Notes on Daniel Gustav Cramer’s ‘Trilogy’

Cramer’s images are grouped under three titles:  Woodland, Underwater and Mountain, and many opinions of the works have generated since their exhibition.  The images of seemingly uninhabited/uninhabitable wildernesses – apparently natural scenes of immeasurable scale – seem to unnerve us, stirring our inner fears. It is as though we are disoriented.

Wiseman (2006) connects this work to danger, referring to a darker side of storytelling in the fairytale: “… the scene set for red hooded girls to be eaten and for sweet toothed twins to be snatched.” (Wiseman, 2006) This differed form my own response.  When I first saw Cramer’s Mountain part of the trilogy, I first thought of the paintings of Julian Cooper, in an exhibition I visited some time ago.  Cooper’s paintings also deny us any presence of man, or any evidence of scale or time.  Like Cramer, we know the images themselves are man-made in that they could not exist without a human presence to view and frame the scene in the first place, whether or not they were brought into being by camera or by brush.

Julian Cooper, Overhangs, 2008

Both Cooper and Cramer lead us to believe that the images are as they say they are in their titles, and as we do not know any different, we accept.  Strangely, I felt more trusting of Cooper’s paintings than I did of Cramer’s photographs, most likely as I had learned of Cooper’s mountaineering experience; I believed them to represent existing areas of rockface though I could never possibly know this.  Cramer’s photographic trilogy, however, led me immediately to think of Sonja Braas’ work.  Her images of large scale natural disasters and weather systems do not feature real landscapes at all, but are instead constructed in her studio.

Sonja Braas, Lava Flow, 2005

Asked to consider the order of Cramer’s series’, the beginning image,  Underwater #1, is more representational of an underwater scene.  It situates the viewer, luring us into accepting that what we are to see in the subsequent images will also fall within the category of ‘underwater’ whether that be the case in actuality or not.  and  I feel it is successful in its position as the first in the series.  Underwater #12 for example, as shown in the Informing Contexts presentation, may not be underwater at all, but we have already been gently lulled into believing.  This is not to say such an approach to deciding a final edit would work in all cases; it is very much dependent on the body of work.  Sometimes, a less-representational / more abstract image can introduce a body of work, building to something with more clarity of subject; the other way around to Cramer’s approach in Underwater.

Daniel Gustav Cramer, Underwater #1, 2006

Bier’s suggestion that “Cramer creates an experience of time ever-expanding” (2014) is not one I necessarily relate to.  It could be said that the work depicts human-free scenes without the depth of a horizon to orient ourselves by, thereby opening up subjective possibilities of time and age as their source, but in terms of expansion of time reflected in them I am not sure that I agree.

The function of the caption is clearly important to the success of this project, as Cramer intentionally fails to inform us exactly where we are looking, or when we are looking.  Instead he limits his information to a very broad title and a series of numbers that give no relative clue to one another in terms of time or location.

I found interest in the following description of Cramer’s work from the Domobaal gallery website.

“…  not only are we being plunged into the depths, but also our relationship to visual understanding is also altered. Lines of light become clouds of diffusion, clarities are obscured, and matter and space ease into the other into a murky in-between in which perspectives give way to an obscurity of views. Despite all these accumulated turns in visual expectancy, we still have a world constituted before us, even though this is a form of half–world, shadowed, refracted, and partly concealed. […] We are shown a world caught between composition and decay, almost a primal stirring beneath the surface of things.” (Miles, 2006)

The artist intentionally presents scenes which prompt ambiguity and uncertainty in the viewer, in order to generate intrigue and interest, and questioning around photography itself.  With Underwater, for example, we might ask questions – where?  when?  large? small?  ocean? lake?  warm? cool?  still? moving? silent? loud? remote? fabricated? … REAL?  This lack of specificity is precisely what draws out our inquisitiveness.

Cramer explains that he works with the “unspectacular” to find a “certain kind of silence” within his own process of making (Cramer in Parisi, 2010).  This rationale is echoed in the work of many photographers and artists, but what we  deem spectacular is, of course, subjective, and as we do not know for sure the source of Cramer’s scenes, we do not know if we would find them spectacular or not.  We seem, therefore to dismiss questioning the source, and instead we look for narrative within the image where the photographer does not provide it.  It is as if we are given something here that should be amazing and beautiful, but instead we are left feeling empty.  This raises questions both about photography and about ourselves.  Cramer does seem very in tune with the sense of incompleteness that, it could be argued, photography leaves us with, acknowledging this in his archival work:
“however much one tries, an archive is destined to be incomplete, its status “unfulfilled.” (Cramer in Parisi, 2010)

As we look at Trilogy, we may be drawn by the intrigue of these dark and misty places.  Scenes of natural places where humans cannot see clearly will always provoke a sense of mystery and/or awe.  Photographs naturally omit more than they include, and this work is no different to other photographs in the sense that they all leave us wondering what else there is.  Perhaps that itself is the message within this work.  Perhaps it is timely in terms of human mindsets in the modern western world.  We are missing something.

Asked to consider the context of this work, Cramer clams not to be driven by concept.  ” The work never serves the concept. The concept is rather a starting point from where I can freely explore the potential that
has been laid out. And quite often, the concept is transformed
during the process and might end up just as an echo of its own
voice.” (Cramer in Parisi, 2010)  This is perhaps unusual in the sense that many artists claim to begin with, and adhere to, a conceptual idea, and this statement creates further intrigue.

From a pragmatic perspective the longevity and consistency of Cramer’s approach, and the meticulousness of presentation sets it apart from other projects.  It appears that the work was created over a period of years, perhaps with book and/or exhibition in mind at the outset.  Finding itself in the context of fine art, other factors to consider may also be Cramer’s informed academic background, and his access to international audiences and markets.

All things considered, this enigmatic trilogy seems to succeed in its ability to engage audiences and provoke thought,  leaning easily into its fine art position.

Screenshot http://www.danielgustavcramer.com/publ.html

Bier, A. (2014) Time Travels in Frieze (16th April 2014) (in Informing Contexts presentation, April 2019)

Braas, S. (2005) Lava Flow [Photograph] available at: https://www.sonjabraas.com/the-quiet-of-dissolution/lava-flow (Accessed 1 April 2019)

Cooper, J. (2008) Overhangs [Oil on Canvas] available at: http://www.juliancooper.co.uk/2011/35.html (Accessed 1 April 2019)

Cramer, D. G. in Parisi (2010) Interview with Daniel Gustav Cramer available at: http://www.danielgustavcramer.com/pdfs/klat-parisi-cramer.pdf (Accessed 2 April 2019)

Cramer, D.G.(2006) Underwater # 1 [Photograph] available at: https://www.domobaal.com/exhibitions/34-06-daniel-gustav-cramer-05.html (accessed 1 April 2019)

Miles, J. (2006) Daniel Gustav Cramer: Underwater (Trilogy Part Two): extract from ‘Flickers of a Half–World’, available at: https://www.domobaal.com/exhibitions/34-06-daniel-gustav-cramer-05.html (1 April 2019)

Wiseman. E. (2006) ‘Preview’ in Dazed and Confused, March 2006, (in Informing Contexts presentation, April 2019)