The Guardian - United Kingdom; Apr 29, 2002
BY SAMANTHA ELLIS
Martin Bruch falls over. A lot. And every time he falls he takes a photograph from the perspective of his landing. So far he's got 366, a chronicle-in-pictures of the multiple sclerosis that makes him fall. His skewed shots have been shown in Austria and at the Venice Biennale, and next week they come to London. Bruch is an obsessive man. He photographs everyone he meets, while in his day job as a sound archivist he is busy collating door noises. "Every door you can imagine, opening and closing. There's a door in a hallway, a wood door, a metal door. . ." He's also got a photographic project on the go at work, photographing everyone who sits on a certain red sofa. Another series is called Trunks. "When I go on the street I photograph open car boots. It's a never-ending story because there are millions of cars."
Born in Hall, Tirol in 1961, the son of an abstract artist, Bruch cites his favourite artists as snowball-melter Andy Goldsworthy, cathedral-wrapping duo Christo and Jeanne-Claude and fat-and-felt merchant Joseph Beuys. His first camera was a gift - a Lomo, one of the clunky cameras, made in Russia's Leningrad Optical Mechanical Organisation factory, which sparked an art craze in the 1990s. The Soviet-era cameras are absurdly low-tech, but devotees learn to love the blur. Bruch loved his Lomo, but became disenchanted after taking 1,250 pictures and finding only 50 salvageable.
Then his balance started failing, as a result of his multiple sclerosis, and he started to fall. "One day I fell down and saw that this was a perspective that no one had photographed before. I loved it and I knew that I had to photograph it. Most photographers don't lie on the floor and take photographs." So in May 1996, he started photographing his falls, or, strictly speaking, his landings. His surname means "break" or "crash", hence the name Bruchlandungen ("crashlandings").
Technical prowess doesn't interest him. "I always use a Kodak FunFlash. It's a very simple camera, it's 99.9% recyclable, and if I fall on it, it won't break." He has other rules: he always uses a flash, he takes landscape shots ("because we see horizontally, we wear our glasses horizontally") and he exhibits them small. "People always say 'slow up, blow up,' but I think all you need to do is get closer to the photograph and then you have it blown up." They are almost snapshots in their lack of guile, and his photographs offer a glimpse into a topsy-turvy world of woozy landscapes. Stairs loom up, buildings veer away, roads flip up vertically. Sometimes a capsized chair indicates how he must have fallen. His scooter gleams in the corner of some photographs; later images are dominated by his wheelchair's shiny spokes. "The photographs are a chronology of my disease getting worse," he says. Not all sufferers of MS fall this often, but then many don't take the risks he does. "It's wild, It's risky. Other people sit in a wheelchair and get pushed."
The people in the images are amused, bewildered, shocked. In one image, pensioner twins in green velvet look as quizzical as the queens in Alice's Wonderland. If people rush to help, or if a fall is too devastating for him to whip out his camera, he makes a black photograph recording the place, date and time of the fall. One black photograph records a fall backwards down an escalator. "At least I know I am six escalator steps long," he says.
He photographs car boots because "it's an intimate zone in a public space", and there's nothing more wrenchingly intimate than falling over in public. It's not just the exposure, it's the way strangers feel like they know you. By recording people's reactions, he turns the tables and makes them the subject of his observation.
For his next project, Handbike Movie, he attaches a camera to his head and speeds along the open road, cars zooming past, filming the traffic from his three-wheeler wheelchair. But he's not sure about the noise. He turns it up so loud I can barely hear him shouting over the sturm und drang of Vienna's Ringstrasse. "This is what I wanted to convey," he yells. "The noise. And there's a sense of silence in the noise, don't you think?" An irate driver sounds his horn. "That was not because of me," says Bruch. So far he's filmed in Paris and Vienna. Next stop, London. "I'm addicted." He's also still making crashlanding photographs.
Other photographers have played with the idea that, unlike the paintbrush, the camera is almost part of the body, an extra eye. Susan Sontag wrote: "A photograph is not only an image, an interpretation of the real; it is also a trace, something directly stencilled off the real, like a footprint or a death mask." In Bruch's work, the pictures are almost like X-Rays in their capacity to record the sensation of falling, and the downward spiral of a disease. Bruchlandungen is as much a record of his astonishing positivity as of his struggle with MS. The photographs serve another function too: "You can't be frightened to make a photograph," he says. "There's not time to wallow when you've got to point and shoot. For him the photographs are not bad memories but a testament to survival. "I have had 366 falls with photographs," he says. "A lot more without. But I am alive."
Bruchlandungen is at Sadler's Wells, London EC1 (020-7863 8000) until
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