A thread in the weave
Artistic creation has always fluctuated between two opposite representative “temptations”: the symbolic interpretation on one side and the naturalistic depiction on the other. Like a pendulum that beats time in the human soul, these two trends have directed, alternately, the artistic production over the centuries – almost as if, when facing the beauty of the world, man cannot help but wonder whether it is a prerogative of matter or spirit. In this endless battle, a fundamental question about the nature of reality remains unexpressed. What do we actually see when we look at things?
An old Italian way of saying tells that the quality of an handmade embroidery is to be evaluated from the backside of the fabric, normally hidden from view: if it is excellently crafted, it will look like a lacework, too. As it often happens, traditional wisdom provides us a simple answer, which entails a different way of truly observing what we are looking at. Real beauty is never obvious. To see beyond the obvious is equal to meditate.
In my very first encounter with Bärbel Praun’s photographs, I right away thought they could be considered as pure acts of meditation. My impression was that there is nothing superfluous in her images – no aesthetic complacency, no seek for meaning nor message – and the more I have progressed in knowing her work, the more I have confirmed the initial feeling. Photography is for Bärbel a slow apprenticeship in the art of deeply observing reality as it presents itself in the current moment. Could it be a stone, a feather, a hand or a pile of snow: anything is worth a careful gaze, because nothing will last forever.
Her photographic practice is similar to a walk in the mountains, where she actually loves to be: an action where the breath sets the pace and the senses become more alert and alive. I imagine her while she wanders alone, watching and listening what she encounters along the path without thinking about anything else; and I guess she shoots in the same way, without expressing any judgement, without haste, but simply trusting the precision of the internal alignment between body and mind that we all possess by nature, but that asks to be activated and trained to lead to a full state of consciousness.
For this reason, her pictures can be seen as fragments of a bigger whole: just as in meditation the subject acknowledges her sensations and feelings without becoming identified with them, in Praun’s photography a single image doesn’t represent an end in itself, but rather contributes to the embroidery’s design like a thread in the weave. And that’s also why, as the book’s title says, each place is the right place: nothing can be wrong when humbly engaging with the here and now.
This text was written for the book This Must Be The Place by Bärbel Praun, self-published in November 2015.