The work of German photographer Alexander Binder has been getting better in recent years. It has steadily moved forward from the graphic works that were more suited to obscure heavy metal album artwork, and have evolved into something that now genuinely contain an air of mystique and control. His dark, nightmarish vision has been disciplined and his images have matured.
Binder’s latest photobook, Kristall ohne Liebe (Crystal without Love), is published in cloth covered hardback by Tangerine Press (who also published WUD), and shows that Binder is capable of producing a solid body of work inspired by the darker side of existence without resorting to the old party tricks and cliché symbolism to carry it off. His use of crystal lenses, glass and optical toys to create the distortions of colour, tone and form delivers a personal style that has as much potential as the boundless creaking fairy tales and occult rumblings that inspire him. Binder has a willingness to experiment freely and create charged original work that can speak of something freshly uncovered, a new light-stained imagery that crawls from a place that feeds off reality but is not confined by it.
Kristall ohne Liebe was produced over 5 years in Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and Germany, and incorporates a recurring spider motif, and includes some staple Binderesque imagery such as the Black Forest – from whence he came one Halloween night – and the hallucinogenic mushrooms that live in the slimier crevices of the forest depths. In this foreboding place where ancient whispers linger between the eye-scratching branches and breathing pine-needled floor one needs to keep aware: there are figures that slide between trees, that watch your every move and wait for the moment your breath betrays your fear. Beneath the blood moon, where the fly is sucked dry by the spider on its silvery web, where the carcass of a young deer rots in a clear pool of still water, everything sweats and slithers and the frost glistens.
The deep black of the highest night is inhabited by X-rays of skeletal remains, and mysterious characters seem to perform odd miracles and transgressive rituals, their faces and indeed their entire presence becoming more like a feeling than an image. Binder’s heavyweight work lies within these pages, the truly mesmeric photographs that capture the reader are those that offer less by way of figuration, that are muddled and more suggestive of the half-sleep consciousness that brings on “night terrors”. What appears to be a volcanic landscape could be torn, burnt flesh from the fires of a crude Sabbath. What appears to be the glowing, rainbow light of drug induced Bacchanal, could just as easily be the vision of Paul the Apostle on the road to Damascus.
The visions, nightmares, dreams and conversions that take place in this book are welcome and powerful. The phantasmagoria twists and folds drifting between light’s spectrum of colour and the tonality of gathering storm clouds. Upon those clouds a concerted structure arises as the artist attempts to pick apart the psychosis of what it means to feel love and loss. There is no loss like that of a love, because love requires the full spectrum of emotional attachment and sensory engagement. To lose it brings all manner of demons forward from the black forest of our imagination – we become fearful, paranoid, we doubt our own abilities and question our past. When love is lost, a cavernous hole consumes our sense of self and we become fragile as glass. Intoxication and fantasy can conceal the emotional, substitute the feeling of alienation with one of indifference and distraction. One may find oneself standing by the waters edge, engrossed by the volume of each small wave and the prefect fathomlessness of its form.
As the pictures of insects and fungus insinuate, Binder likes to remind us that we are all part of the natural cycle of existence from decaying carcass to feeding larvae to fluttering moth. The dead star that left us its heavy elements, the first reptiles and mammals, to the perverse glory of human consciousness, it is in Kristall ohne Liebe that we are made aware of our supernatural placement among the stars. Religion and philosophy and purpose and meaning are hard-pressed crystals of knowledge we hold up as tools of power, confidence and control. In a boundless space we shine light through their core to bring hope to our friends, just as we blind our enemies. We do this possibly as a way to defend ourselves from the threat of losing love. When Jesus Christ is quoted as saying “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life,” he spoke of this crystalline vision that defends our souls in the dark otherness. Regardless of the prophet, creed or rationale, it remains so that despite our reign over the natural world we are fearful of its machinations, we know we are subject to an array of malignant visitations, and deep within the black forest of our psyche we know we are but a link in a chain.
Kristall ohne Liebe is a sturdy, enigmatic project presented well in fine print, however it would have been nice to see a more unique and complimentary design that reflects the tone of the work. Design isn’t everything in a book, but perhaps with such idiosyncratic imagery one feels there could have been a stronger emphasis placed on a layout and design that could have added to the fascination of the object. On the whole, Kristall ohne Liebe is a well articulated and intriguing example of Binder at his visionary best, his craft more refined than ever and his ability to drift between the softest daydream and the wickedest omen all the more appreciated.
All images ©Alexander Binder
Kristall ohne Liebe can be purchased directly from here