Caspar David Friedrich and the Romantics
The inspiration for In these Shoes is Wanderer above the Sea of Fog by Caspar David Friedrich, the archetypal image of Romanticism. Friedrich’s pictures are often used to illustrate Romantic literature and I remember still the cover of the book so many of us read in schooldays, Narcissus and Goldmund by Herman Hesse which had a Friedrich cover of a ruined Gothic church in a winter forest.
Friedrich, like the Danish painter Hammershoi, was fond of Rückenfugen or figures seen in rear view. Several of his paintings depict women seen from behind looking longingly from a window at ships in a port.
Friedrich’s wanderer stands on a rocky outcrop in an area I know well called Cesky Raj, the Bohemian Paradise that straddles the Czech lands and Saxony. Many feature films have been shot in this beautiful land of rocks and enchanted castles.
The model was brave, she really was standing on the edge of the abyss above the Mediterranean. In fact she had to rest for a while as her knees were trembling so. But for all her courage, this picture is not so much a portrait of her as one of me, me and my fernweh.
The photograph was shot on a rock above Buca della Fata (the Fairy Cove) beneath the cliffs of Populonia in Tuscany. It’s quite a trek to get down there and she certainly did not do it in those shoes!
I feel we are all suffering from what Germans call Fernweh, or wanderlust the very opposite of the happiness of hearth and home. It means longing for far horizons, escaping from the every day, routine and domesticity, the primordial urge of the hunter gatherer. Especially at this time of writing when we are all trapped at home by the Corona virus fearful of what the future brings. If this leads to another Great Depression will we be trapped at home or on the tramp looking for work? Either way it’s difficult to see ourselves travelling hopefully for a good while to come.
Fernweh is analogous to Heimweh, a form of nostalgia akin to homesickness, the two together imply the longing of the prisoner to flee his bars and return to the rover’s life.
Images of longing
This is a recurrent image, my earlier pictures On the Beach and Spectre de la Rose express a similar longing. In both a woman looks out from the shore with longing.
The title In These Shoes? comes from Kirsty McColl’s joyful, witty song.
I once met a man with a sense of adventure
He was dressed to thrill wherever he went
He said: Let’s make love on a mountain top
Under the stars on a big hard rock
I said: In these shoes?
I don’t think so
I said: Honey, let’s do it here