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Meaningful Glances
by Franz Josef Görtz (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, FAZ)
translated by Jenna L. Brinning
January 2011

Meaningful glances, but the lips remain closed. Or in a quiet smile that betrays above all composure. The hands, until now buried apparently without interest deep in the coat or trouser pockets, take shelter from the brisk sea air in the sleeves of a jumper, as if they didn’t belong there, part of a different story altogether, These are scenes on the beach, underneath trees, or out in the open, photographed by Martin Plantikow. Sometimes they also take place in anonymous spaces that one might take for an attic in some workshop somewhere in a totally different part of the world: small rooms, from whose interiors and furnishings no one could tell who lives and works there, or who was only temporarily there, maybe just once, as a guest, for a few minutes, an hour, an afternoon, a week, a time trickling away infinitely slowly. These are deliberately static moments, as if staged on playgrounds for marginal characters, moved only by the camera to the centre of the action and captured there forever. It is always the random, usually invisible, moments, perhaps noticed by no one else, which seem to mean nothing, but become to the attentive eye of the photographer the beginning or end of an event whose course of action, whose start and whose turning points remain to be told.
A young woman—sometimes also a child, an old woman with a saucy straw hat on her head—stands, sits or lies centre stage. Tentative and indecisive, visibly curious or cautiously adventurous, typically out in the open, in a few cases behind a windowpane looking outward; not uninvolved, but with a certain distance. There are occasional traces of unexpectedly quick movement, as if the woman walking on the beach wanted to flee, or run away in any case, with her shoes in her hands, since she can make headway faster barefoot in the sand, and haste is evidently called for. But who or what is pushing, luring, seducing whom? Reviewing the images of the same series, we think: possibly this sudden haste on the beach, somewhat inexplicable to the viewer, stems simply from girlish high spirits, a sudden, indescribable feeling of happiness in nature at the sight of the boundlessly open sea underneath the open sky. But who can say that with authority? And who wants to know so precisely? And why, really? How nice, that we have to think while looking. We see scenes from Ahrenshop and Stralsund, Krummenhagen or Nienhagen in West Pomerania, where Martin Plantikow is from, or from Frankfurt, where the photographer has lived and worked for several years. .

Occasionally the ladies’ eyes remain closed, just for a fleeting moment, it seems, and we cannot say why we think we detect a friendly and ironically perky smile in their eyes. A pleasant, incidental cheerfulness, cautiously floating over everything, is perceptible in these portraits, which show us discreetly and without digression what they mean. They give us a picture of feminine grace and dignity, the natural und guileless beauty of a young woman who wants to rest within herself, who enjoys the repeated glances of the photographer silently and thoughtfully like the last snow or the first rays of sunshine. Without a doubt, Heather and Heike, Angelina and Brigitte have a secret. Martin Plantikow has captured it, without giving it away. It comes to light, but presents mysteries unwaveringly, yet freely, as soon as we take a second or third look – at their hair, for example, blowing in the wind, unless it is intentionally brushed tightly and severely back. Or at their feet, sometimes in slender shoes, sometimes in roomy boots or clunky work shoes that have gone a long time without laces. Distinctive, like Heike in front of the camera, with her beautiful long hair which covers half her body. Or, no less modest and well-behaved, she crouches before the photographer, arms around her knees, her feet in out-of-style lace-up shoes, purposely and awkwardly pointing inward. The female sex owes its appeal to shoes with heels and hairstyles with elaborate braids, averred the writer Restif de La Bretonne, one of the most vehement adversaries of the Marquis de Sade. Restif kissed women’s feet when he wanted to look them in the eye. In bygone centuries, boots and high-heeled shoes, braids and frizzy hair had so much power over men. Rapunzel did this as effectively as Judith, who also let her hair down to render her lover defenceless. In this series of pictures, labelled “Eté, amour et poésie” and “l’infinité du moment,” Heike cites that with smiling distinction. Martin Plantikow has occasionally taken pictures in colour, as if we just had to know what the shirt and the trousers look like, the curls, the shoes and boots, what Angelina’s dance costume looks like without shadows, or the winter jumper in which Nerci seeks sanctuary. Yes, we look at them for a long time, and indeed, some of the contours soften. But shadows belong in these portraits, and we soon see why the majority are in black and white. This does not denote any kind of reduction, but instead a clear accent, which makes it easier to perceive contrasts and focuses our attention on the nuances. Take Julia in colour and with closed eyes next to her portraits in black and white. Another temperament almost becomes visible, at least another temperature, and perhaps even a darker timbre. With Irina from “Album One,” Brigitte from “Album Two,” and the wonderful Lu z ie Krolow from “Album Three” it is not much different. What would appear as grey in black and white is softened by the colour into something without commitment, an effect that cannot have been Martin Plantikow’s intention. He never veers into the vague and approximate, because he values exactness and commitment above all else. Painters can run riot in landscapes; the field of photographers is in people and their faces, if they are avowed people-collectors and wise and thorough researchers of character like Martin Plantikow. Because photography, as Kurt Tucholsky said, is irrefutable. Anyone who understands women a little bit will look at these images at length and agree with him.

by Franz Josef Görtz (FAZ), translated by Jenna L. Brinning

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