To celebrate the release of No Storm in Sight, we talk to its author Norbert Graf
Firstly, please tell us the journey behind No Storm in Sight? What led you to making it?
Norbert Graf: The topic that has been with me for a long time now is the area of tension between mankind and nature. On the one hand, we humans are an inseparable part of nature, we depend on it and still act like hairy monkeys probably more often than we’d like. On the other hand, we do a lot to decouple ourselves from our natural environment, by means of technology and culture and more. I find the tension that opens up here very exciting. When we talk about man and nature, we are used today to talk about big problems like the global warming, the ecological devastation or the pollution of our world. My approach in this project is different; I wanted to start in the small and the everyday. You will find the big themes, but they won’t jump offensively in your eye.
How did you find your first image behind this idea and what does it show?
NG: The first picture was found while walking through the forest close to the place where I live, a pile of sawn wood covered with a big plastic tarpaulin. Not something which I had drawn much attention to before since such piles of wood can be seen quite often in the forests. But the shape and the color were different this time, also were the dimensions. It had a sculptural quality, with a presence not to be overlooked. The nature of the plastic’s green color showed that it was trying to blend in its surroundings as much as possible, but at the same time it also emphasized its fundamental otherness. Like a well-camouflaged thing from another place. This reminded me of two things. First, a personal experience from my younger years, when the magical child’s eye was able to bring even very contradicting objects into connection with one another and therefore to a unity, combining the real and the unreal with ease.
Second, my constant fascination for the revolutionary and at the same time poetic power of early German romanticism when a writer like E.T.A. Hoffmann or a musician like Robert Schumann experienced the world around them in a way that they reflected it in their works with abrupt changes and sharp contrasts; every now and then also contrasts between the real and the unreal. It is not by coincidence that at the beginning of the 19th century the romantics’ longing for nature just came about when people realized that the industrialization had an immense effect on the landscapes in which they lived.
From that point, how did it proceed? As you expected, or did your ideas around the project change during the process of making it?
NG: My task was then to find more objects or situations in which I could find this coming together of manmade and naturalness. Something which is not that difficult per se, but I wanted to find these certain moments when something has the capacity to surprise in order to include this romantic quality I mentioned before. I wanted to make feel something like the “romantic irony” which describes the moment when one becomes aware of the splits the world consists of. And at the same time I wanted to keep a continuity through the whole series of course… So, my ideas did not change during this process, but it took quite some time to get the results. I could not plan much, but was rather like somebody roaming around with the camera ready all the time.
We are sure this “romantic irony” you describe could be found elsewhere, but your images have a certain individual speciality. The images were taken in Switzerland, your place of origin. Can you track down the peculiarity of your images and why those images can’t be found somewhere else rather than in your home country?
NG: Primarily I wanted every picture to appear as if it was clearly legible, with a direct layout, very straight (if that, what it shows, is clearly legible as well, is another question). I suppose that this frame supports your feeling of a typically “Swiss” setting, next to the nice houses and mountains one can see, since there is this cliché of the well-organized, accurate and also a bit sober country. It is like with any cliché: partly it’s true, partly it’s wrong. But yes, my images are well-organized. Only I chose them this way not to underline any specific “Swiss” look, even if one might read it as such. My straight approach helped me to look at situations which I knew very well, but which I wanted to experience newly, in a more abstract or detached way. From a personal point of view: If this is typically Swiss, it is nevertheless quite unfamiliar with me.