Olaf Unverzart

The Idea of the Sublime

Text by Paul Davies

Munich-based photographer, Olaf Unverzart is a road cycling enthusiast and jazz aficionado. He does both in his free time, although that is fast becoming a rare commodity. Since graduating in 2000 with a Fine Art Photography diploma, Unverzart has enjoyed a varied selection of commissions for both German and international publications. He has lectured photography at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste Nürnberg and is currently teaching at Mozarteum in Salzburg. There has also been a succession of monographs, plus solo and group exhibitions, taking him from Melbourne to Cape Town and Limerick, Ireland. He was one of six selected artists-in-residence at La Brea Matrix, Los Angeles last year and is just taking up another residency at the Göethe Institute in Vilnius, Lithuania.

This year, Unverzart will travel to India, Uzbekistan, Mali, Sardinia and the Alps. The latter being a recurring location for his works. In Nordwände (2008), he presents a series of images [left portfolio] inspired by Anderl Heckmair, first climber of the Eiger Northwall, who declared it, "The six unsolved problems of the Alps." With just a large format camera and tripod, Unverzart shot the infamous northwalls during twilight. Imperious in their solidity and bereft of daylight, they assume an otherworldly nature.

2009's Somalia Houses offers another perspective. Here, the Ethiopian dwellings, close to the border with Somalia show improvised dwellings that offer protection against external conditions. The images eschew any claims of exploitation by omitting the inhabitants. Instead, we see colour, materials, a sense of dignity. Perceived contrasts are a regular signifier in his work, as are textural surfaces. A weekly photo-column for Germany's respected Zeit magazine has invigorated how the country sees itself. Whilst a commissioned work on Berlin unearthed a city of abandoned concrete dreams. His reportage on illegal gold-digging in Ghana, earlier this year, and hyena men in Harar (2009), reveal a penchant for earthy naturalism - often in monochrome - and a soft, quiet beauty in colour portraiture.

Unverzart is a believer in the picture doing all the talking. If pushed, he describes his images as, "one way to come closer behind the beautiful and cruel secrets of life." unverzart.de

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