What Was It That Damjan Gale Saw

Until recently, the shady and pleasantly cool Jakopič Gallery hosted a retrospective exhibition dedicated to the oeuvre of photographer Damjan Gale.

A photographer who belonged to a generation that used to make shorts out of smuggled jeans, a generation that used to sport bushy beards to ward off excessive earnestness and keep a fag in their mouths to create professionalism. If there is one thing that is truly impressive – in addition to the outstanding quality of the exhibited works itself – it is the easiness and the vehemence and the not entirely forgotten mischief that spiced up the aforementioned professionalism.


And this is a nostalgic write-up, mid-summer shade and archival black-and-white photos all rolled into one.


From the perspective of a generation that I belong to and that did not get to experience Gale in the flesh things are strikingly different. In fact, everyone I spoke to and who knew him, even if only vaguely and fleetingly, speaks about him first and foremost as a person. Apparently, he knew how to impress. This is what provided inspiration for the exhibition's opening speech and the introduction to the exhibition catalogue. But for us who are further away from his personality his photography is perhaps even more powerful. For the photographs themselves – hung in the gallery's neutral environment – convey even more vividly everything that his friends and acquaintances talk about. Especially the original ones, developed in a darkroom.


From the very beginning they convey quite clearly that this was a time when easiness was not the domain of one of the parties, nor was it cynicism, but simply a spirit of the time. A time when everyone worked really hard, but took lazing around just as seriously. When everyone was also hard at work fouling up, but in an ignorantly cool way, with style. As far as photography as such is concerned, this ultimately means that this makes it simply multifaceted, more alive. In terms of a strictly rational analysis, a dissection of "purity of expression and composition" probably less perfect, but all the more powerful. But when it comes to his attitude to work, an almost obsessive shorts-wearing perfectionism springs to mind. Total dedication and an uncompromising attitude. But then just look at the cut off cross, a corner of the eaves tumbling from a photo, pigeons and wandering passers-by, the greenery bursting all over architecture.


It was a wonderful timing for the exhibition. In the basement of the Jakopič Gallery, one could see not only everything that's just been mentioned, but also architecture itself in a cool way. And a 100% professional way. Through the very medium that has reinvented architecture, making it part of the Internet age, yet simultaneously reducing it to fairly unambiguous images. These are different. It might also be because they were unconcerned with the required meaningfulness and informativeness. Because they were not "profitable", programme-based.


And what's more, this is exactly what the architecture featured in his photographs is like, imperfect. They make a wonderful pair. Plečnik still in its wild, overgrown and at least partly unrenovated stage, the Kras Group of architects' architecture bloody vehement, especially in terms of an elaborate and precise execution. And at least as far as this is concerned, a complete opposite of today's zeitgeist. A bell tower of a church in Piran, the disordered shutters below, as though they were taken from a De Sica's film, a composition with the same bell tower from the other side, and a wild organic growth of the town, a heap of walls and roofs and a pious pin keeping it all together.


It's all about priorities. Work is about taking decisions, one after another. Is what matters more an elaborate thorough execution of a fully visible end of a corner or should I forego it on purpose for the sake of a generally powerful composition and position. You always weigh up and decide on the basis of priorities. And unlike back then, today is all about strict burdened consistency, not about the spirit. We don't trust the feeling, nor do we really trust reason, the only thing that we may still have true faith in is calculation.


Author of the photo: Damjan Gale; Source: Archive Damjan Gale

Article title
What Was It That Damjan Gale Saw
Original article title
Kreativno: Kaj je videl Damjan Gale
Andrej Mercina
Published in
Archive Damjan Gale