Arresting Time:
Erich Lessing

Reportage Photographs
1948 - 1973

Alastair Crawford, Editor
(Quantuck Lane Press/Norton)
One of the things we ask again and again is ... how do they do it? How does a good novelist come up with the story-line, the dialogue, the characters? How does a playwright know to get the people on the stage and off the stage at the right time, much less putting words in their mouths? How does a poet know the economy, the end-stops, the rhythm for the perfect sonnet?

How did Michelangelo know where to cut and where not to cut when he was forming David? How did Renoir know the exact amount of cinnabar and turquoise (not to say black or white) to put in the milkmaid's hair, face, eyes, nose, blouse? How did Beckett know what word to put in, what to leave out, when he constructed the greatest play of all time, All That Fall?

How did Frank Lloyd Wright know how to cut and align his true great works of art: the chairs and tables and doors and windows in his various houses? And how, we ask now (we could go on; let's stop) how did Erich Lessing come up with such fine black-and-white photographs...

...photographs that tell a story, not too little, not too much? How many shots did he have to make in his twenty-five years of reportage to come up with the 400 or so that appear in this book? Which did he print, which did he cut, which did he throw away? Will we know, will we ever know? (and does it even make any sense to ask)?

For sure, it was the time, a Europe laid waste by six years of war, then the Cold War, East and West Germany, the beginning of the Hungarian Revolution (workers at the Petöft Club) in 1956; John Foster Dulles (what teeth!) in Washington, 1959; Walter Ulbricht (Boo! Hiss!) in East Berlin, 1957; Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski (back from exile) Prague, 1956, Khrushchev (storming --- the U2!) in Paris, 1960; Willy Brandt (like a wind-up doll) in West Berlin, 1959; Bob Hope (mugging, always mugging) at the GUM Department Store, Moscow, 1958; Charles deGaulle (ortund, always ortund), Algiers, 1958; Rodion Malinovski, Soviet Minister of Defense (what an evil-looking guy: those lips, those eyes, those shoulders) Moscow, 1960...

...and the unknowns: workers building housing in Bytom, Poland, a fashion show in Vienna, a Bar Mitzvah in Krakow, brokers at the Bourse, West Germany, miners in Rhein, Altenessen, American Secret Service agents, Geneva (summit conference)...

...and the masses, a Soviet military band in Heldenplatz, Vienna, citizens in Kosovo (do things change?), Lenin Monument in Tbilisi, Georgia, 1958 (yes they do), children collecting scrap-metal, Berlin, 1951 (sometimes they change very quickly.)

Well, part of this is just text to fill up the page so we can put four photographs up, much as the text in Erich Lessing may tell you a few things: a laudatory introduction by Alistair Crawford, ("People Known and Unknown"), fifteen chapters (which may or may not hold together), an interview with the subject ("How did you get into photography in the first place?"), a biography, a list of the ninety or so (!) books by Lessing, from 1956 to 2006, and some appropriate quotes, such as this of August Sander, 1876 - 1964,

    Nothing is more hateful to me than photographs sugar-coated with gimmicks, posts, and false effects. Therefore, let me speak the truth in all honesty about our age and the people of our age.
--- Pamela Wylie
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