Thursday, June 9, 2016

Harald Mante: Serial Photography

There's this guy, Harald Mante, who's a pretty well respected academic in Europe, I think. He's done some books. A commenter recently remarked on him, so I pulled this book out of the library.

The guy definitely fits my style in a lot of ways (personal style, that is). Serial photography is, to Mante, first an exercise. The idea is that you find a theme. Blue. Pairs. Birds. Pots&Pans. People with red hair. Anything. Then you shoot pictures to fit the theme, any time, any where. Now, tomorrow, next year. You regularly rearrange and manage your set of pictures, throwing some out, adding new ones. Perhaps you divide a theme up as some new idea emerges from the pictures you've taken. Or not.

It's up to you!

The results, in Mante's little book, are really wonderful. Lovely sets of about a dozen or so pictures built around one visual idea or another. He hits the theme hard (or rather, has selected pictures which hit the theme hard) so it's pretty obvious what each one is about. Each picture is a little lightweight gem. Usually pretty, formally pleasing. Each by itself wouldn't amount to much. Massed, though, the theme pops out at you and you get the point. Or maybe you're getting the joke? The feeling is a bit like the punchline of a good story, it's just pleasing.

These are not essays on war, or our place in the universe. They're not documentary evidence of great doings. They're just a bunch of appealing pictures massed up and being appealing.

It probably would be a great exercise to maintain a couple of Series as you go through your life. A series is, to my way of thinking, the simplest form of connection between pictures. A good project, a book, portfolio, what have you, should not only carry one or more ideas of substance (whatever that means) but the pictures within should connect, should be graphically related. A series is a set of pictures all linked by the same visual/graphical idea.

A book might have a set of overlapping and interleaved series, and it's nice when at least some of those series are clear to the viewer. The viewer gets to make the little pleasing discovery that holds the interest and satisfies. If things are really going well, the connections that generate the series support the ideas. Perhaps several of the pictures in your book are clearly connected by emphasis on the color blue, and the whole book is in part about sadness and loss. The color blue is often assoociated, in the western world, with sadness and loss. A portfolio about prisons, crime, criminals, or incarceration, could contain series linked by prison-like visuals. Bars, enclosed spaces, darkness, but not necessarily literal prisons.

And so on.

The "series" in Mante's sense is, it seems to me, a basic building block, a basic method, for creating serious collections of pictures.

Plus, it's a nice book! I like the pictures.

And Mante agrees with me that the "single iconic image" is a huge pain in the ass and a ridiculously high target to aim for. The series provides a way, ultimately, to do work with substance without ever having to make a singular mighty work in a single frame.


  1. Having taken one myself, I can absolutely recommend Prof. Mante's workshops. He is a very approachable person, very present and full of energy. Also fun (after greeting one of the attendants, he turned to the public and explained "He and me took a Lightroom course together, but in contrast to me he got what it was about"). I think one can see it in his pictures, which look spontaneous and unaffected but reveal beautiful design. If you can, take one of his workshops as long as he still offers them - he is approaching his eighties ...

    His lectures about visual design and colour theory are based strongly on the Bauhaus teachings (Kandinsky, Klee, Itten). The content of these lectures can be found in his various books (e.g. "The photograph - Composition and Color Design") as well. If you only want to have a look at his work, then "Photography unplugged" is a good choice.

    Best, Thomas

  2. Good to see a mention of Mante. Good to know he is still around. I spent a lot of time with his "Color Design in Photography" back in my early photography days, along with another book or two of his. Perhaps I should revisit it now -- being a few decades older and a little bit smarter. I am curious how I would see it now and what I would get from it.

  3. Right now I am experiencing a series of images, or more exactly a series of sets-of-images, dealing with the (painting) impressionists and the horticultural and gardening developments in the late 1800's in Europe (Monet, Matisse, Wardian cases, empirical expansionism, extraordinary horticultural exhibitions…it's the Royal Academy's Modern Garden) and the most astonishingly moving and effective sets each consist of several similar images represented in different media such as engravings, oil or other paintings, historical photos, and modern photos or HD video of private, public, and nobles' gardens, green houses, exhibition halls, and so on.
    One image alone conveys a certain amount of information about, say, a bank of chrysanthemums, or a view along a cypress-walled italian garden, but together the three images are astoundingly dense. In the end, an author of an image is usually trying to capture and/or communicate information, and I must say that (well-chosen) sets of images can communicate far, far more than the sum of the information contained individually. (And I have to say that the multiple media in these sets, with the profoundly different treatments of and reactions to a given visual subject, are particularly enjoyable.)

  4. Wherever it is that you live must be an amazing place if you can find books like this at the local library!

    1. Bellingham, Washington. It's a college town, and super artsy. Sort of like Santa Fe with college kids and more plaid shirts, I imagine? Less money, too, I guess. Working class artists. The guy who ran the insulation crew that worked on my house is a sculptor, and that's not even weird in this town.

  5. Bellingham, while on a smaller scale, does compare well to Olympia, and Olympia, in my opinion, out-Portlands Portland. Just sayin'.