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Hans Georg Berger: The Learning Photographer

Posted on April 21, 2022 - By 29 Arts In Progress Gallery
Hans Georg Berger: The Learning Photographer
Hans Georg Berger: The Learning Photographer

8 APRIL – 16 JULY 2022

My chief goal as a photographer is not to collect a visual documentation or to re-interpret it in the light of my aesthetics. My curiosity and my need to learn instead drive me to begin by establishing a rapport of trust and collaboration with the people who, in my opinion, can help me understand a certain cultural reality from the point of view of a first-hand experience. I considered it quite the compliment when a great Laotian Buddhist, who had been watching me work for two years, told me in his language something that, translated by others into English, turned out to be the sentence: 'You are a learning photographer'. - Hans Georg Berger

From the 8th of April to 16th of July, 29 ARTS IN PROGRESS gallery is proud to present, for the first time in Milan, the work of German photographer and writer Hans Georg Berger. The exhibition, entitled 'The learning photographer', brings together more than 30 sophisticated black and white gelatin silver photographs printed on fine art baryta paper produced from negatives conserved in the German artist's archive and carefully selected by the directors of the gallery and the artist.

Hans Georg Berger

Torso, 1998 © Hans Georg Berger

The works in the exhibition retrace a fifty-year long career starting in the seventies when the artist became involved in the restoration of the Eremo of Santa Caterina on the Island of Elba. Berger transformed the ex Fransiscan monastery into an international art centre which for years proved a melting pot for the ideas and experiences of artist friends, writers, painters and photographers. It was here that the pivotal meeting between Berger and the French writer and critic Hervé Guibert took place with whom he established – apart from a strong emotional connection – a photographic and intellectual relationship. From this intimate dialogue, which saw the two taking turns behind the lens, emerges that which the artist describes as a “shared photography”. The photographs from the series 'Un amour photographique' (from the book of the same title) belong to this concept and are among the most beautiful and moving of Berger's photographs.

The exhibition charts Berger's voyages – both personal and artistic – and his travels through Asia. These photographs reveal the close bonds that the artist built with these places and their inhabitants. Thanks to a deep shared understanding built between Berger and his subjects, the photographer breaks down the emotional distance between photographer and the object of representation, presenting us with an intimate portrait of the Orient.

Hans Georg Berger

Il Castello di Beckett, 1991 © Hans Georg Berger

Thanks to his previous dedication to the theatre where he tried his hand as an actor, screenwriter and director, Berger experiments with photography as a form of 'community involvement' – meaning a creative process which forsees the involvement of an entire community and submits his work to the judgment of the same subjects portrayed and, thanks to whose feedback, the artist manages to transmit, photograph after photograph, the true essence of whoever he is photographing.

I could thus start a dialogue, asking why an image was wrong and placing my interlocutor in the role of a teacher and myself in that of a disciple. Through the remarks that gradually filled up my notebook, I outlined the coordinates, the perimeter, and sometimes also the meaning, of an aesthetics that was distant from ours. - Hans Georg Berger

Hans Georg Berger

Il piccolo naga, 1996 © Hans Georg Berger

Whether in their depictions of architectural sites, such as the temple of Angkor Wat, festivals and ceremonies such as that of Luang Prabang, or moments of the daily life of the monks of Laos, Berger's photographs are far removed from a mere documentary rendering but rather tell the true story and human experience of the places he has visited and lived in. Furthermore, they offer an invaluable historical testimony that contributes to this day to commemorating and protecting cultural diversity.

The purpose of the exhibition is to tell the story of a life and career beyond the ordinary. The many different themes shown represent Berger's countless experiences and affect the viewer who takes away from it one coherent fil rouge: the search for intimacy between photographer and subject that Berger had already experimented with Guibert and that then becomes his own visual language and stylistic cipher. From the sensuality of his nudes and unmade beds, to his landscapes and portraits of the Orient, the power of these photographs lies in the artist's ability to convey the soul of all his subjects, creating, without exception, powerful and poetic images of radically different subjects in far away lands. It is an extraordinary, probably unique, journey at the centre of great contemporary photography.

The exhibition is accompanied by the art book 'Hans Georg Berger', personally signed by the artist and rendered more precious by the addition of an original artwork. The book has been published as a limited edition by 29 ARTS IN PROGRESS gallery in collaboration with the Lugano's Museum of Cultures and contains accurate reproductions of seventy-five photographs – some of which never before seen – accompanied by texts and poetic material from the famous writers and figures who surrounded the life of the artist.

Hans Georg Berger

Intimità svelata, 1985 © Hans Georg Berger

Hans Georg Berger
Hans Georg Berger was born in Trier in 1951.
After having studied the philosophy of religions, at the beginning of the Seventies he was an actor, scriptwriter and director in the Rote Rübe group, and, from 1977 to 1983, the director of the Internationales Festival des Freien Theaters in Munich and a co-founder of the Münchener Biennale. From the end of the Seventies onwards, he started restoring the Eremo di Santa Caterina, on the Island of Elba, transforming the ancient Franciscan hermitage into an international art centre, and creating a botanical garden dedicated to the native flora of the Tuscan archipelago. Alongside his experience on Elba, during the Eighties Berger started a series of long-term photographic projects, focused chiefly on the cultural aspect of rites and on meditation as a source of spiritual research. As a preferred field for his researches and educational activities, he chose Laos, Thailand, and Iran; in those countries he stayed repeatedly and for long periods, creating an extensive network and promoting the realisation of several important international cooperation projects. In the city of Luang Prabang, ancient capital of the Kingdom of Lan Xang, and residence of the King of Laos until 1975, at the end of the Nineties, Berger founded the Buddhist Archive of Photography, with the purpose of preserving and enhancing a unique heritage of more than 35,000 images made by the monks from the dawn of photography to the end of the twentieth century.

His photographic activity can be summarised, to date, in seven main stages that overlap chronologically over long time periods:
- theatre-related activity (1972-1986);
- relationship with Hervé Guibert (1978-1991);
- initial experience with the Eremo di Santa Caterina in the Island of Elba (1977-1996); - first journeys in Asia (1988-1992);
- discovery of Buddhist monasticism and stay in Luang Prabang (1993-2019);
- educational activity in Thailand (2000-2004);
- encounter with the world of Shiite madrasas in Qom, Isfahan, and Mashhad (2000-2006).

To date, Hans Georg Berger has published over forty books and has to his credit participated in over sixty exhibitions in all the major countries in Europe, the United States, Japan and South-East Asia. His photographs feature in some of the most important museum collections in the world.

Hans Georg Berger

Lezione di scrittura, 1999 © Hans Georg Berger

29 ARTS IN PROGRESS is a leading art photography gallery located in the historic area of Sant'Ambrogio, Milan.
The gallery represents the work of internationally renowned photographers, with a focus on portraiture and fashion photography. Since its inception, the gallery has curated exhibitions in partnership with public and private museums including: V&A Museum, London; Hong Kong Arts Centre; Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow; Erarta Museum of Contemporary Art, Saint Petersburg; Palazzo Reale, Palazzo Pirelli and Triennale in Milan; Museum of Cultures in Lugano, and Nicola Erni Collection in Steinhausen, Switzerland.

Hans Georg Berger

Mekong, 1994 © Hans Georg Berger

Hans Georg Berger

Plaza de Espana, 1985 © Hans Georg Berger

Hans Georg Berger

Vestizione III, 1998 © Hans Georg Berger

Hans Georg Berger

Carlo, 1995 © Hans Georg Berger

Hans Georg Berger

Luigi XVI, 1978 © Hans Georg Berger

Hans Georg Berger

Scirocco, 1985 © Hans Georg Berger

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