Joël Tettamanti, Local Studies

28 February to 17 May 2009


From the study "Qaqortoq", Grönland 2004
© Joël Tettamanti

From the study "Niseko",
Japan 2004
© Joël Tettamanti

From the study "Fire",
Switzerland 2005
© Joël Tettamanti

I never hate a place. Even when I go to Luxembourg and take pictures in a nuclear power plant. I always find something interesting, something unreal maybe. (JT)

Joël Tettamanti, who was born in Cameroon in 1977 and grew up in Lesotho and Switzerland, is a modern travel photographer. Like many photographers before him, he has journeyed to familiar and unfamiliar places all over the world, but without carrying out previous research and without consulting any travel guides. It is enough for him to know how to get to the out-of-way destinations. Left to his own devices, Tettamanti's photography does not conform to any preconceived concept. He works intuitively and gains his inspiration for his quiet, compelling colour photos from chance and unforeseeable encounters. He avoids what is already too familiar and is open for the discovery of pictures that speak of the identity of the places that he encounters without prejudice. In some regions, for example in Iceland (“Where is my giant?”, 2008), Tettamanti experiences photography as a fight against an overwhelmingly beautiful, overpowering landscape where he seems to have seen everything there is to see in order to arrive at an unspectacular and perhaps somehow typical landscape.

Joël Tettamanti studied visual communication and photography at the Ecole Cantonale d'Art Lausanne (ECAL) from 1997 to 2001. His first independent work was dedicated to the landscape of the Swiss mountains (“Cols alpins”, 2001) and the agglomerations around major Swiss cities (“Stadtland Schweiz”, 2002). He subsequently travelled for magazines such as Hochparterre, Das Magazin or Wallpaper to far-off places where he often only remained for a short time after a long flight. Tettamanti likes jetlag: the feeling of waking in a different time zone, somewhere where his inner consciousness has not yet fully arrived. This enables him to move like a sleepwalker through uninhabited and unused areas that reveal their true beauty in the twilight of the borderline between day and night.

Tettamanti is interested in transitions such as Alpine passes and national borders (“Ondarribi”, France and Spain, 2003), because they are fluid and confining at one and the same time, because they preserve identity and provide an incentive to overcome limits and discover new horizons. Himself a commuter between different cultures, he oscillates between Greenland and Mexico, China and Spain, between landscapes in which the presence of man is barely perceptible and cities in which nature has been banned almost entirely. He focuses on specific constellations of objects, structures or buildings with which people have “furnished” their environments: absurd scaffoldings, temporary housing, dense apartment blocks, sprawling settlements and timeless ruins – alien objects in familiar surroundings, at the transition between use and decay, like haphazardly placed or forgotten “containers” whose use and contents neither Tettamanti or the beholder know. Frequently, they are shown in an atmospheric emptiness in which they reveal a superficial similarity and an inner, enigmatic relationship through their structure and forms. They are there, and they are waiting, says Tettamanti, until their unspectacular details begin to speak suggestively through the sensuous quality of light. Joël Tettamanti does not furnish an explanation. He wants to see the world not only differently, but to discover a perhaps unreally different – and yet our own – world. A world that is constantly changing.

In terms of technique, Tettamanti works with extremes: on the one hand, he photographs slowly and extremely precisely, using a large-format camera with a tripod and frequently very long exposure times and conventional 4 x 4-inch colour negative material. On the other, after developing the negatives he catapults the images through high-resolution digitalisation into the 21st century, where they become, as digital data, parts of our modern virtual image culture.

The exhibition “Local Studies” was inspired by Joël Tettamanti's book of the same title, which was produced in collaboration with the Musée d'Art Moderne (MUDAM), Luxemburg, and published in 2006 by the Edition etc, Berlin. In addition to the photographs published in the book, the exhibition presents numerous new works. It is the first comprehensive presentation of Tettamanti's photographic work in Switzerland.

Martin Gasser

From the study "Ondarribi",
France and Spain, 2003
© Joël Tettamanti

From the study "Cols alpins",
Switzerland, 2001
© Joël Tettamanti

From the study "Qaqortoq",
Greenland, 2004
© Joël Tettamanti

From the study "Harajuku",
Japan, 2005
© Joël Tettamanti

Joël Tettamanti, Local Studies, Edition etc, Berlin 2006, 224 p., with a glossary with texts by the artist and other authors (épuisé).