Friday, November 27, 2009

The Alchemist's Kitchen - Back Story to the Photograph

Maybe I shouldn't admit this, but ...I have wanted to tell the story behind this cover for a while. I met Philipp Schumacher this summer at the Fundacion Valparaiso in Spain. Philipp is a very up and coming photographer from Germany and I fell in love with the other worldly quality of his work. He creates all sorts of work - photographing fast cars and beauty salons, but its his art portfolio that appeals most to me.

So one afternoon, in 110 degree heat, we went through his work with an eye towards my book. I really hadn't wanted a literal representation of an alchemist's kitchen, but the glow of these pots, the shadows across the floor, and the ominous clock face all intrigued me. Philipp mentioned that the image was shot in a villa in Germany. The Villa Hugel had been the home of the Krupp family. Alfred Krupp, to be exact. Philipp had mentioned the family were major industrialists, but I didn't know until today what that meant.

Now, with my book in production, I realize that the cover shows the kitchen of a Nazi war criminal. Krupps was convicted of crimes against humanity at Nuremberg and in addition to serving twelve years in prison,  forfeited his property, businesses and family wealth to the state. Two years later, an amnesty restored much of his wealth back to him. Since 1953, the Villa Hugel has been open to the public and seems a place for picnicers and families. There are art exhibitions, greenhouses, and beautiful gardens. To quote the site, "it serves as witness to the lavish way of life enjoyed by the aristocracy at the time." Today, hundreds of thousands of visitors pour through the doors. So is it a museum marking a man's downfall? Is the alchemy at work here as well? Aristocracy to pleasure park for the masses? I don't know if I would have chosen this image if I had been aware of all its baggage, but at the same time, I like the layers of meaning implicit in this cover. Hopefully, the poems are multi--layered as well.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, Susan -- I bet you were a bit stunned to discover this bit of information...and it certainly does add another layer to your book.
    (Nonetheless, the glowing colors and the almost-industrial mood of the photo does indeed conjure its own alchemy....)