“Home is not a place, home is a feeling,” sings Herbert Grönemeyer, a German musician. He has expressed his affection for the Ruhr region, the place he was born, like no other. In 1982, this huge urban area, formed from a conglomeration of large industrial towns, suddenly became home to the Czech photographer Jitka Hanzlová. From one day to the next, she found herself in a place where everything was strange: the language, the people and the landscape. It certainly didn’t feel like home.
“Otherness is a challenge. It keeps you alert and sharpens your senses,” Jitka Hanzlová knows. She explored her new surroundings with her camera, later dedicating a series of photographs to it, entitled “hier” (here). The pictures show a landscape that has been shaped by people for their needs and plans, and in which nature only occupies a very small space. Hemmed in, forced into gaps and crowded out, trees and bushes nevertheless seem to be proclaiming, bravely, “Here I am!”. To varying extents, Hanzlová’s work reveals the bizarreness of an order that stands in strong contrast to the untouched nature of the Czech forests of her childhood.
At first glance, her pictures seem clear and cheerful, but the longer one looks at them, the more they reveal their complexity, reflecting the intricacies of life. “The feel of a place is very important for my work,” the artist explains, “especially the light.” She uses this skillfully but not dramatically. Jitka Hanzlová brings out a sensual, almost poetic side of the Ruhr region, without giving the impression of an idyll. It is important to her to capture in her pictures things that seem to be self-evident but are not. “hier” took many years to create, interrupted for long periods while she worked on other series. In “female” she devotes her work to portraits of young women, for “forest” she returned to her native woods. Her images with their rare combination of dispassion and empathy touch the soul of the observer.
Through her photography, she has gained an unexpected affinity with the Ruhr region, she says, although she still asks herself whether it is where she wants to be. What remains is not only a longing for the quiet of the Czech forests. Even after 28 years, she still retains something of the initial sense of being alien in a new home. The singular relationship between closeness and distance that characterizes her work reflects this feeling.
Image: Untitled (dogs), from the series “Hier”, 2009, 30 x 20 cm, c-print