»THE VIEW FROM ABOVE«
The photographic work of Janez Marenchich
Janez Marenchich (born in 1914 in Kranj) is one of the central figures of Slovenian 20th century photography. He joined the Ljubljana Fotoklub in 1935. In the same year one of his photographs was featured by the Viennese magazine Die Galerie, and the following year he began showing his work at international exhibitions. Marenchich’s early work consisted mainly of genre and landscape photography. The influence of some older photographers e.g. Peter Kocjanchich, Marjan Pfeifer and Lojze Pengal was particularly important. Janez Marenchich tried to make his photography approach the art of painting. This so-called photographic Pictorialism is reflected in the soft contours and hazy atmosphere of meticulous photographic compositions. Marenchich used a soft focus lens for retouching, and in order to create aesthetically perfect and balanced compositions he also made use of photomontage. He was not interested simply in »realistically« communicating the concrete moment but also in the lyrical, poetic and aesthetic message of the photographed motif.
During the Second World War, Marenchich acted as a photo-reporter who accompanied units of IX. corpus in Primorska. Unfortunately, the negatives have been lost. With four preserved photographs of a partisan camp and the night guard on the Trnovski gozd plateau, Marenchich created enlargements using the paper negative process to produce one of the most artistic examples of war photography.
After the war, Janez Marenchich photographed various motifs (fishermen, people working) and explored new possibilities for landscape photography. He became the central figure, mentor and main representative of the so-called »Kranj circle« also known as the »Kranj School of Photography,« which came about within the photographic society which was founded on his initiative in 1949 in Kranj. The works of the Kranj photographers at the time were typified by contrast-filled and ascetic takes on motifs on snow-covered surfaces, similar to some of Marenchich’s pre-war photographs.
In the mid-1950s, Marenchich began photographing the landscape from raised vantage points, slopes and other high places. Marenchich is said to have discovered aerial photography during flights above the Sorshko polje plain. In reality it was just a confirmation of discoveries which had already been growing in him for some time.
The photographs »Diagonals,« »Ornaments,« »Fans,« »Carpets,« »The Promenade« etc. are considered to be examples of Marenchich’s most innovative photography. Through a carefully chosen composition, which emphasises the diagonal, vertical and horizontal lines, as well as the flatness, he created a geometric pattern or abstract ornament, which apparently continues outside the frame.
The horizon, which divides the landscape into two incompatible parts, is as a rule expelled from the composition. Marenchich explained his main photographic cycle with the following words: »For me the line of the horizon on the photograph was actually an unwelcome element, which divided the photograph into two incompatible parts. In order to get rid of this division it was necessary to go higher and look downwards. I climbed, for example, up the bell tower of Kranj parish church and that is how the photographs of the park in front of the Preshern Theatre in different times of the year came about.« (Marenchich’s statement in the interview »Znameniti 'pogled od zgoraj'« (»The Famous ‘View from Above’«), Gorenjski glas, 15.3.1994)
More than by unspoilt landscapes, Marenchich was attracted by spaces which had been altered by human intervention. Man shapes the landscape (fields, vineyards, saltpans, orchards); with his interventions he has gradually »purified« natural forms; he is now present in it in a symbolic or concrete way. »I take photographs of the architecture of the earth, and above all what architects call anonymous architecture which has been created by man who built his dwelling and cultivated his land.« Marenchich drew attention to the monumentality of the landscape by making geometric compositions on which appear tiny human figures (e.g. people walking or cycling) and other rhythmically placed objects (churches, hay stacks, hay barns, lone trees).
Taking photographs from somewhere high above became popular at the end of the 1920s. This was due to a number of factors (the camera no longer needed a tripod, photography was used for military purposes during the First World War, photographs were taken from newly constructed high-rise buildings). The main representatives of this new photographic approach were: Alvin Langdon Coburn, Karl Struss, Paul Strand, André Kertész, later Mario de Biasi and others; in Slovenia the first photographers to try this approach were Fran Krashovec, Karlo Kocjanchich and Janko Skerlep.
Janez Marenchich was the first Slovenian photographer to realise the potential of the view from above for photographic expression and he also used it successfully to address the problems posed in art at that time. Connections with contemporary painting must also be mentioned. It is also worth mentioning a small cycle of close-up shots of the algae-covered surface of Lake Bled from the 1970s.
Marenchich’s photographs were always meticulously planned in advance and were never the result of a lucky coincidence. He only took out his camera once he had thought out the final appearance of the photograph, the message of its content, the right composition and shooting angle, harmonised colours and tones. Through the conviction that the power of photography is in »cutting down the pictorial elements and having a simple composition« or in »omitting«, »composing what has been cut down«, he always strove to set up a visual order (quotations from Marenchich’s typescripts »Po dolgi poti« (After a Long Journey), 1941, »Moj pogled na fotografijo« (My Views on Photography), undated).
Janez Marenchich prepared his first independent exhibition in 1971 in Kranj. The photographs which he then gave to the Cabinet of Slovenian Photography are the beginning of the public photographic collection in Kranj. In the 1970s, he stopped displaying at group exhibitions but continued to participate as a backer and selector. The Museum of Modern Art in Ljubljana showed his works at a retrospective exhibition in 1993. During this period he also began doing colour photography.
On his 90th birthday, the president of the Republic of Slovenia awarded him the Golden Order of Merit, the Photographic Federation of Slovenia gave him the Janez Puhar Award for a lifetime’s achievement, and the Cabinet of Slovenian Photography published a book on his work entitled Fotografije. Kranj Municipal Council made him an honorary citizen of the city. He died in 2007.
The Promenade, 1955