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Nurture Studies


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Nurture Studies, 35 images Van Zoetendaal Publishers.

With Nurture Studies, Scherer presents an archive of flowers she has grown from seed over a six-month period. Rather than letting the flowers grow in open soil, she has forced each plant to develop within the confines of a vase. Only at the end of the process does she remove the plant’s corset, exposing roots that retain their shape as an evocation of the now absent vase.

The floral portraits form a pendant to earlier photo series in which Scherer opted for much rawer imagery, things like young girls lying on the ground with their backs to the camera, collapsed like rag dolls, so that viewers almost automatically think of them as victims (Mädchen, 2002-2007). In Nurture Studies this confrontational imagery has made way for subtlety. Although the flowers, with their exposed roots, look just as fragile as the girls, Scherer avoids any semblance of drama, mainly by the objectivity of her photographic style, arranging the plants upright in the frame and photographing them with a technical camera. This approach is consistent with the orderly way collectors catalogue their objects.

Behind this objective methodology, there is a great deal of emotion at work. More than anything else, Scherer’s process of collecting, nurturing and documenting is a display of tenderness, ritualistic love that remains hidden to the viewer, but still infuses the vulnerable final images with its almost tangible presence.


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Poppyfield


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Geranium Hill


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Cover


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Inside


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Menno Wigman & Diana Scherer

Azul Press 2013

A word in advance  

Towards the end of the 19th century, the French poet Mallarmé asserted that everything in the world existed in order to end up as a book. He could just have well have claimed that every book exists in order to produce yet another book.

This book originates from Murder in Rotterdam (1994), a brilliantly designed book with a hundred or so highly intrusive police photographs from the period 1905 up to and including 1967. When I first held this book in my hands, a strange shudder went through me. Whether I want to or not, I am always fascinated by photos of atrocities and I’m sure I’m not the only one to be happy to indulge in an over-stimulation of the senses – but this was something else.

Was it because those photos of lifeless Rotterdam inhabitants were sometimes almost a century old? Was it the distance in time which lent those bloody atrocities in black and white a strange – perhaps even poetic – gloss? Looking at the rooms, the chairs, the wallpaper, the dining tables, even at the shoes and hats in the photos of the lifeless bodies, it seemed as if these ‘still lives’ each wanted to tell me a particular story. Just take a look, for example, at the chest bound with electric wire on the adjoining page on page 4 to see what sort of amazing suggestiveness emanates from these photos.

In another of the photos from Murder in Rotterdam we see a smartly dressed man on his left side, lying in the cabin of a lorry. His right temple sports the haft of a dagger. Although the caption is terse to the extreme (‘Murder. Kruisplein, 1966’), a scenario as predictable as cruel gradually came to me. And so in December 2002 I wrote a poem in which I let the that dagger speak for itself.

‘If I could speak I’d seek to tell you all,’ the dagger began by saying. Then the weapon told the ‘old story’ of betrayal, jealousy and murder, ending up by quickly excusing the fact that it had merely served the ‘five bewildered fingers’ of its owner.

The following year, I wrote compulsively about fetishists, psychopaths and murderers. To be honest, I cannot deny that I was occasionally considerably influenced by the originality of my project.

How wrong can you be. When, in the late summer of 2012, I arranged a date with Diana Scherer for the first time and, towards the end of the evening, told her of my fascination with Murder in Rotterdam, it turned out that that book had also inspired her to produce a work. Less than a year after I had tried to delve deep into the heads of murderers, she was busy, on the basis of the existing photographs, modelling ‘bodies’ of porcelain which she photographed in a rain puddle, or on a bed, next to a shower drain or in a kitchen sink. The result is quite simply staggering. Just like her series ‘Mädchen’ (2002-2007), ‘Handmade Originals’ repeatedly conjures up uncomfortable feelings. Do we have to feel sympathy for the dead? Aren’t they in fact being ridiculed? Death is always cruel, and murder particularly so, but Scherer’s tribute to Murder in Rotterdam is just as hard-hearted as it is devoted. Sometimes it almost seems as if the dead dolls in her work come from some macabre children’s game. Especially the picture of that powerless woman in a sink, sprayed on by an inimitable jet of water, makes you lose all sense of reality and has, however elegant it may be, something deranged about it – just as murder has.

Not long after our first meeting, Diana Scherer and I became lovers. We soon started to fantasise about this book, one in which we could put a seal on our love – sometimes we even talked about it in bed. – According to statistics, almost half of all murders are committed in the home. One out of five is the result of a row. One perpetrator out of three has either a love or a kin relationship with the victim. Should, and I say: should ever my lover and I end up having an uncontrollable row and, as is the case with most murderers, ‘everything go black’ for one of us, there will always be this book.

Menno Wigman