Leo Lazic

Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquietude:

"Clear things console me, and sunlit things console me. To see life passing by under a blue sky makes up for a lot. I forget myself indefinitely, forgetting more than I could remember. My weightless and translucent heart is pervaded by the sufficiency of things, and the act of looking fulfills me tenderly. I have never been more than a bodiless gaze, stripped of all soul save for a vague air that passed by and saw."

The work presented here is the outcome of a research which can be described as two-directional: backward, through the maze of my memory, and forward, through the perplexity of the visual around us. Returning to my childhood memories, I have tried to establish which images had attracted my attention and ever since subliminally informed my visual language. These discoveries were then used in the process of analysing, understanding and clarifying my photographic work, which in turn enabled me to go even deeper into the well of my memory.

Backward - The Maze of Memory

The furthest I have gone back into my photography-related childhood memories are the one day journeys with my uncle and aunt to the canals between Brussels and Charlerois. My aunt and I accompanied my uncle who went angling in the quiet and rustic canals.

the quiet and rustic canals
For some reason, I have never forgotten the pictorial attraction of the tree-lined canals, although I was a boy just scouting the trails and daydreaming about cowboys and Indians, without showing any explicit interest in the pleasures of that Impressionist landscape. So, almost as soon as I became concerned with aesthetics, I realized the effect this scenery had had on my visual upbringing. But there was something else I saw on those outings that also imprinted itself on my mind. This image, nevertheless, slipped my memory and withdrew into my subconscious from where it kept affecting me for many years....until the day my eyes and my mind opened up and brought it all back... The unexpected discovery came in the shape of a brochure for a famous landmark
a brochure for a famous landmark a brochure for a famous landmark a brochure for a famous landmark
of this region, the canal-lock of Ronquieres, "where the barges go on wheels" and negotiate a rise of 70 or so metres. The booklet describing the state-of-the-art lock built in 1968, so amply illustrated with photographs of that and other neighbouring locks, and with such a dominant ratio to text, that one could easily mistake it for a monograph, had found its way into my parents' library more than twenty years ago owing to the educational enthusiasm of my aunt. Ever since I would occasionally browse through it, but always only to reminisce about those carefree days or so I thought. A couple of years ago, however, while going through it for the same reason I realised for the first time the 'art' (in inverted commas as I find the term obsolete, misleading and inappropriate, but I use it for lack of a better term) aspect of the photographs. It occurred to me that I may have kept returning to this booklet not merely because of my yearning for the past, but also because I saw there the visual expressions that I wanted to emulate, or that I simply found appealing. Having made this connection, it did not take me long to figure out another early source of my visual inspiration: the photographic illustrations of cities in an encyclopedia
illustrations of cities in an encyclopedia illustrations of cities in an encyclopedia illustrations of cities in an encyclopedia
published in the 1960's. As a child, I often used to satisfy my thirst for knowledge by going through the volumes of this encyclopedia. Flicking through the pages in search of some interesting text, I would pay particular attention to images as tell-tale signs as to what to read, and invariably my gaze would be drawn, more than anything else, to photographs of towns, that seemed to be taken in similar weather conditions. Yet this source of inspiration could have easily gone unrecognized were it not for the canal-lock brochure, as all I had been able to muster as a possible explanation was my attraction to the atmosphere of a hot summer early afternoon in deserted streets, with the intense heat accounting for the absence of people. Another image, more or less in the same vein, that I also got to know through this encyclopedia, was De Chirico's 1914 painting "The Enigma of a Day". But, as with the photographs, I was unable to see or feel what lay beneath the surface appeal of this image and consequently had never paid any particular attention to this inclination of mine or its causes.

Now that I had discovered what affected me visually since childhood, I wished to find answers to two more questions: why was I at all susceptible to this imagery, and why from such an early age? By way of fortune, a year later, I made a big step towards a possible explanation after my visit to Egypt, where I had gone for a short but vital journey after a few years of avocational but determined research on the cultural origins of Western civilization. Having never found any books dealing with this matter I took pleasure in looking for any possible leads in art and history books, coupling them with the experience from my travels, and trying to figure out the answer myself, at least tentatively. The need for this minor investigation was born during my visit to Crete when I was astonished and puzzled by the grandeur and subtlety of the Minoan culture. Some aspects of Minoan civilization I found to be undoubtedly superior to the achievements of the Greeks and Romans. The claims of certain theories about Crete being Atlantis could be easily understood when standing in midst of that marvellous heritage. Where did it all come from, I asked myself and, without much delay, Egypt sprang to mind as the likeliest answer. Back in London, I rushed back to have a look at books on the Nile dynasties and other relevant subjects, hoping to find clues that would confirm my insights. Having now approached the study of the ancient Egypt as a possible cradle of several European civilizations, I started seeing the connections quite clearly and easily. There were plenty of signs strewn around in books and museums showing hypothetical and explicit influences of Egypt on the Minoan, ancient Greek, Roman and Byzantine cultures. The last three being already recognized as the cradles of Western civilization, Eastern Europe included, it did not take much thinking to suggest that the civilization stemming from the valley of the Nile could be described, in turn, as an even older, if not primordial, source of Western culture.

On the other hand, the library research I had undertaken before my visit to Crete allowed me to notice the considerable discrepancy existing between photographs, found in travel or archeological books, and first-hand experience. This observation made it indispensable for me to go and see in situ the temples of the Upper Nile, which drew most of my attention amongst Egyptian monuments. The decision having been taken, I was about to book the tickets when destiny conspired, for better or for worse, and prevented me from going to Egypt; and instead took me to the Canary islands. Nearly a whole year passed before I finally managed to make the journey to Luxor. But, on arrival, my expectations, if anything, were surpassed. The magic of the place was simply overwhelming. Still, there was one bitter disappointment. Although my visit was devoid of any photographic ambition, I took a camera simply for referential purposes but the resulting colour photographs taken during the journey fell disappointingly short of the sensations I had there. Bearing in mind the 'discrepancy' effect that brought me to Luxor in the first place, I should not have had and, indeed, did not expect much of the photographs, but still could not fail to be surprised how drastically they had failed.. Fortunately, I shot a few black-and-white rolls as well, out of which only two photographs seemed to have captured some of ancient Egypt's essence . This, however modest, output proved to be sufficient, as the two images unexpectedly linked up with a couple of photographs I had taken at the Belgian canal-lock edifice a few months earlier. The uncanny similarity made me realize, after going again through the Ronquieres brochure, that the whole canal-lock complex was in fact 'neo-pharaonic' in style, and far more authentic, for that matter, than the similar modern projects in Egypt. But, more importantly, it was obvious that I had come full circle having rejoined my primary, and subconscious, inspiration from childhood. It has taken me over twenty years to make the visual statements that reflected impressions set in my mind when I was a child and to understand how the relatively brief contact with this edifice in Belgium and the subsequent occasional browsing of the brochure substantially altered and influenced my visual personality. This enlightenment, however, did not provide me with the answer I set out to find but just added more weight to my search for the origin, and possibly the purpose, of my predisposition for this visual language.

photographs photographs photographs

Before Temle



In the context of my pursuit of photography it was all set in motion by this photograph taken, as I unwaveringly believed then, for compositional reasons only ( or to be more precise, harmony expressed through composition). It took me five years of trying to fathom this photograph to see there was more than composition, or harmony, in it that held the attention and although I grasp it now much better, there is still an aspect of the image that I cannot pin down. Now at least I know where this resistant layer comes from, as this was the first image where I had drawn, unwittingly of course, on my subconscious visual reserve that was generated by the childhood visits to Ronquieres. It looks like this was the beacon that put me, and kept me, on the right track, or I had better say, on the right tracks of this research, as the development was anything but linear.


One of those tracks took me to a building site near Brighton. The idea was to go with a 5x4 camera in search of a good composition just for pleasure's sake. I enjoyed being there under the sun, surrounded by the poetry of a messy building site.

poetry of a messy building site
Except for recording and recollection purposes, maybe I also needed photography to give me an excuse to hang about in such an unconventional leisure site. Although satisfied with the results obtained, I felt I had reached the end of that particular track and soon realized that, for the time being, I had no wish to make any further exploration in that direction. I probably sensed I would not be able to achieve much more with that approach or that kind of subject matter. Analysing this work from today's viewpoint, its main purpose was to allow me to establish my visual propensity for construction sites and, rather importantly when seen in the context of the UK photography scene, no narrative was needed as justification.


Another track that I explored some time later was again related to my early school days as the photographs of this project had been taken in the rural suburbs of Brussels where I had spent many childhood vacations. Amazingly, in only one roll I made half a dozen outstanding photographs.

outstanding photographs. outstanding photographs.
For a couple of years it was dozen, and then as my criteria went up the number of outstanding came down to two. Besides, I have adopted a new camera angle for my work during this project. The lens is pointed towards the ground, five to six meters away from me and the sky takes up only one fifth or less, of the image. Not long after finishing this project, I saw for the first time Kiefer's photographically-based work from the second half of the 1980's (e.g. The March Sand V, 1974); this gave me mixed feelings as I recognised similarities between some of his work and mine. Eventually, despite or because of the famous precedent, I decided to keep only the camera angle and the relative uneventfulness of the subject, and take them into any future project. Making this kind of decision and the technical implementation of them were the easier parts. Finding subject and location was much more difficult, if not impossible.


A number of various other projects took place before a chance presented itself, and the only sign to tell me this was such an opportunity was that both the subject and my technical approach conformed to my recently and subconsciously adopted tenets. I say 'subconsciously' as they were not formed as clear thoughts. They were just insights allowing me to react to the right image if and when it appears. Coincidences were thus definitely more to blame than me for the train of events that took place. Anyhow, in this project I used symbolism for the first and, so far, only time.

This project dealt with a paradox of life:

with a paradox of life:
it seems that our lives are rarely so intense as when we get very close to its opposite - death. The wasteland in the pictures presents hardship. The sea is the process of death, attractive (in face of adversity) from distance but repulsive as soon as we touch the cold water (the threshold of death). The sky is (the aftermath of) death, and the source of the real attraction death may hold for us. This was indeed my first, albeit small, breakthrough into the subconscious of my mind. It decisively helped me start charting the undercurrents of the rest of my related works discussed here. Until then, I thought about photographs purely in terms of composition or aesthetic attraction.


Having analysed my work from the newly acquired standpoints, almost immediately I found myself in the next project further elaborating on the above mentioned paradox; but this time in conjunction with the subject of banal ruins. I barely changed the location for this project as I moved only half a kilometer to the east, and as a consequence had these related projects back to back. The single such occurrence, as the temporal isolation of the related projects is largely the reason why it took me years to tie them all together. Here, I explored the captivating quality of ruins

the captivating quality of ruins the captivating quality of ruins
not burdened with historical or romantic connotations, but visually accentuated by a flat or dull background. The marriage of this subject and the one from the above project had a curious outcome detected only recently during the overall review of my work, when I noticed that these 'unremarkable' ruins dominated the image not only visually but metaphysically as well. Mystery, conveyed by the remnants of a wall, was superior to the idea of the paradox of life, or life itself, which was conveyed by the surrounding space.

The Baltz Parallel

The closest ever I have come to seeing a photograph and having the strange feeling that it could have been done by me is the photograph 'Sunflower Condominiums' by Lewis Baltz, reproduced in the catalogue of the 'American Images 1945-1980' Barbican exhibition. Actually, every time I look at it, I have the feeling it is a photograph of mine I am looking at. A coincidence of some sort, I thought. And even if it were more than a coincidence, this single occurrence did not warrant or allow making any conclusions or presumptions that I could apply to the interpretation of my work. Having stumbled upon this singularity after so many years of looking at photographs I obviously could not entertain the hope of seeing soon another example. This image is my half of the parallel. A year later I saw the publication of the reprinted edition of Baltz's Industrial Parks, and the 'miracle' repeated itself. Well, almost - except that this time I did not have the feeling I was looking at my own work, but images very similar to mine from this project.

from this project. from this project. from this project.
There was, however, a new stupefying aspect to the similarity. The chronological order. Our respective developments followed a similar pattern. Up to a point, as Baltz had moved on to conceptual art and made a clean break with New Topography, whereas I have found myself more than happy digging in
digging in digging in digging in
and around the visual aspect I shared with Baltz.

Temple & After


The impetus to move on came, as it is customary, unexpectedly both in time and place. It happened in a dentist's waiting room while browsing an architecture magazine. I was strongly attracted to a photograph of a building site which easily transcended the context of where the image was published. Time showed, however, that even I underestimated how far-reaching importance this image would have for me. At the time I only felt it was an exquisite guiding light and that I should perhaps try to recreate the atmosphere or whatever it was it contained. Turned out it was not the easiest of acts to follow and it took me some time before I understood the image and was ready to have a go of my own. Although, to make a digression, one might also wonder if I could not stake a claim to the authorship of this image simply on the grounds of having discovered a new and distant context that has nothing in common with the original purpose of this photograph. So, after some basic research, (having been forced to delay my journey to Egypt, where as it happens two of my projects crossed each other's path) I left for Lanzarote, the island with plenty of commercial buildings under construction and where access is open and simple, unlike in Britain. The first few days however did not seem to vindicate my choice of destination. The feeling was sinking in rapidly that my expedition was a rather comprehensive miscalculation, and just another proof that certain things in life simply cannot be planned. Then, just as I was doing my utmost to find an early way out of the island, while walking back to my hotel from a bus stop, in exasperation at my situation and tired from a lot of walking I decided to recover by resting my hands and head on a brick wall as if to see what is on the other side. I say 'as if' because I did not really want to know what was on the other side, as my mind was not on the island anymore. I must have passed this wall at least ten times in the previous few days. As the wall was the height of my shoulders, the only way I could see what was on the other side was if I leaned closely against it, which accounted for my oversight of the little miracle confronting me now. On the other side of the wall, completely below street level was the most exquisite site I could have ever dreamt of.

site I could have ever dreamt of. site I could have ever dreamt of. site I could have ever dreamt of. site I could have ever dreamt of. site I could have ever dreamt of. site I could have ever dreamt of. site I could have ever dreamt of. site I could have ever dreamt of.
And I use the word 'dream' because I could never have imagined a place like that in my wakeful state. But the moment I saw it, I recognized it without fail. After a long, long time, things were once again falling into place and it was happening on a number of levels.

Having made contact sheets I sat on them for a few months, to let my head cool off, as I was concerned that the feeling and vision I had while on the site could influence my perception of pictures, making me believe they looked better than they really did. The 'discovery' of the 'canal-lock brochure' took place a couple of months prior to this journey to Lanzarote, and the two events combined to make my brain buzz with insights. The fermentation was now well past the initial stages. That was the moment, presumably, when I started seeing all these connections that eventually allowed me to become aware of the whole scheme being detailed here. After ten months and many hours of contact sheet assessment I made the first prints. Then followed the evaluation of prints. Two months on, and I had the first selection of the 'Arrecife' project. As I planned to produce a book and not an exhibition, I was satisfied to let matters rest for some more time. A particular reason for this being that changing my mind constantly about my work would generate a lot of doubts, as there would be no reason then not to suppose that I will change my mind again sooner or later, thus effectively making the work terminally incomplete and the author incompetent. Making a distance with one's work usually brings in moderation and stability.

It was during that hibernation period that I made the visit to Egypt. To the effects that journey had on me mentioned earlier in the text, I can add the change of visual awareness. Upon my return from Luxor when I looked again at the selection of photographs for the 'Temple' project, I was surprised how different they looked to me. As a consequence, out of sixteen images only six, at the very best, could pass the new criteria. Soon I felt the only way out was to apply this new criteria to everything I had done up to then and see where I stood. One of the positive outcomes of this upheaval was that it enabled me to ascertain new relations between my various existing works and to see even deeper into the primary goal of my search. But it was done at the cost of a growing vulnerability and a certain loss of confidence, as I was under the impression that only my critical faculties had improved. I had a tool to dissect and clean my work to a purer state than before, but after mopping things up there was hardly anything left over and, above all, there was the apprehension that it would be very difficult if not impossible to add any new work. Enthusiasm soon turned into dejection and anxiety with the hardest blow yet to come.


Establishing the existence of a scheme born beyond my intentions and control was certainly encouraging but the final conclusions (insights), however, indicated there was another, superior scheme, but largely beyond my reach. I only had a hint, in the form of two images, of that obscure reality.

that obscure reality.
Two photographs taken in different locations, different countries, different contexts - with only one noticeable similarity: they were both distractions from the projects at hand. I was not looking for them when I chanced upon them. It took me a long time to realize, gradually as it happened, the depth they possessed. This finally became obvious only after the post-Egypt review, when they outlasted all other images. My fascination with them was however easily overshadowed by their minuscule quantity and by my apparently total dependence on fortune or providence in producing them. Presumably, the only way of possibly increasing their number was to turn my mind towards a different project, which should be of secondary or no importance but still related to a relevant subject, and then hope that I would just run into the right stuff by chance sooner or later. A photographic lottery as it is. I found myself condemned to having had just a glimpse of what I cannot reach, understand, know. Suddenly, I felt as if all these serendipities and insights came to nothing as the opus hit its limits, and the essence was not on this, but on the other side of the divide. Instead of finding the answers, I unearthed even more questions... Among others; would these two images be a reflection of an even earlier influence in my life? And how much earlier could it be? How close to the moment of birth, or why not even before birth? The questions themselves are already vertiginous, let alone the possible answers.

The immediate effect of such a discovery is the feeling of numbness. The ground beneath my feet has been removed and I am in free fall. It is a tantalising experience as I feel I am so close to that superior level, yet doomed to stay forever at an arm's length. There is, naturally, still hope that a new fortuitous occurrence will take place or an image from a book will beckon to me, like this one maybe, and allow me to get there. But, the chances are slim because the awareness that brought all these works together and crowned the whole scheme, now shows its drawbacks as it has partially set my vision in concrete. Finally, the incredible feeling and sense of achievement that accompanied the realisation of this work make it somewhat unrealistic to expect another breakthrough that will surpass even that gift.