The reinterpretation of Kartell • LAUFEN: two contrasting and courageous visions
On the one hand Oliver Helbig, with his orientation towards the products themselves, has created bathroom settings that bring out the eclectic character of the range. On the other, the choice has gone to Hugo Comte: the famous fashion photographer has produced very dynamic shots, where young models, in keeping with his usual style, seem to be playing with the ceramic and plastic components of the collection, almost wearing them or transforming them into accessories that break through the boundaries of the bathroom. Two contrasting and courageous visions, analyzed by Cristina Morozzi, the design journalist, critic and curator.
The new Kartell • LAUFEN catalogue offers a complete collection for the bathroom, marked by its innovative use of color, based on the collaboration between two design companies, both excellent in their specific fields: Kartell and Laufen. Flexible and mutable, thanks to the options for combining hues and finishes of ceramic fixtures, faucets and a wide variety of accessories, the collection is perfectly in tune with today’s stylistic trends, keeping pace with their evolutions and adapting to the widest spectrum of tastes and contexts, to offer solutions that blend functional quality with a sensual, emotional dimension.
The images reflect two ways of looking. The collections have been immortalized by two photographers: the Belgian Hugo Comte, known for his work in the field of fashion, and the German Oliver Helbig, creator of intense still lifes. They tell two stories. The protagonists are the same, premium bath furnishings, inanimate objects that come alive through the gaze, given the fact that “the act of seeing,” as John Berger writes, “is never one-sided or static, but rather mutable and relational” (John Berger, Ways of Seeing, 1972). Both photographers transform their observation into narrative. Comte’s tale is filmic, while that of Helbig is symbolic/oneiric. Comte’s narrative is realistic; Helbig’s is tinged with pathos. Each story lets the products speak, inserting them in a context. Comte’s version is lively, based on movement, while Helbig’s holds still, relying on effects of light. The camera is a listener, and the photographer makes it expressive through an evocative language, above and beyond spoken words, not acoustic but visual, capable of constructing atmospheres. “Atmospheres,” as Tonino Griffero explains in Atmospherology (2010), “are spatial emotions […] limited to situations […] they are immediately and straightforwardly perceptible, as are sounds, or odors. […] They are ritualized, auratic stagings of the unexpected, distant and unreachable, which in a certain sense return our gaze.”
Laufen and Kartell have made an original choice. They have entrusted the depiction of their collection to two great photographers, daring to make a clean break with the convention of a single, firmly encoded image. “To photograph,” as Susan Sontag writes, “is to confer importance. There is probably no subject that cannot be beautified; moreover, there is no way to suppress the tendency inherent in all photographs to accord value to their subjects” (On Photography, 1977).
Comte and Helbig have accorded value to the collection of bath furnishings through two different modes of representation, in reference to different contexts and users, relying on different qualities of the art of photography. Comte has chosen improvisation and subversion to give life and movement to the pieces, involving people; Helbig has opted for abstraction, entrusting lights with the task of definition and characterization.