Thomas Lake reviews Jochen Lempert's new monograph, Paare / Pairs.
Science and photography have been interlaced since the latter’s inception. Utilising the medium primarily as a technical document in 1878, Edward Muybridge was able to accurately study the movement of both animals and humans. Jochen Lempert's photographic study of couples and pairs shares a similar systematic quality, his youth spent studying as a biologist being perceptible - the same attentive eye unwavers throughout this series – still, the publication succeeds in establishing a playful narrative. The curation consists of photographs which are visually evocative of a preceding image, causing one to endlessly flick back and forth between photographs, putting everything under the microscope in search of discrepancies.
In the case of what seem to be almost duplicates, I found the photographs give way to what you might call visual semantic satiation. Semantic satiation, the psychological phenomenon in which repetition causes a word or phrase to temporarily lose meaning for the listener, can, for me, be translated into the visual realm as seen in the work of Andy Warhol or Bernd and Hilla Becher. So too in Lempert's photographs, his lens is a knife, dissecting and distilling flora and fauna into surreal, isolated shapes and patterns. I notice reoccurring forms; a birds eyes and a pair of berries share the same circular black dot of ink across the page, these markings punctuated by a couple of intentionally blank pages which cleanse the viewers palate.
As divulged in the books essay by curator Yasmil Raymond, Lempert works by way of what he calls “constellations”. Meaning that prints are pinned to a wall in the style of a mind-map diagram. The ‘Paare / Pairs’ publication is a seamless manifestation of this; a web of visual connections. Clouds and grapes, crescent moons and a dress pulled taut. What Lempert is interested in is form. Such a working process calls to mind Google’s reverse image search feature, examining a photograph before constructing a mathematical model of it using advanced algorithms. It is then compared with billions of other images in Google's databases before returning matching and similar results. Artist Trevor Paglen studies the neural networks behind object recognition to examine how such technologies digest and relay images in his installation “From 'Apple' to 'Anomaly'” which I saw at the Barbican in 2019. The room was totally covered from floor to ceiling in loosely related photographs; you might assume that this is what Lempert’s studio looks like.
Despite the immediate methodical undertones, I do feel that ultimately this series lacks the forensic and dispassionate framework of a photographic series by Muybridge or Berenice Abbott, for example. Instead, there is a soft ambience of obscurity and curiosity here, more akin to the much revered ‘Evidence’ (1977) by Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel. Perhaps what Lempert is really investigating is the ambiguous and interchangeable lives of images. How we connect, categorise and define photographs in regards to one and other. How an image can gain one meaning as quickly as it can be replaced by another.
Written by Thomas Lake
Paare / Pairs by Jochen Lempert is published by Tenderbooks.