Saturday,25 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1343, (4 - 10 May 2017)
Saturday,25 November, 2017
Issue 1343, (4 - 10 May 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Reflecting reflections

Photographer Sherif Sonbol contemplates the work of Ulla Gerdes

Reflecting reflections

Last month while enlarging my pictures in preparation for an exhibition in Warsaw, my eye caught a blurry, pale picture on the lab manager’s desk. I did not say a word, yet I was very curious to know why someone would take, let alone enlarge such a photograph. Soon, Ashraf came out of the darkroom carrying my prints and laid them on the same desk, partially covering that pale picture. Following him came an elegant lady who, speaking English with a German accent, asked me firmly to move my pictures. I apologised and moved the pictures. I went to Warsaw. But when I came back, I was intrigued by an invitation to that same lady’s exhibition, “Flowers of the Moon”, at the B. Art Gallery on Ahmed Mahmoud Street. The title alone made me curious, and I wanted to find out what it might have to do with the picture that surprised me at the lab.

I met Ulla Gerdes at the opening the next Thursday. I also met Bernard Guillot, a French photographer who lives in Cairo, and the gallery owner Bahaa Aamer, who recently exhibited alongside the great Adam Henein. With the three of them I saw Gerdes’s work, which on the whole flouted the rules of photography and composition as I know them. Gerdes told me that she does not learn from others’ photographs, and prefers to take the pictures she likes. She does not use a large camera with many lenses, either. “Photography for me,” she said, “is a passion and a very private thing”. It is something she has done for herself for over 20 years – with friends pushing her to show her work. “All my pictures are silent moments without people. They are multilayered moments that fascinated me, little exquisite moments that hardly anybody can see, which are very fragile, and disappear very quickly.” Could this be what the “flowers of the moon” refer to?


Reflecting reflections

Gerdes pointed to the exhibition catalogue: “We can only see the moon, the loyal companion of our planet, because it reflects the light of our central star, the sun. The moon demonstrates in the purist way the main principle of our visual world, that what we see, changes its appearance depending on its position, It can be a delicate crescent moon threatening to disappear, or a bright round moon face smiling... Our human reflection, as well, goes through different modes and ideas. It creates the smell of roses, and dives through magic waters, and turns in endless circles or get lost in a land of misery. This can decide how we deal with the things that we capture with our eyes.” I had to google these words to discover that Gerdes is also a poet. Hers are pictures of multiple reflections. In the first room, she exhibited interiors, reflections falling on frames and windows. I asked if she had problems avoiding her own reflection on the glass surfaces, and she smiled and said that sometimes it is very tricky, especially when you have three or four layers of reflection to work with.

“I need time to take pictures; I do not like to take a picture quickly. I like to feel my way into a situation, and I see different angles, I test to see and at some stage, I reach the optimum and ideal situation, and then I take the picture. I always take two or three pictures, as sometimes they are not sharp.” In response to my question about whether or not she uses tripod, she seemed surprised, “What for? I only use the camera... Photography has always been in my life, and it has always been a love thing. I love to do it very much, but not professionally. I have never done it professionally, because I always thought if I did it this way, the love would go away. I like to make a photo that has a secret, that’s a little bit confusing to the viewer. The viewer has to see and watch carefully, three or four times, before they can understand what is going on.” Does she retouch or alter her photographs, using software? Does she interfere in the scene before shooting? Never ever, she insisted.

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