Balthasar Burkhard

Visions of the Ineffable

Balthasar Burkhard’s photographic oeuvre stands out for its hermeticism and poetic depth. Burkhard centers on a stock of clearly-defined subjects which he carefully extracts one by one from their context in order to present them as large-format photographs. The motifs range from the geisha (the velveteen softness of Far Eastern faces), the zebra (black and white lines on four hooves), the open loins of a woman (garden of lust and the origin of being), the snail (winding along its slippery labial path), the spring (mineral tidings from the center of the earth), bamboo (fresh, smooth stems), various parts of the body (grace, beauty, nonchalance), the wing of a swan (with which to circle above the lake), the mountain peak (from the sky, down through earth, to hell), dunes (an enchanted moonlight night), the wave (the primeval force of water and air), the city (the aromatic shimmering texture of habitation).

Sparingly reduced as these pictures may appear to be at first glance, the attentive viewer will soon find him or herself immersed in the hidden emotional potential associations they release. The theme in his alp pictures, for example, is the convergence of lightness and strength, of delicacy and monumentality. Here, the alps becomes a metaphor for the marriage of heaven and earth.

Much light, just as much shadow, and not a trace of chromatism. Balthasar Burkhard exercises exceptionally economical restraint in his use of technical means. His works manifestly verge on other arts such as painting, sculpture and architecture. An exhibition catalogue once read that photography is the art of showing extremely simple things in a complex way. Or perhaps it was extremely complex things in a simple way?

Biographical information

1944

born in Bern

1961-1964

studies under Berne Photographer Kurt Blum

1978

visiting lecturer of photography at the University of Illinois in Chicago

1981

regular visits to New York, taking part in various film projects

2010

dies in Bern