Interview by Linda Lashford
It was such a pleasure to finally hold Rudolf Hummel’s book Flooded Streets. Three years in the making, I had seen it develop over several Open Studio Workshops, from a collection of carefully curated images into an object of beauty; a book that invited me to not only linger over its enigmatic images, but to explore its texture and surfaces. I couldn’t stop touching it.
On a cool winter’s evening in late, last November, I asked Rudolf to tell me something about how the book had come into being.
Lake Maggiore is backed by an arc of mountains, he explained, and when the winds shift to the southwest, they rise and wad the tops with thickened cloud. That November, they brought with them torrential rain, which broke like a tropical downpour, draining off the Alpine slopes, cascading into the lake. And as had happened over many previous autumns, the lake’s narrow outflow choked back the waters and the levels began to rise, spilling into the streets of the small lake-land towns of Laveno and Cerro, filling them with spinning debris and pushing up through the houses. It’s a small and intermittent disaster that the townspeople have grown immured to. They lay down raised wooden walkways and accept the inevitable ingress of dirt and destruction.
‘I think that the floods had been on my mind for some time’, Rudolf said.’ I live just ten minutes away, up above the towns on the wooded mountain slopes, and have seen the floodwaters come and go over many years.’
On a grey, drizzling day, he surveyed the swirling waters from the shoreline and made two critical decisions. Firstly, to avoid making the obvious documentary images which he felt would exploit the villagers’ circumstances, and secondly, to enter the water. Donning his waders, Rudolf moved tentatively, precariously maintaining his balance against the pull of the currents, trying to steer clear of the worst of the spinning debris and the unseen threats below. Then, in the following days, the waters quietened, the rain stopped and the sun dappled the rippling water, changing the colours, illuminating the surfaces beneath. And for a period, there were multiple layers of light, colour, movement and still, solid road; images that were at times familiar but then like a kaleidoscope, collided into a complex, abstract dance.
Rudolf took many pictures over those two days. His first cut produced around 800 photographs and it was a taxing and thought-provoking process to whittle them down to the final 25. One of the hardest decisions was to let go of the placement images, pictures that gave the series context but also lent a documentary air. Through sequential edits and working alongside Eddie Ephraums, a different focus slowly emerged; a more personal series in which the images came to express many of Rudolf’s concerns about the natural world, the paradox of violence amidst beauty and his own, sometimes conflicted emotional responses: turbulence, confusion and resolution. As the final sequence began to shape up, Rudolf started to write a few words that articulated his feelings. He was initially uncertain about the balance between introductory text and the words that accompanied the images, but as with the sequencing, repeated critical appraisal improved the content. The introduction thinned, and more of a story emerged, sitting seamlessly alongside the photographs.
All in all, it was a slow process; three years in total during the course of which, Eddie mocked up perhaps two or three physical versions of the book as well as creating a number of digital iterations. But as Rudolf said, he wasn’t in a particular hurry to complete the project and believes that the slow pace of evolution, gave him the time and the space to clarify his feelings, producing a more honed and expressive, highly personal book.
‘I am a patient person’, he said, ‘and I remember that when I saw the first version, I was already stunned by its beauty, but over time, even during the last three months before going to print, the book just got better and better. There are no longer any superfluous images in it. I feel it has been condensed down to its absolute essence. It makes me proud’
Apart from its tactile quality, there are a number of remarkable features about ‘Flooded Streets’. Most striking is the range of colours captured in the floodwater. The hints of blue and gold shapes that lie below, the movement of the autumnal leaves across the frame. And then there is the range of movement as the floodwaters rise and fall, at times mirrored in a cacophony of detritus, at other times in the slow drift of a single leaf, suspended on the surface. And perhaps most remarkable of all is the ‘seeing’, the understanding that something so unpromising could actually yield a unique portrait of a flood. Something ventured, something gained.
Flooded streets’ is Rudolf’s first bespoke, hand sewn, self-published book and has been printed in an edition of 75. It is available from Rudolf, price £25. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
It will also be available from Eddie’s website: www.envisagebooks.com
Rudolf was supported through Eddie’s Envisage Books mentoring programme.
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