This Week In Photography Books: Jo Röttger

by Jonathan Blaustein

I was lying in bed the other night, trying to fall asleep. Dreamily, I asked my wife a question. What are the five places you’d most like to visit? She named them, but I couldn’t follow along. By the time she turned the question on me, I was already unconscious.

I thought about it the next day, when I awoke. I whittled down to Germany, Italy, Japan, Hong Kong and Vietnam. As I recited the list, I realized I had chosen the former Axis powers, and two Communist countries.

OMG. What does that say about me? Am I a less-than-patriotic American? Or a horrible Jew? And what about Africa and South America? Does their Continental omission mean I’m also secretly racist? Or do I just really like asking absurd, rhetorical questions?

Frankly, I haven’t been to Italy, the artist’s paradise, in a decade, and I’ve never been to Asia. So that covers 4 out of 5. As for Germany? I was in Lübeck once, very briefly, about 15 years ago. The people in the North were very nice. They kept buying me beers, incredulous that I’d come to their part of the country, rather than Bavaria. And the currywurst was super-delicious.

I’d like to go back, because who wouldn’t want to visit Berlin these days? But there’s something else, and it has far less to do with WWII than you might imagine. I just seem to groove on the German aesthetic. I love that they are so serious about their formalism and craftsmanship. And they’re eternally curious, without ever seeming to believe they’ll hit upon an answer.

Take this week’s book, for instance. It’s called “Landscapes & Memory: Thirty photographs” by Jo Röttger, published by Peperoni Books. Does it consist of exactly 30 photographs? Of course it does. Are they exquisitely composed, and built as well as a Maybach? Did you have to ask?

This book is excellent on multiple levels, but really excels at reminding us why iPhones are cute, but will never replace a large format camera. And why journalists and artists are…not exactly the same thing. (Much less citizen journalists.)

I’m not here to disparage the growing number of amateurs out there. Hell, if they’ll call me a journalist, they’ll clearly let anyone in the club. It’s an important job, sharing the news, but it’s not the same thing as making art.

This book gives makes the difference very visible. The artist was seemingly embedded with the German military, and made photographs in their company. He shot them while they were training in country, and also while they were active duty in Afghanistan.

The formalism is impressive, as I mentioned, but so too are the beautifully drained colors seen at dusk. The mid-day-desert sun leeches desire from the world too, and that blister-bright palette is on display as well. These pictures beg to be seen at 40″x60″, and I wouldn’t doubt that they’re built that large for exhibition purposes.

I was certainly reminded of Simon Norfolk’s work, but then Mr. Röttger kicks the whole thing up a notch. (My first, and last, Emeril Lagasse reference. Bam!) At the end, he photographs the German soldiers while they’re training in some Alpine landscapes that are straight out of “The Sound of Music.” (Which I’ve never seen, but am more than happy to reference here.)

Where are the lederhosen? Where is the alpenhorn to summon the shepherds home for strudel? I don’t know, and I don’t care. These pictures are so damn good, I want one for my wall. Hell, I want to build a bigger wall, and then put one of these bad boys up.

This project offers what I wanted, and then rejected from the Luc Delahaye photograph in the War/Photography exhibition I reviewed at the beginning of the year: the size, sharpness, clarity and patience that a big camera offers, without the knee-knocking sense of exploitation. (i.e., profiting off of a dead Talibani soldier. Delahaye might not have stolen his boots, but what he did take was worth $20,000 a pop.) Regardless, I do hope you enjoy the book.

PS: I’d ask you to share your top five list in the comment section, but when’s the last time that worked?

Bottom Line: Exquisitely crafted photos in Germany and Afghanistan

To Purchase “Landscapes & Memory: Thirty photographs” Visit Photo-Eye

Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.

Books are found in the bookstore and submissions are not accepted.

Jonathan Blaustein

There Are 9 Comments On This Article.

  1. Cambodia, Japan, Portugal, Those provinces across the middle of Canada, Iceland. See it does work?

  2. Italy, Spain, Greece, Australia/New Zealand, and Argentina.

    All of them are wine producing regions, and that says something about my motivations for going there. But honestly, they are all wonderful places, full of art, history, culture, and the beauty of nature.

    And wine. Let’s not forget the wine.

    BTW, I live in California, or else that would be on my list as well.

  3. My five (see, it’s worked twice) today would be Japan, back to Iceland, Sweden, Belgium and back to my beloved France. Oh, your review has made me want to buy that book. Well done.

  4. Sebastian Soldato

    Soldiers, war, crime, prostitution, sex – photographs on these topics are always welcome to the world of art and the gallery scene to have a shiver run down the spine Especially in a aestheticized environment like here. But those themes should not be turned into coffee-table books, they should not be presented in art galleries to enjoy big eyed Pinot Grigio sippers. War screams, war stinks, war is also banal but never so aesthetically appealing like here. Whoever who has seen with his own eyes the suffering and misery of war and people dying in from of him can only shake his head looking at this book.

  5. Manaus, Tanzania, Portugal, England, Bali. Been to most of these before but would love to take my kid this time…

  6. The title looks great…hillarious…

    And by the way, Hong Kong isnt a communist country…;)