the character of abstract, or at least cubist, sculptures.

There is however also a less edifying side, as it were, to the aforementioned downward dissipation of pressure and load, i.e. when the supporting elements are comprised not of metal, but of people and social and/or sensitive ecosystems. Then there is not just a monetary price to pay for the ability to bear or, indeed, endure, but also a social and in some cases an ecological one. And that price is not always plainly evident when it comes to the sometimes inevitably ruthless interventions of industrial plants on the landscape and the local society that surrounds the site in question. This state of social stasis also affects the more remote load-bearing social structures in the country of origin of the machines or the workforce, some of whom frequently have to be transported across vast distances to reach the production site. This still says nothing about whether the price, on a global scale, can claim a general social legitimacy through an indirectly effected social – or, in the case of recycling, ecologically sustainable – conservation of resources enabled as a result. So initially, all we know for certain is that large industrial plants have standardised requirements in terms of (load)-bearing structures that need to be fulfilled as independently as possible of the circumstances at the production site and the biorhythms of the time zone at the place of origin – indeed, production regularly entails consequential costs in this broader sense, too. With the globalised market system as it currently stands, there will always be a constant demand for a highly skilled workforce and other individual special resources, all of which will not always be available on site. This means the biorhythms of those concerned will have to endure a certain “dis-location” whenever long flying distances need to be covered at short notice, or on a regular basis. As a result, the stay on site has more to do with being housed than with being at home, whether it’s the makeshift accommodation of a living container or – higher up the social ladder – a hotel room; in other words, a totally anonymous place that can never be as familiar as home.

Given these and similar burdens, family, partners, friends, but also work colleagues and the familiar structure of regulated workflows and communal breaks, production cycles and interactions between man and machine stabilised over time into work routines emerge as supporting structures without which no production cycle could ever run. Perhaps those are the moments when a person notices that their own lack of work-life balance also has to be endured by others in the stresses of their everyday working life and leisure time, or that an outsider or someone new needs to be integrated and the local or current customs and practices are something unfamiliar to them. In an ideal scenario, this capacity to endure helps the person thus sustained to experience the feeling that they are able to rely on someone, and therefore stand firm once again with self-assurance, like a solid frame, or gain a foothold on new, unexplored territory. But what often happens is that, because the sequences of operations are dislocated from individual needs and local circumstances, no social structures of any lasting support are able to emerge in the first place; in other cases, the corporate structure remains an alien entity within the host society, featuring perhaps a steeper and more rigid hierarchy, with all the direct or indirect economic benefits for the profiteer and with all the hardships for those who, although they endure the burdens (for example of an environmental nature), are not really able to assert a status as stakeholders in the economic returns over those willing to put up with the burdens, perhaps for good reason. Clearly, then, every supporting structure is itself supported by another. What’s more, it must first develop a load-bearing capacity of its own. Ideally, that means all the stakeholders on site need to synchronise with one another and get to grips with the specific conditions – and become acclimatised. To that extent, supporting structures emerge out of, and as part of, a process; they also require active preservation through continuous use and maintenance. For the supporting elements of a building or milieu are not, after all, simply something solid and rigid, and it’s not just “human resources” that experience fatigue and overloading. In an apparent contradiction, it is stable resilience or flexible stability that allows supporting elements to be as tough as the threads of a spider’s web, or ensures that the bones in the human skeleton break so relatively rarely while, at the same time, requiring the correct care and nutrition. In the case of a photograph, it is – by analogy – the solid frame chosen by the photographer. With the help of his tapering perspective, Torsten Hattenkerl uses machinery and equipment-carrying metal structures, which in principle are intended as static, as a compositional load-bearing structuring force, one which sometimes even divides up or organises the image space, lending the industrial objects portrayed a dynamic appearance. This measure of agitation results at least from the geometrically diverse play of rhythms produced by superimposed triangles, parallels, rhomboids and diagonals, or, to put it another way, from flowing lines and patterns that appear compressed or stretched through perspective. That is how, in one instance, a detail or, rather, a section of crane linkage, which the viewer knows to be three-dimensional, can be rendered as a jagged, flatly or topologically traceable piece of choreography involving sequential right-angled or acute-angled arrangement of beams and struts of different thickness, width and length. Likewise, the underlying background or backdrop colouring in the gaps between the struts and the frameworks acts like a necessary pause between the individual gestural elements of a dance performance. It is itself often punctuated by the rhythms of other steel elements, of which only the tiniest sections are visible. Then, part of the photograph appears like a crosshatched graphic surface area resulting from the different lighting conditions, even when the framework of a large installation with any number of stilts and stanchions is uniformly painted. Without a sturdy substructure of a combination of linking and separating structural elements, the photographic imagery, like the geometry, would not be a diverse language, but a grey flow of signals of randomly interchangeable elements. Whenever such a distinctive colourful language encounters the idiom of architecture as expressed in steel, etc., it can contribute to a better understanding or more intensive aesthetic apprehension of the latter – even for someone who does not share a mechanical engineer’s passion. Applied to social and ecological dimensions, and to the global and local scale, it can also be a reminder to pay attention to the nuances, nooks, edges, light and shade, and not least to the balances of forces and pressures. With regard to the situation of things in everyday life, perhaps such quieter, artistically more indirect, critical tones make us more lastingly aware of the problems, on a different level, than frivolous ideological condemnations if we allow ourselves to be inspired to a lastingly differentiated sensitivity for the complexity of the consequences of structures as we engage with and browse through this photo atlas.

Photographic Machines And Photo-Biographical Machinations

Insights into the Everyday Life of a Myth

Machines are capable of things we humans eff­ect­ively cannot do, or not in that way (i.e. alone, by ourselves). Confronted with such machines, we often find ourselves in awe of their monumental size and fascinated first and foremost by their ability to operate autonomously, sometimes in a way that is beyond human control, the mechanisms of which remain hidden deep inside the “body” of the machine. Machines therefore have a mysterious and at times awesome power – in the literal sense of awe-inspiring. For its part, the old word “machinations” in its metaphorical sense, as applied for instance to politics, used to refer to wheelings and dealings and manoeuvrings; primarily, it means a cryptic or uncanny mechanical-automatic or superhuman operation – also in the sense of a deus ex machina, a (theatre) plot device that allowed for the divine to appear on stage unexpectedly.

In the light of the machines and the photographs featured here, we are looking first and foremost at the aesthetics of the non-human and, more specifically, its imagery. Indeed, the aesthetic quality of a machine photograph does not usually lie in the obvious documentary nature of the object depicted and the instantly or even entirely graspable approach to the auto­ matic machinery portrayed on the one hand and the photographer’s artistic technique on the other. To the observer, the way in which the impact of the objects depicted by the photographer is generated, remains hidden at least in part, and that is perhaps part of the appeal. So while this observer may be able to apprehend the artistic process which ultimately resulted in a photograph as a work of art, essentially that process remains obscure and comes into its own “automatically” as a result. Producing an image involves a whole box of tricks – perhaps even “machinations” – and then of course the photographing machine itself, all of which shape the way in which the photographer works with his material world. Torsten Hattenkerl took some of the first photographs for this project with a camera which proudly bears the term “machine” in its name, i.e. a Plaubel Makina 67. Like the environment to be lit, a camera such as this with its highly specific characteristics (size, weight, and much more) plays a huge part in the creation of such an image. First of all, at least three eyes need to be synchronised in an artificial-­ artistic way: the two human eyes of the photographer, which as we know converge into a single viewpoint, and the eye of the camera through which his gaze is trained. The camera’s eye cap­ tures the trans-subjective visibility of the machines, lending them a two-dimensional property which visually accentuates their sculptural dimension in a reductive way. But then, the photograph doesn’t take itself; there is an artist involved, someone who is already at work – before and after the shutter is released – on the impact of personal associations, but also associations now socially consolidated through the use of images. He is drawing at all times from the cultural stock of images available to him which form the backdrop to our own view of his images. As art photography, its mode of operation – like good propaganda – remains ideally a skillf­ul, almost natural “machination” – and we are happy to surrender to its impact. It means that an observer viewing the image is able in a way to become the photographer’s viewing accomplice, after the fact as it were, someone who with the images and the aid of the camera is able also to communicate their existence as a human being with their own unique perception. That is the photo-biographic moment as an unobtrusive potential of the machine images and the image machine that was conceived when the images were selected and mounted, allowing yet another view of the photographer’s view as a mechanical stage device.

The above also applies – perhaps all the more so – to the automobile which, as its name implies, is by definition auto-mobile. It takes us forward, and it takes us away; at times it accel­ erates, at others it immobilises its occupants in motion; at others still, it confines us within the metallic mass; then again it appears to sur­ render something of the kinetic power of movement from the power of the engine to the passengers. It allows perspectives that cannot be gained on foot. Through its windows, which at times appear more matt and then at others clear, the supposedly self-propelled machine allows insights into the vehicle’s occupants while allowing them in turn to look out at the outside world, a framed, reductive snapshot of the streetscape blurring past and its gestural staging and performance by passers-by. At other times, we have before us something glistening and gleaming like a water surface; we stumble across an intimate interior that is simultaneously a public interior in an outdoor space, a mobilised home of the self.

A non-verbal message of importance or rel­­ evancy, function or elegance and all its alloys … The evolutionary link, as it were, between the machine and the auto-mobile vehicle is even more clearly audible in Italian and, indeed, in Russian: macchina and maschína being the words in those languages for this most popular (not just with Germans) of all individualised promises of maximised mobility. This special machine cert­ainly offers strong competition to clothing and apparel as yet another outward appearance representative of their owner’s persona. Before the advent of today’s smartphone displays, it was first and foremost their exquisitely groomed bodywork with its (not all too) aerodynamic curves that conveyed rapid accessibility in such a shiny and elegant way. It is a means of transport that entered the stage of the street setting in the late 19th century and, ultimately, in the course of the 20th century, reduced many of those urban and rural settings from boulevards and promenades and, in some cases, living spaces to main thoroughfares, spreading fear and fright, but also serving more loyally than any animal-driven means of transportation. It has also become a much loved and natural extension of one’s own physical mobility and range, not least a status object, and a significant fetish or myth imbued with character which artists and philosophers have long pored over. From the outset it has continually attracted mechanical camera eyes as they, too, have developed in parallel.

Like its ancestors and its next-of-kin, a Plaubel Makina is made of metal. It is, however, far less conspicuous than any number of chrome-laden power-packed “limousines” from the earlier history of cameras. Perhaps that is why it became important for the subjective documentary photography of the 1980s. As if by some inscrutable machination, a spectral echo of that particular context of use managed to slip furtively into the photographs we now have before us. Salutations à Roland; D.S.