Wildniß written with an SZ – given the artist’s name, intention is, of course, swiftly suspected. And no sooner has one tripped over this stumbling block than one is thinking about the theme WILDNIS, Wilderness. Today, in the Anthropocene era, the question arises whether a nature untouched by man, a genuine wilderness, even still exists? Or whether all areas of wilderness are not actually anthropogenically influenced cultivated landscapes? According to National Geographic, in 2008 just 17% of the Earth’s ice-free surface area (including the oceans) was without any sign of human activity.
In Dörte Eißfeldt’s series Redwood, Grizzly and Fog Drip the subject is those areas of the United States where redwood trees can still be encountered. The redwood (Sequoiadendron giganteum) can reach a growth height of up to 95 metres, a trunk diameter at the base of up to 17 metres and a weight of 1500 tonnes. Though the coastal redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) is less massive, it can, for all that, grow to 115 metres tall. The oldest living specimens are more than 2500 years old. Redwoods were already in existence 250 million years ago, so long before the dinosaurs became extinct. By the 1960s, within 100 years, around 90% of stocks had been extensively cut down for the construction of houses, railroad sleepers, ship’s planks and mines. Today, just 3% of the original stock of these gigantic trees still exists, and even this stock is not entirely protected.
Dörte Eißfeldt’s works in these series were created in 2013 in the Sierra Nevada as well as in the North Californian Redwood National Parks near the coast on the border with Oregon. Her concern was to capture the particular impression which these “monarchs of the forest” leave behind in a fitting artistic expression. For she has always dealt with the issue of the image’s qualities. “My aim is to turn the photographic, the medium as process, into an object. I want the photographic image to take a portrait of itself, so to speak.” (Dörte Eißfeldt)
Generally, her work is characterized by the consistent exploration of artistic possibilities of expression and a correspondingly experimental dealing with the medium’s photo-technical and photochemical conditions. Her images, combined by means of montages and multiple exposures into »exposure montages«, refer less to a reality existing outside them than, rather, to their photographic process of becoming. One discerns grey image areas which have arisen through solarization, snuggling into the tree trunks and draping themselves across the branches; traces of the darkroom development on mountain ranges, deposits of metallic silver in the sky and in the form of gold-glistering tones on tree trunks, the results of alchemic processes during developing. A shot from her best-known series Schneeball, where she printed the same negative more than thirty times over in such a richly varied and subtle way that the impression arises that we have various shots here, is also part of the exhibition. Not for nothing did Ute Eskildsen, one of Germany’s greatest photography curators, describe her as a »master of black-and-white photography«. That she is moving forward in analogue photography is evident in the series Grizzly, where she superimposes a digital file which she photographed from books on the subject onto the silver baryta prints of the redwoods.
Naturally, with such a working method, plenty of room is given to chance, and the unforeseen becomes a playful component of the process, bringing about the light-as-a-feather-looking, painterly overall impression. At the same time, the radiographic quality of her black-and-white images becomes a contemporary observation of nature, transposed into the photographic medium.
»To me, photography is working with fragments of reality, experimenting with the material during the photographic analogue or digital process with the aim of producing in the work an independent, intensive and simultaneously open connection to the world; to allow the wild, the dark, the impalpable, the beautiful in the image to remain, or to become, effective, in an open, stimulating, surprising form, very, very large or very, very small« (Dörte Eißfeldt).