Two Inadequate Voices


2IV is a platform for image-makers to recount and reflect textually on their stories of being out in the world whilst photographing.

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Christina Stohn
Valley of Hell and Kingdom of Heaven

After my Bachelor’s degree at the University of Westminster in 2014 I began working on ‘Höllental und Himmelreich’, which translates as ‘Valley of Hell and Kingdom of Heaven’. The series looks at tradition, folklore and religious beliefs in the Black Forest. This region is located in south west Germany, where I grew up in a small town, but from which I had moved away to study photography in London and Bremen for a decade.

My personal situation as an immigrant to the UK, made me feel a certain estrangement from my once familiar surroundings. Staying abroad enabled me to see things I had not previously been aware of. Every time when I returned to my home country I felt the urge to document this region, inspired by my feelings of distance and displacement.

The Black Forest is one of the most visited recreational spaces of the German uplands; touristic clichés carry associations of an idyllic life, unspoilt landscapes and nature. Village life is steeped in long tradition across many generations. Centuries-old customs are still maintained, even in times of huge technological advances. Seasonal festivals and religious processions are celebrated and show no sign of being forgotten. They have become commercialised and well established in the tourist calendar. So my project poses questions concerning the significance of customs within our plural society.

One of these customs is called ‘Fastnacht', listed by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage. Originally, ‘Fastnacht’ was a pagan rite aiming to chase away evil winter spirits. However, academic sources now show that the festival is also rooted in the Christian pre-Lent calendar. Several guilds of jesters have their own specific and regulated costumes that serve to confirm identities. The veiling and masking rituals during the processions have become a trademark of this event. The costumes do not change, but are inherited within families over generations. Although the revellers perform loudly as a homogenous group, I predominantly portray single members in quiet moments, away from the hustle of the streets.

The ‘Rägemolli’ costume is inspired by the fire salamander. It is made of linen, which is hand-painted with black dots and symbols representing an owl, a bat, and the sun and moon. This reveller had disappeared from Fastnacht for a long time and was revived in the 1960s. ‘Rägemollis’ are regarded as poorer brothers of the ‘Schuttige’, in the same guild of jesters. Both wear wooden masks with snail shells attached.

Christina Stohn is a Germany-based photographer. Her personal portfolio is project-based focusing on themes of cultural identity with a particular interest in book design. The series ‘Höllental und Himmelreich’ was published by Scottish publisher Another Place Press.