The real nature of Things
It carries a great promise of adventure in it´s name - the Prater, Vienna´s amusement park, which forms a separate and perfectly organized world and offers an endless range of possibilities right in the centre of the city. Driven by an irrepresible curiosity and in search of entertainment, countless visitors stroll through the park to exceed their own limits. While enjoying the latest computer-operated fun rides, you feel like in a state of ecstasy. Everything is spinning and sparkling, and our attention is constantly challenged. What else is there to see and try? From mechanical flying and air swings to steeply slooping roller coasters and the latest high tech equipment defying gravity. Above all, the Ferries wheel (Riesenrad) King of the Prater, dominates the scene completely indifferent of its surroundings.
As soon as night approaches, the Prater attracts a different kind of visitors and turns into a glittering and elegant world of amusement. Countless colorful spotlights, flickering signs, illuminated buildings, rotating lights on the fun rides... they all serve one purpose: to overwhelm the visitor. What appears to be undramatic and even a bit piteous during the day, is illuminated in the dark by a myriad of sparkling hot spots. All over the place, the illusion machines do their best to fuel the lust for entertainment.
Eventually the last ride is called out. Once again the cars of the marry-go-round slowly move along the rails, the last cars of the roller coaster swoop down whistling, and once more we can hear the ecstatic cries of the passengers, who are strapped into their seats and catapulted into the night sky. Those who are at last pushed out of the ghost train frolic loudly. Suddenly, the permanent noise of pounding and animating disco music and monotonous waltzes played by a hurdy-gurdy fall silent, the lights are turned off and the visitors are driven off of this paradise of amusement. The crowd of revelers moves on to locations of the city that might prolong their short high of the rides. A cloak of heavy silence quickly covers what represented a vibrant scenery seconds ago. Is there any place that is more lonely than an amusement park after midnight?
That is exactly when Helfried Valenta comes to visit the park - when the familiar scenery changes into a dark and surreal realm of shadows. All alone the photographer wanders the maze of an imaginary entertainment scenery. What remains when everyone has left? Calmness, the silence of things, darkness, isolation. The park is deserted, but not in an eerie way, quite the contrary. Without the busty hustleit can suddenly reveal its true beauty. A song in all things sleeps.... similar to the story of Eichendorff´s poem "Wünschelrute", the photographer seems to have found a magic word that allows him to rivive the sleeping attractions with photographic means. When Helfried Valenta photographs the dormant entertainment landscape, the objects fill with life and, all of a sudden, they rise. It seems as if the photographer has just pushed the start button and invited the observer to an extra ride on the mary-go-round. Valenta presents absurd, unfathomable and often mysterious views. He crosses boundaries and pushes things forward, without forgetting to illuminate the darkest place. By the use of various camera angels that are added to an elegant design, the viewer gets a feeling of completeness. Sitting in our rotating cars, we watch and reassemble the topography of the world of amusement. The impression received change rapidly. Suddenly, the dark night is replaced by a sky saturated with orange and and blue colors and the music intensifies once more. The amusement park, already a maniacal place, seems to have doubled, as it shows its full spectrum of absurdities and paradoxes. The colors are going crazy, relations are turned upside down. The roller coaster landscape is shrinking, while the characters are developing an uncontrolled life of their own and seem to be swelling. Arctic and idyllic alpine landscapes, a house of zombies and the Eiffel tower, high noon saloons and the snack bar Zum süssen Bär,... they all become part of one special universe. Next to a threatening octopus with huge tentacles we find a Danube mermaid. A rhinoceros stares out of the corner of a storage, elswhere a whale that has stranded on the roof of a restaurant, stretches toward us. All over the place, we come across odd and animated creatures: clowns, strong men, and in the end the devil himself appears. The photographer collects bizarre subjects, characters and locations and combines them to a new portrait of a paradise of amusement that does not exist in this way. This violent, fantastic portrait intensifies when wastepaper baskets, closed parasols or an automatic teller slips into the scenes as ordinary relicts that seem out-of-place. But the photographer performs magic with his camera by exposing visible things and tracking down their real nature, their essence.
Valenta will not leave and turn his back on the park until the day breaks. Back at home, he examines the results of his work and makes a selection by definitely choosing atmospheric over narrative aspects. With the full spectrum of colors, he melodramatically boosts the pictures in order to highlight the originality of this paradise and to create a very unique world of images. The results show a great poetic power that blows the observer´s mind. Just as if you had just taken a ride on the marry-go-round.
Essay to the book Copper Nights by Peter Lindhorst, February 2012
Copyright MetroVerlag and Peter Lindhorst, February 2012