Keld rediscovered

The Great Dane is back.

I first learned of the sparse, severe work of Danish photographer Keld Helmer-Petersen from early issues of Leica Fotografie magazine from the 1950s. His focus on carefully composed details of ships, ropes, man made items for the most part, was appealing for its clarity of vision and very sparing use of color. It has aged a lot better than Danish furniture.

While ‘lifestyle’ magazines leave me cold for the most part – why would you pay for marketing after all? – there’s one that is head and shoulders above the others. Indeed, as the only way to get it is to be the registered owner of one of their products, its hardly marketing at all. After all, you have already paid up. And the best thing about their products is that no one will know what you have. If you like gauche Rolexes, look elsewhere. That magazine is put out by the makers of one of the very few mechanical items more lovely to behold than an early M Leica. It is called Patek Philippe and I urge you to get a Patek if for no other reason than to enjoy the publication:

Most noteworthy in its editorial policy is the frequent focus on art and photography. The currrent issue (Volume 11, Number 7) has, in its large pages, superb portolios of the work of Don McCullin (of Viet Nam war photography fame) and Keld Helmer-Petersen. An equally fascinating article looks at modern makers of sundials. Add substantive pieces on French sculptor Camille Claudel and Francois Junot, a Swiss maker of mechanical objects (see the cover, above), and you have content not likely to be found in the pages of some nouveau riche-targeted hack job put out by ‘luxury’ car makers extolling the virtues of their plastic upholstery and the latest in internal decorating.

While Keld-Helmer Petersen made his living as a commercial photographer, it’s his 1948 book ’122 Colour Photographs’, which I am lucky to have in the library at home, that made him famous. When everyone was working in monochrome, he turned to color because, in his words “You have to think of colour as form….”. It helps that the interview is conducted by a famous photographer, the Englishman Martin Parr, so it is neither banal nor trite.

It looks as if his ‘rediscovery’ may encourage Petersen to publish again and I urge you to place the book on your short list.

And just in case you fall for Patek’s tag line “You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after if for the next generation”, let me disabuse you of that belief. The reality is that it’s like owning a rangefinder Leica, meaning a cleaning and overhaul every five years at horrendous cost. These are intensely mechanical devices, after all. The next generation had better hope I don’t go belly up if it wants mine (the Patek, not the Leicas; I’m selling the latter). Leicas get obsoleted. Pateks do not.