One day in April 2020, when the whole country remained in lockdown due to Corona, Klaus Leidorf flew over the seemingly deserted country in his almost 50-year-old Cessna 172 . “I was the only pilot in the air,” he recalls. As an aerial archaeologist, he was allowed to continue to pursue his profession and search for traces from prehistory and early history. “Flying all alone over Bavaria was a strange feeling,” says Leidorf, “I was emotionally touched.”
When he looked at Lake Chiemsee back then, he noticed strange structures on the water surface. He picked up his camera and held her tight. With decades of experience, Leidorf is a master at controlling the machine, scanning the landscape with his eyes and photographing it at the same time. Normally, on behalf of the State Office for the Preservation of Monuments, he looks for traces that people have left in the ground in the past. Together with his predecessor Otto Braasch, he discovered tens of thousands of prehistoric and early historical archaeological monuments during his flights over mountains, valleys and fields, be they burial mounds, settlements or the remains of Roman roads.
“But I also recognize other structures,” says Leidorf, who has a rare gift. “You see things that we don’t see,” colleagues keep telling him. It was the same in April 2020 when he looked at the loneliness of Lake Chiemsee. When you enter the wonderful exhibition hall in the administration building of the Leipfinger-Bader brickworks in Vatersdorf near Landshut, your eye immediately catches this meter-wide enlarged photograph, which Leidorf spontaneously took at the time.
The photo is reminiscent of the fantastic images and structures from infinity that the James Webb Space Telescope has been sending to Earth for weeks. Of course, Leidorf’s picture does not show a view into the vastness of space, but only streaks of pollen that have idiosyncratically settled on the water. It looks as if the Chiemsee has put on a little make-up. “Panta rhei” is the caption, everything flows, the picture documents a structure with a rapid rate of decay that formed by chance.
Viewed from the air, big things suddenly become small. “But on a small scale, structures and patterns become visible, which in turn make it clear that we don’t see everything that we think is the objectively visible world,” says Leidorf. Leidorf is currently showing particularly beautiful examples of structures that he discovered while flying in a special exhibition that logically bears the title “Structures”.
For some of these structures, Leidorf found the apt term peasant painting. These are images of a machine activity. “Most farmers have no idea what unique things they are creating on their fields,” he says. From a great height, these structures appear like abstract art , presented on surfaces that are fertilized, harrowed, tilled, sown, rolled, mowed and sprayed. When manure is spread on a snow surface, it creates works of art with shapes that are curious and intriguing, but very ephemeral.
In addition to the archeological patterns, Leidorf also saw “other patterns” over time, as he explains during the tour of the exhibition. For example, when a boat from the water rescue service on the Danube suddenly made a turn and a beautiful squiggle formed on the water. Capturing something like this requires a lightning-fast reaction when flying over it. Or the roof of a multi-storey car park in Ansbach, which was sealed at the top with different colored foils. You can’t see what’s shown in the photo at all. When you see the field barn in the middle of the yellow rape field, you immediately think of a painting by the American painter Mark Rothko, who is considered the pioneer of color field painting. The frozen Kleiner Arbersee looks like a mushroom in a Petri dish.
The small field chapel in Kelheim’s Thaldorf district also makes a curious impression. There used to be a path there. The chapel now stands lost in an agricultural area, but the farmer did not tear it down. “He respects the band,” Leidorf suspects. It is not even listed as a monument and actually interferes with the cultivation of the cleared agricultural steppe, which has been trimmed for yield.
In addition, Leidorf documents the landscape, which is changing dramatically as a result of land use. He says he’s gotten used to the pain this sight causes. Apart from that, the flights continue to give him great pleasure. He doesn’t just see the devastation. “There is still so much beauty to be discovered, even if it is in the abstract.” Some photos even reveal how society ticks. A picture shows a settlement in Poing near Munich. A cemetery is placed next to it. It is striking how strictly right-angled everything is arranged. “We live in a rectangular box,” says Leidorf, “and we are also buried in one.”
“Structures” exhibition in the Neues Geschichtsboden in Vatersdorf, Sat/Sun 2-6 p.m. On October 20, guided tour with Klaus Leidorf and museum director Stefanje Weinmayr (7:30 p.m.).