November 29, 2010 § Leave a comment
(…)He travels with only a black curtain and two large-format sheet film bellows cameras (an 8×10 Deardorff wooden folding field camera, and a Linhof Karden 4×5) and works with whatever light there is. Unlike other contemporary postmodern photographers like Joel-Peter Witkin, Burman never alters the specimens. “He’s not interested in imposing himself or suggesting some alternate dramatic narrative to the blunt reality of what’s in front of his lens,” Roenisch says. He shoots in concentration camps, sterile medical laboratories, crumbling archives, curious private collections. He notes that about 90% of his work is done in the Catholic world, places “richly fixated on the body of Mary, the body of Christ, the bodies of the martyrs” and with a “history of sensually violent and death-riddled art.” It’s a tradition that doesn’t exist in North America, and his book serves as a reminder of “everything we left; everything that made us, and somehow drove us to undo that and make ourselves over.”(…)
upon some interesting experience:
BC: Have you had a particularly positive experience while shooting that you could share?
JB: Once, in Budapest, I was at Semmelweis University, which is named for Hungary’s most renowned anatomist and (unsurprisingly) has a fine Institute of Anatomy. The specimens in the front storage room, where I started shooting, were in occasional use by students and instructors, but I noticed a door that led to an adjacent store room. I was welcome to work in it, so the caretaker let me in. The contents of that room were under heavy layers of dust and dirt, in complete disarray. This wasn’t the first such situation I’d entered, and I could see some magnificent specimens that I wanted to work with. The caretaker spoke some English and, at one point, he was muttering away while trying to open some of the jammed, rusted locks on the cases. I heard him say “…not since the Revolution…” and I asked “You mean, since 1956?” These specimens hadn’t been seen or touched in 41 years.
Now, anatomy collections need regular maintenance. The formaldehyde slowly evaporates, the specimens reposition themselves in the jars, unregulated atmospheric conditions alter them…they need to be refurbished and re-preserved, or they will not last. The technician was an older man, and he’d been a life-long employee of the institute, so he knew that these preparations hadn’t been maintained.
I ended up working with a few of these on that day in 1997, but for a while…the room I was in, not just the specimens…I was in 1956. I was in a place that had been sealed, literally, in time; it was a doubling—working with human remains sealed in jars or glass cases in a room that was a bell jar marked 1956. It was an unforgettable experience.
[read the rest here]