Koal. A portrait of age
In the last four years and, above all, in the last couple of months I photographed his everyday life in rural Upper Austria and realised how important it is to capture that time in particular. In the past, I was dependent on him, and now the tables have turned.
Photographing the last phase of life that leads to ageing, frailties, changes, and forgetfulness reveals not just time itself and my connection to my grandfather, but also something that awaits all of us in old age.
Simon Lehner, born 1996 in Wels Upper Austria; studied at the University for Art and Design Linz; since 2015 he studies Applied Photography and time Based Media at the University for Applied Arts, Vienna.
In times of migration and the continual stoking of fears of a supposed ‘foreign infiltration’ there is now a palpable sense that many people feel a strong urge to re-engage more closely with their own roots and their own understanding of what home means to them. This phenomenon has been observable more and more in Austria in recent years, and it often manifests itself in a cultural context, too, over and beyond its improper exploitation in the political realm. Exhibition projects, publications, and scientific discourses address this issue in many different ways. In their works photographers such as Paul Kranzler (Landjugend 2004, Brut 2010) and Gerlinde Miesenböck (Land_sterben 2007–10, Das Erbe 2008–10) have explored the phenomena specific to their homeland (of Upper Austria) by studying their own personal environment.
Exploring one’s own origins and surroundings also plays a key role in the works of 20-year-old photographer Simon Lehner from Upper Austria. In his first monograph entitled Jaga, due to be published by Fotohof edition in spring 2017, he examined the widespread and popular pastime of hunting in Austria as a social and cultural phenomenon. Through his documentary-style photographs he sketched a mood picture featuring hunting rituals that are just as stunning as the dead prey itself or certain peculiar collections of trophies.
In his most recent work Lehner focuses on its immediate family environment.
The photographer grew up in difficult family circumstances, and his grandfather Koal was the most important father figure in his life. In this series Lehner documents his childhood hero, a loving and understanding figure who was always there for him and taught him all the important things in life. The empathetic photographic portrait of this surrogate father is structured around his ritualised daily routine. Ordinary activities are charged with meaning, whether it’s the obligatory walk through the woods, the almost daily car wash, or attending to his grandmother. Even things that might seem strange or bizarre are depicted in meticulous detail to create an overall picture of a pensioner living a carefree rural existence in Upper Austria, without any material worries.
In individual images that amalgamate into more substantial narratives Simon Lehner tells the story of a contemporary social reality and of childhood memories that appear as photos, film projections and video clips, making his close relationship with his grandfather all the more palpable. His photographic method is characterised by a fleet-footed immediacy as he courageously seizes the moment décisif by shaping that instant into a convincing and valid image.
Jasmin Haselsteiner-Scharner studied art history in Graz, Venice and New York and is specialized on photography. At the Landesgalerie Linz she is working as curator and head of the photography collection. Works as lecturer, freelance curator and writer. Various publications on topics of historic and contemporary photography.