Anne Schwalbe, There is a white horse in my garden

JTF (just the facts): Self-published in 2017 (here). Softcover, with 40 color prints. The handmade book comes with a cardboard box. In an edition of 222 copies, each signed and numbered. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: The work of the German photographer Anne Schwalbe focuses on the elusive documentation of nature, its silence and melancholic scenes. She says that she “strives for simplicity, silence and clarity” in her work, and her images bring to mind those of the Japanese photographer Rinko Kawauchi, who is also known for her natural-light photographs of details in nature and her focus on mundane moments. Unsurprisingly, Schwalbe has a big following in Japan.

Two years ago, Schwalbe bought an old house in a village where she would often come to photograph.“It is a magical place with a lot of atmosphere and a lot of bricks and wood that need to be reconstructed.” The artist likes to work with her hands, be it cutting wood, planting a tree, or heating the oven, so such a project had its attractions. Her most recent photobook entitled There is a white horse in my garden offers her subtle insights into this farm life. The book was produced to support the restoration of the house.

The book is completely handmade, including all the prints, reflecting Schwalbe’s love for handiwork and the essence of the physical life style of the country. It has a square format and comes in a gray cardboard box, wrapped in paper with a postcard on top. The book’s title and the artist’s name are elegantly stamped on the box (and then again on the book cover). Construction-wise, the intimate book is intriguing. There is a white horse in my garden is made of rough recycling paper held together by perfect binding. There is no cover and all the pages look the same, making it resemble a sculpture. The prints are glued on the right side of the spreads. Schwalbe notes that since the book is handmade and so personal, each piece is a little bit different. She also warns that the binding is likely to fade away with time, yet she sees that as a welcome part of the project.

Given that all of Schwalbe’s photographs were taken with a mobile phone, the prints are surprisingly rich and graceful. The book opens with an image of a hand holding a glass jar of fresh raspberries against a roughly painted wall, perhaps typical for a rural house. The picture immediately brings to mind associations with summertime and easy going slowness of the farm atmosphere.   

Many of the photographs reflect this calmness and tranquility found in village life, their minimalism and stillness setting the tone. There are shots of a loaf of bread on a white paper, a pile of cucumbers (from the first harvest), a mirror hanging on the wall, and gathered flowers in a vase. They don’t necessarily stand out on their own, they are rather quick snapshots of the routines and simple pleasures of a certain time and place.

Schwalbe’s captions are often personal and atmospheric, and are printed on a separate piece of paper to guide us through the images, occasionally revealing parts of the house’s history. The caption of the photograph of a window with frozen glass tells us that the kitchen stove was being installed later that day. Later, she shows us an image of a first fire in the tile stove, adding that the former owner of the house was a stove maker. The pictures and stories are about connection, and close observation, and care.

One of the last photographs shows Schwalbe herself heating the kitchen stove. There are no other images of people in the project, but friends and neighbours are indirectly present through some notes in captions (“preparing dumplings with friends”, “raspberries – a present from a garden neighbour” or “cleaning old bricks with friends”). It seems her country life is both solitary and filled with an understated sense of community.

The white horse, enigmatically mentioned in the title, does appear in the book, albeit fleetingly. First, at the very beginning, it is captured in a green garden, looking almost like a white spot. And then in the last photograph, taken a year later, we see the white horse in the meadow, disappearing into the green leaves and flowers. As a metaphor for the elusive and humble pleasures of this house, the white horse, like anything fragile and beautiful in the world, is easy to miss if one doesn’t look more closely.

There is a white horse in my garden can be seen as an artistic extension of Schwalbe’s life on the farm, a meditation on the richness of the small discoveries to made there. Its thoughtful, delicate presentation resembles a lovingly crafted family album, its combination of the mundane and poetic becoming a lasting record of fleeting moments.

Collector’s POV: Anne Schwalbe is represented by L. Parker Stephenson Photographs in New York (here) and Gallery f5,6 in Munich (here). Her work has no secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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