A Journey Through ‘Time and Viennna’

A Photographic Exploration of the Unmapped – And Untapped – Landscape of Austria’s Captial City

On The Town | Ivana Veznikova | February 2008

Former circus acrobat Lucy Westerguard and her 122-year-old saxophone, one of the subjects of Niedermeyer in his new book designed to reintroduce Vienna to its own (Photo: Ronnie Niedermeyer)

For many people, the word Vienna conjures up images of the Stephansdom, the Riesenrad and the Karlskirche. For dessert aficionados, Sachertorte might also be among them. But is that really all there is?

No, says Ronnie Niedermeyer, author of Time & Vienna - A Travel Guide for the Viennese,  a book of photographs designed to reintroduce the city to its own. Back from five years in Israel, he had just finished another commissioned work for which he had to photograph the usual tourist spots and could not help but feel that the average Vienna travel guide leaves out a lot that he, and probably many others, find characteristic of the city.

"Suddenly, I came up with the idea of doing my own Vienna book that would show just that – that which is cranky and quirky, amusing or gloomy…"

With this in mind, he set out on a year long journey through Vienna, at the end of which stood a refreshingly original photo album, documenting his journey.

Time & Vienna – Vienna and Time. Eighteen chapters, each starting with the time of day on an otherwise blank page, followed by a photograph including a clock marking the hour. The attentive reader is immediately motivated to "spot the clock" in a playful tease that becomes even more interesting once you unravel the illusion it creates.

Going through the book page by page, moving from chapter to chapter from morning to evening, it seems possible to have visited all these places, and to have met all these people, in a single day.

"There are so many niches you don’t notice at first, just as there are places you’ve passed by a thousand times, yet you don’t really know them," says Niedermeyer.

But to get to know a city in its entirety, you have to take your time – that’s the whole point of it and also one of the reasons why Niedermeyer decided to work without a commission. Only in this way could he allow himself to wander the streets with an open eye and remain flexible when "pure coincidence" guided him to untapped territory.

Many of his motifs he discovered by chance. The Coptic Orthodox Church, for instance, Niedermeyer discovered through a bus window, on his way somewhere else. Fortunately for us, curiosity got the upper hand.

"The scene was quite funny, actually" he recalled. "Next to the church was a small office building with a glass door that had a Madonna poster pasted on it. The church was being restored, and all the construction debris was piled up in front of that door."

What he hadn’t seen through the bus window, though, was a school for American line dancing, "the Dancing Wolves," that he passed by walking towards the church. On the spur of the moment he began taking photographs, eager to show a sometimes-undervalued aspect of the city: multiculturalism.

Images like the Dancing Wolves, the Barber Shop Mahfel or another one of vegetable merchant Milovan Petrovic in his garden all speak of Vienna as a place where cultures and nations mingle on a daily basis and reflect the artist’s awareness that a good part of this city’s identity is made up of what others have brought here.

Still, central to Time & Vienna are the Viennese originals, people who’ve lived here most, if not all their lives and who add the extra bit of charm to the city, and without whom its familiar atmosphere wouldn’t exist. People like former circus acrobat Lucy, who Niedermeyer portrays at home in her apartment with her 122-year-old saxophone.

Or professor Herman Mucke, founder and director of the Sterngarten Georgenberg, an observatory which he considers to be "his child" the way Niedermeyer does his book.

"I wanted to show everybody from their own perspective, not impose mine on them," Niedermeyer explains, otherwise many of the characters photographed might have invited ridicule. Never does blatant voyeurism or sensationalism enter the relationship between camera and human object – essential when subjects are found by chance and must decide on the spot whether the author or his project are worthy of trust.

Beyond the photographs, Time & Vienna provides background and often quirky anecdotes, excerpts from museum catalogues, books and personal interviews that give substance to the images and intensify their unique mood.

And of course, those interested in following the trail will find all the necessary information like addresses and opening hours at the end of the book. All texts are available in both German and English.


Time & Vienna 

By Ronnie Niedermeyer:

English/German,364 pages, duotone,

Christian Brandstätter Verlag, €49,90

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