Peter Rauch

The editor of Praznine asked me to write a text to accompany the photographs of the corner. So instead of the usual interview or a short text about the author—the author’s monologue: a few thoughts about what an object means to me and why I occupy myself with it so much. Where do the photographs of the corner come from.


For a long time, in order to avoid explaining, I quoted Man Ray: »An object is the result of looking at something which in itself has no quality or charm. I take something that has no meaning at all. I disregard completely the aesthetic quality of the object. I’m against craftsmanship.«


This is the object. A matter of relation and a thing without qualities or meanings. This is the object that interests me in photography.


First, the relation—a matter of looking. I look for example at a tree and I look at cheese, although most of the time I really look at a car, a house, parking lots and streets, forests as well. All the things that surround me and which I most often notice and also photograph in passing while I go about my daily business or on family trips. I could call them surroundings, but I prefer to use Heidegger’s or von Uexküll’s expression die Umwelt because it says more than surroundings, because it stands for a concept of the surroundings in relation with a living being. An organism receives through its receptors certain information and responds to it in a wholesome way, as if this were everything that the surroundings are, although of course an individual organism cannot perceive completely the complexity of its surroundings. (It can perceive only a very limited version of a whole—a whole which doesn’t even exist, except as an abstraction.) When I go about my errands with my hands in my pockets and really just mind my own business, I notice interesting things that I sometimes take photographs of: in this way I of course capture only that part of the surrounding which is able to sensorially connect with me. But what is very important to me is the fact or the realization that my perception has a shortfall. Although I cannot photograph it and I don’t even try to, it is important for me that it is there. That is why die Umwelt and not just surroundings. Perhaps one day, those meanings which I haven’t considered will convince me to the contrary: for example, at an opening of an exhibition titled die Umwelt in Pula, Croatia, a German visitor explained to me his understanding of the exhibited material on the basis of connecting my Umwelt with the flagship concept of the German environmental party that is currently the main right‑wing force in German politics.


Some objects that I perceive in my surroundings have the quality of drawing me in so that I find myself in them, that they completely fix my gaze. I experience them as standing opposite to me (or I place them so myself, it doesn’t matter) and then I can enter them, not just circle around them as is the case with others. Such an object is for example a corner, a street or a forest. For instance, I don’t understand a car or a house in this way, although physically I can enter them, while I cannot enter a corner, but this is irrelevant. A house is only something that comes across my way and a car an object that stands in front of the house.


But a wooden corner is for me an object which opens, which opens to me. I have a similar relation toward wooden boards that many people have towards fire, I can’t stop looking at them. And their contact with all the tree rings, various colours and patterns; when one is gazing, the entire geometry starts to spread into infinity, however far away it may be. The corner suggests, creates a space into which I position myself. A photograph is a self‑evident continuation of an absorbed gaze, the result of which is the series presented in the following pages.


The other type of objects which interest me are objects without qualities and meanings. Most objects around us are not like that, they have a function or a purpose or there is at least a general consensus on their function and meaning. But there is a certain (by no means small) segment of things that are constantly shoved aside, forgotten, and that put us in a difficult position, we don’t know what to do with them. Their use is not self‑evident: decaying fragments of something unknown which you discard or put away in a drawer. So you will fix it one day, stick it together. Find the missing piece and put it together. For sure, you’ll need it for something and (as the Slovene proverb goes) in seven years’ time everything will come in useful. I call them substitute objects.


When you have something like this literally on the table and you photograph it, such an object is a thing for itself, so ephemeral, so worn-out, so poor that the only status one can ascribe to it is the status of a spare part for a device that is no longer produced. Something that stayed at home by coincidence, what you don’t need anymore and was basically nothing more than a spare part already when you (at least in principle) did need it. This is already a step too far.


Because they fall out from the normal functioning of the world of objects, they become kind of foreign and consequently provoke a sense of uneasiness. If the rest of the world of objects seems in my eyes to have a bit of a naïve gaze, then the substitute object has a more interesting, strange, uncanny, anxious gaze. For me, there is a big difference between these gazes because all of a sudden the fact that there is nothing you can do with a thing becomes threatening. You cannot simply observe a substitute object, because to do this is strange, uneasy and forcing you into action. We cannot do without the question what to do with it, and we can never exactly know the answer. There are objects which can be both: you can observe a human figure simply as a body, say an object of admiration, while at the level of a substitute object, the body remains nothing more than a prosthesis. I find the passage between the two gazes interesting.


In truth, the substitute object is substitute for that which I wanted to create with the photograph of the corner but failed—and failed 14 times at that! All these failures have become a substitute for some foolish idea.


That is how I see objects.