The extraordinary black-and-white photographs in 6 x 12 cm and 6 x 9 cm format show the Breton abbey of Beauport near the town of Paimpol in the department of Côtes-d'Armor. The atmospheric pictures were created with the then new Lomo Belair X 6-12 Jetsetter and were developed on site with a Caffenol film developer who mixed them himself.
History in three dimensions
Abbey, the ruin and analog photography
In the photographs of the Beauport Abbey, three special circumstances come together and create a multidimensional image of a place: they are photographs of a ruin, an abbey which no longer fulfils its original purpose, which is no longer just an abbey and a church, but also, as a plus, an inanimate ruin of its former function. And they are analogue photographs taken with an analogue and semi-automatic Lomo Belair medium format camera and developed by hand in Caffenol directly on site in France.
The German-American art historian William Sebastian Heckscher (1904-1999) attributes this quotation about the ruins of the Colosseum to Stendhal:
Destroyed buildings, especially those of the Middle Ages and earlier, have a very special aesthetic that extends the ruinous object of our contemplation by another aspect, that of the ruin. The destroyed monastery is no longer just a monastery enlivened by busy nuns or monks whom we can see and experience directly, smell and hear, no, they and their purpose have passed away and they exist only as perhaps romantic or meaningful and sentimentalized emotoionalized ideas in our heads. It is our peculiarity as human beings that we then mostly imagine the beautiful and less the bad. But these ideas overlap with all the fairy tales and myths of our childhood and adulthood the simple walls of our imagination.
The ruin is not a perfect place, but it opens up a wider space to our imagination than the perfect medieval film could ever do, in which we see everything, everything is there and we are satisfied afterwards and not hungry, after an idea of a life that no longer exists today. Billy Wilder once told Hellmuth Karasek about the filming of emotions:
You don't show the crying. You can only see the shrugging shoulders and the compassionate grief of the viewer, leaving enough room for your own imagination. Perhaps the ruin as a space for our imagination is the same place and moment of experience in which we can actually see history sentimental and desire it and reconcile ourselves with it. Of course, life as a simple canon of a monastery in the 13th century was not a walk in the park, most of the teeth had already fallen out by the age of 30 and the daily work of 12 - 16 hours, including repeated prayers on the hard unseated floor of the abbey church, was nothing that probably did not make a monk older than 40 years.
The analogue and faulty photography reinforces the magical character of the place once again, because it does not simply create an image of the place, with the greatest possible precision. Analogue photography adds a third level to the second level of the site, the ruin. In contrast, a digital, extremely sharp photograph simply reproduces the place as it is: a sharply photographed stack of stones under a steel-grey sky in France.
The analog photo, with its strong grain, the blur, the uncalculated and incalculable errors in development, in taking the picture, in the incorrect exposure during the filming and changing, shows less of the naked and real facts, but more of the possibilities that place and image of place allow us. Not the perfectly sharp image of a hydrangea in the former sacred room of an Anglo-Norman abbey church from the 13th century can be seen. We see something that looks like a hydrangea and the viewer himself completes the picture with his, possibly coloured, memory of hydrangeas in his own life, which he may have seen and experienced himself once in Brittany, and the picture becomes more splendid and colourful and intense in the imagination than if one really saw it that way.
Abbey, ruin, analog and faulty in parts blurred image of the ruin provide a unique depth, which can perhaps only be really seen here when looking at a larger paper print of these pictures.
The goose meadow
The beautiful bay in the county of Goëlo
The ruins of the abbey are picturesquely situated in the former Breton county of Goëlo. It is based on a donation made in 1202 by the former Saint-Rion Abbey to Beauport Abbey, which at the time had only one abbot and three canons. The abbey is said to lie on a former goose pasture. (Which field was not even a goose meadow in it's life?) Probably because of the good situation in the bay and at the Correc the abbot called the abbey Bellus portus, from which the French beau port derived. The abbey belonged to the Order of the Premonstratensians (White and Canonical Order of Prémontré), with 25 religious sent from Normandy to Brittany, the abbey is built up and significantly shapes the landscape around it. The abbey underwent a major change in coastal design and a system of dykes, fisheries and ports was set up. Starting from the abbey, the port of Paimpol flourished and remained important long into the 19th century, while the abbey experienced its decline in the 18th century and was closed in 1790. It was not until 70 years later that the looting was stopped by the fact that the area and the buildings were placed under a preservation order.
Fantastic location and atmosphere
The surroundings of the abbey in the bay, which is affected by an almost 12 m high Tiedenhub, is worth an extensive walk and is very worth seeing. The abbey church itself dates from the 13th century and is built in Anglo-Norman Gothic style. The property itself once included the church, the cloister, the dormitories, the monastery house, the gardens and orchards, two dovecotes and a well, ponds, meadows, a wheat mill and woods on a connected area of 70 hectares.
The abbey is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the region, especially in bad weather.
In the pictures of Beauport Abbey several dimensions of our sentimental sensual perception come together: Abbeys and ruins of abbeys and analogous images of them form a multidimensional space in which our imagination and our emotions are left wide open. It is the natural sensual charm created culturally in centuries of our cultural history, it is this extra beauty that expands the natural beauty of the former abbey. In the past it was only an abbey, today it is an abbey and a ruin and in it live not the mostly poor monks with rotten teeth, but only our imagination.