Werner Herzog’s Pure, Clear & Transparent Images
I have watched a specific part of a documentary from 1985 titled Tokyo-Ga (by Wim Wenders) many times. In this scene, the director meets with his fellow film-maker friend Werner Herzog on top of Tokyo Tower. Werner Herzog speaks about “Bilder, die rein, klar und durchsichtig sind” – “Images which are pure, clear & transparent”. The entire scene is on YouTube (Werner Herzog on his quest for ‘pure’ images).
The setting is relevant. What follows is my literal translation: “It is very simple, there are hardly any images. If you look out here, everything is built up. There are almost no more images possible. One has to dig like an archaeologist with a spade. One has to see, that one can find something from this offended landscape. Very often, of course, this is associated with risks. I would never avoid these. I see there are only very few people in the world nowadays who would dare something for the need we have.”
“Namely, having too little adequate images. We absolutely need images which are in harmony with our level of civilisation, our inner being and our very deepest.”
I’m not sure what he is conveying with the following sentence. It is either:
- going into war to protect, secure such images
- go where ever necessary, even if it was into the middle of a war to obtain such images
- something else.
“If necessary, one has to go directly into the middle of a war, or where ever else necessary. I would never complain that, for example, it is difficult sometimes. That, let’s say, one has to climb an 8000 m high mountain, in order to get images that are pure, clear and transparent.” As he is looking down onto Tokyo City: “There’s hardly anything possible here. One has to really search. I would even go to Mars or Saturn if I could hop on the next space shuttle.” I have left out the following few sentences (he talks about NASA’s SkyLab Project, scientists going into outer space. He would take his camera), and Werner Herzog finishes:
“Because it is not easy here on this earth to find that, what represents the transparency of images. That, which used to be. I would go every where (to find such images).”
It makes me think about the various types of photography, how photographers earn a living, how much of photographic work could be the opposite of “pure, clear & transparent”. Fashion photography for instance, where the model is wearing make-up, has been styled in all superficial ways and directed to create an emotion that highlights a product or agenda that is being advertised. I don’t see transparency or purity. Further, while the message can appear clear, the photo isn’t.
If you ask me, we can only benefit from applying “pure, clear and transparent” to whatever it is we do. It is a huge ask and often in life one cannot choose freely. One might be directed to paths which are the opposite, and nevertheless create tangible value. For me, it is not a question of right or wrong, good or bad, it is the question of how much of a dose of “pure, clear and transparent” we are willing to incorporate into our life? Given that we can influence it.
I will continue to think about “pure, clear and transparent images/photos/pictures” in the concrete and abstract sense. Great Barrier Island is certainly the opposite of built up, and we have generally little (visible) pollution. What resonates mostly with me is that if I could choose what to be acknowledged for. How to earn my living in terms of my photography, or anything else I do. I would certainly feel proud and accomplished if I can truthfully state that what I have chosen and what I have done is “pure, clear and transparent”.