Janez Bogataj: Sonata for Sun and Fog
JANEZ BOGATAJ: GAZES OF A PHOTOGRAPHER AND POET
When the words of the author of this unusual photographic collection presents me with the invisible, the poem by Carl Sandburg comes to my mind – it says that fog is in its different roles, hues, positions and perspectives the mysterious leitmotif which provides these images with a special dimension: The fog comes/ on little cat feet. // It sits looking/over harbor and city/ on silent haunchnes/ and then moves/on.
Besides the punctum, as understood by Roland Barthes, this phenomenon tells us that every photograph contains the charm of the invisible. It is a kind of a visual revelation which can hint at a certain event or also a contrast to the discernible. When I listen to the descriptions of photographs, I recall what the poet Ivan Volarič – Feo said: „Mornings are most beautiful in the morning“ (an inner voice tells me you were right, my dear mate from grammar school and university). Bogataj's photographs confirm this witty notion which is at the same time reality of the photographer's work. It generously invited me to rich morning pilgrimages in search of the natural beauty which Kant compared with the beauty of a tulip. When I walk in my imagination through Slovenian landscapes, I know I must get up before the day fully awakens into reality, when the sun - the photographer of all photographers – only just begins its trip, when the golden chariot of Helios only just begins moving up on its celestial path. I cannot help remembering the great poet and translator Georg Haldas, who in a programme for France Culture told me that his father was a Greek and so was he, and that he taught him that he should every morning wait for the sun. This persistent waiting for the morning and the sun is a common denominator of all photographs made by Janez Bogataj. I try to relive these moments and get up early, so to listen to his description in the morning silence. Without this, I cannot follow him through Slovenia, which is otherwise invisible to me, yet very intensely present through his images and the warmth of his description. Fascinated by the beauty, I ask my friend of many years and famous critic Michael Gibson what he thinks of these photographs. He looks at them and tells me they are exceptionally aesthetic, even idyllic images. And then I again follow words in order to better understand the exciting silence which characterises these pictures. The author's voice confides in me how he photographed daffodils on Golica, in the noise of Avsenik's polka I see no further. Then I force myself to silence these sounds, make them ever dimmer, until the dancing song disappears and the daffodils come before my inner eyes, many daffodils which are like white pupils of the dead Narcissus: I may say this would be the most appropriate bouquet for the grave of the unhappy self-centred man in the faraway fairy Venice. Then I see a lake like a giant eye of the Alps, a mountainous world with the mysterious mist which is for me a cataract for viewing early mornings. I am even more moved when this ocular curtain appears as a reflection in water or when it seems that the departing night still rubs the sleepy eyes of darkness. Then I follow the triangular rock which is somehow reflected on the water surface as a square, reaching and halving two mighty mountains, and heavily dropping into the armchair between them. I also sense the parting of some imaginary eyelashes in front of the lake, as if protecting its surface, or I cling to a solitary tree trunk to be safe from the water's depth.
I am convinced that genuine photographs are only those which somehow offer us the opportunity to enter the landscape, to appropriate it, if only in our imagination. This is the charm as the poet says, of those „gentle paws of fog and mists“. I am becoming surprised by new images, those which emphasise the dual of fields in geometric symmetry, or those divided by the dual of a forest and a solitary tree in a clearing. I impulsively think of the author's creative loneliness in the innumerable mornings he has given us. These are very precisely measured moments filled with sediments of perceptions of atmospheres, primarily of silence. Then I pause for a moment, looking at the three swans which go somewhere far towards the left, as if not bothered by our presence. I am even more amazed by the two swans which only for a moment may pay no attention to the observer, only to hasten away each in its own direction and sing us the song of separation. The tree seems gothic to me, its verticality is prolonged into the belfry: when my gaze strolls up and down, I think I hear the distant toll of some distant yearning. I wonder a lot about those mists that rise above the earth like a haze and give one the sense that everything which is visible and material is awake. We could call them transcendental mists, as they strongly impressed the gaze of my third eye. Then I halt at the birches which seem as if they will never accept a lonely companion from some other photograph. The solitary birch also seems as if somehow rooted in its oneness and its place, because it will never be able to reach the company of its companions. It resembles and may even illustrate some Slovenian passive yearning.
Colours also enter me, slowly and carefully, yet not only when they as the only green bush jump into the objectively indifferent gazes, they are constantly evoked by the power of words. Complicated too are the colours of those photographs revealing time, that is living through the course of an entire year from spring to autumn, summer and winter. They are in a way the visual clock of duration, the barometer of passing, the colourful calendar of seasons, of the childhood and the green youth of nature, of Autumn, of life and death. I am also aware that all images contain a lot of what is invisible, places beyond the undulating landscape in the depth of perspective where my gaze suddenly stops, the rock from whose hardness water springs. The play of nature's elements is so convincing that I am tempted to kneel and quench my thirst in the very source of all things – as water was understood by the philosopher Thales of Miletus. As I am dreaming in the face of nature's beauty, I think I still hear Moses' staff striking the rock and inviting new waters. When I am awakened from reflecting by the narrative, I am in the gallery of these photographs. The viewers ask about the author, who has not come yet, though I hear a child's voice from the Chinese restaurant saying: look at the photographer, there he is, on the picture in which the path winds to the left in the middle of that wild landscape. He has gone, says the same voice, yet I see him descending past the branches above the lake's surface.
In hope that the real viewers will be also able to follow this Chinese wisdom, I am aware of the privilege I am granted in the descriptions of the author. These words affect me as a peculiar aesthetic analgesic against frustration, as I may never be able – or could not be able – to visit Slovenian landscapes. Yet I am certain that this inner visual visit overcomes all frustrations, as these photographic moments, unique as such, are a special gift for anyone who can observe beyond the visible. The photographs which I visited with the power of words provide an exceptional impression of atmosphere, duration and primarily the beauty
of the moments forever dead, and photographs thus grow into their successful posthumous mask, which was once a moment in the landscape with Janez Bogataj and his lenses.
When his words stop, I too become silent to give absolute priority to the silence of images which will give birth, I am sure, to many new words and gazes. We should be aware that we do not have eyes to see, but – according to Heidegger – we have eyes because we see. The gaze is thus a consequence of some preceding spirituality. If a viewer is inconvenienced by the silence of the images, he or she can halt at the photograph which captures the feeling of the wind which smooths grass with an invisible comb, when it changes into the never fully explained word of duration and passing. And it is spotted in front of the reeds near the opaque water on which water lilies glide.
DrDr. Evgen Bavčar