Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Swings: A Photograph by Károly Escher

Károly Escher (1890-1966), Swings, 1930

Escher was so various. My mother's first and only teacher in photography, he was the great Hungarian photographer who stayed at home and was forgotten when all the rest - Kertész, Munkácsi, Brassaï, Moholy-Nagy, Capa - went abroad and made their reputations. This picture is not typical, but then there isn't a typical Escher. This one is brighter, lighter, dizzier than most. It's also tricksier with some double exposure and possibly some reversing out. It is playful. And yet it is more. It is spiky, funny, and a touch demonic as if a clutch of Signorelli's demons had found their way into a gym full of light. Those dark figures! That constructivist frame that is part cage, part menacing contraption! Things are both upside down and the right way up, out of kilter. I am also reminded a little of Wenders's angels in Wings of Desire: less pacific, more clearly electric.

A work of art enters a space: a state of being perhaps, then participates in it through the imagination, throwing itself back at the world. Those strange mad little tubs the demons drive through the air are like something we read backwards into history. There is a vague sense of the whole scene being an omen. It's the year after the Great Crash, three before Hitler takes over in Germany. We swing on, furiously, our hair throwing off sparks.

I myself am exhilarated looking at the image. Maybe what the artist throws back is the spirit of what he or she is witnessing, transformed and interpreted, flying through language - whatever language, written, spoken, visual or sonic - and we are there in the artist's own exhilaration, or perception of exhilaration, flying along his own neural network. Which, just at this moment, and in its own way for ever, happens to look like this.

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