Many write postcards from their holiday. Instead, Austrian photographer Leo Willinger writes letters on his travels. He addresses her: to yourself. In his travel diary “Ich ist der Other” published by Otto-Müller-Verlag, he now makes a sensationalist experiment in order to re-examine his travel experiences years later and to the astonishment of “I” that once wrote letters. As a writer and reader of letters at the same time, Willinger explores the “I” in his thoughts and feelings by describing flashbacks. In the book he combines his stories with monochrome photographs taken in the places he visited.
Fillinger takes the reader to sixteen places, all of which have a special beauty and are preserved by inspiring people. He describes the sad conversation with Guistina, the owner of the oldest café in Venice. She reveals to him her view of the former world city full of legends, which, in her opinion, is dying from tourism. Fillinger captures the drift and hustle of a lake town characterized by the quiet migration of the population.
From Venice he drives to Sankt Gerold in Grosses Walsertal, there to the monastery of the same name, where he traces the atmosphere of the free spirit, human love and creative force with which Father Nathanael once formed and inherited the place. In Sylt, Willinger experiences the quiet slowdown of the pre-season and is fascinated by the rhythm of the sea and the tides. For him, the island exudes a captivating originality. He talks about the meeting with the last shrimp hunter in Sylt, 76-year-old Paul Walter, to whom he describes his world: an old sailor who goes into ecstasy when he talks about his life on the cutter.
The trip also takes us up the American West Coast to San Francisco, which is supposed to be the most beautiful city in the world in Vellinger’s opinion, but nonetheless full of idiosyncrasies. A city with fog up to 2,000 hours a year, dignitaries and dozens of doorways to homes where many homeless sleep when it rains. All travel experiences lead Willinger to a wiser, if older, “I”.
As a reader, you not only feel connected to the author in almost reliable pen friendship, but also immerse yourself in miraculously narrated events and experiences, as if sitting right next to the writer. Stories are more than just travel experiences. Momentary questions are asked but remain unanswered in messages. The philosophical link runs through the book, directing one’s gaze into one’s own being, existence and search for meaning. The poems quoted, for example by Juan Ramón Jiménez or Hermann Hesse, expand the view of the described moment of travel and the changing identity of the word “I”.
Pictures are a valuable addition to messages. On the one hand, they display scenic full-page screenshots. For example, a man in Venice wipes the Piazza San Marco with a brush in the morning while the bride and groom are watching him. Other shots have something meditative about them, revealing a vast expanse – like the sea in southern Sweden that sparkles in the sunlight and gently sways back and forth. Sometimes people are depicted unnoticed in everyday life or depicted live, sometimes statues and architecture, and then again detailed images of nature. Not all the scenes and people described in the messages are always shown in pictures, but in any case a stimulating perspective of what was experienced and observed unfolds.
“I am the Other” reveals the everyday characteristics, the new in the immortal, the near in the far through the combination of letters and images. The constant selection and appreciation of the messages that Willinger uses in all the stories also demonstrates a self-contained loving conversation between the past and present “I”. Additional images provide a space for readers to learn about the stories hidden behind the shots and fill the black and white images with color in the mind’s eye. Fillinger maps places of refuge for soul-searching amidst a restless, enchanting world that is incomparable. “I am the other” is experience and learning at the same time, encouraging you to embark on a journey into yourself.
Leo Willinger: I am the other. Or: letters to me. Otto Müller Verlag, Salzburg-Vienna 2021. 207 pages, €49.
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