Identikit Photographs of Clouds


[...] Gerhard Lang’s nubeological (1) investigations incorporate the use of an old identikit machine (2) that was phased out by Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) after the introduction of computer technology. This Montage-Synthesizer works with passport-size source material; the police used photos of prisoners for their depictions of “unknown” individuals. Gerhard Lang likewise uses passport-size images of clouds that he has observed and photographed. The resulting identikit clouds are idealised images, i.e. they are at first glance familiar to us.

Do Lang’s hybrid clouds really exist? If so, how would Luke Howard have described them? Would Goethe have also let them go in order to enjoy their “subsequent life”? (3)  Does a meteorologist see in them a suspicious, brewing storm, or are they in fact harmless? It would even be conceivable for Lang to one day take a stroll in a cloud generated with an identikit machine and return with 2000 ml of this cloud in a separating funnel (4). The “phantom image” (as an identikit picture is called in German) would thus itself become a phenomenon.

[Excerpt from: “Gerhard Langs Phantombilder von Wolken, by Lutz Becker and C. N.” (5) in: Wolken, edited by Lorenz Engell, Bernhard Siegert and Joseph Vogl,  Archive for Media Studies, Bauhaus-University Weimar, 2005. See also Press: Who owns the Clouds]

(1) Nubeology: see Glossary

(2) The identikit was employed for the physiognomic studies in Gerhard Lang’s work Palaeanthropical Physiognomy in 1992, which was shown at the Venice Biennale in 1995. Later on he also used the device in his work on landscape aesthetics. For further details on the employment of the identikit in Lang’s work, see also Work:

- Palaeanthropical Physiognomy. Identikit Photographs

- New Reports from the Countryside. Identikit Photographs of Landscapes
- Schattenblumen

(3) In 1803 Luke Howard published the first generally accepted classification of clouds: “On the Modification of Clouds.” A number of the terms he coined are still used today: stratus, cumulus and cirrus. German poet and scientist Goethe was excited by the achievements of the London-based chemist and wrote poems in his honour. Nevertheless, said Goethe: we ought to let go of what we capture and put a hold on, so as to allow the result to be reunified with the living and go on it’s way.

(4) See Work: Cloud Walk 3

(5) Lutz Becker is a London-based film maker.


Pressearchiv der Darmstädter Tage der Fotografie e.V. (German only):

Ill. I: Unknown, identikit photograph WA 2001.1011

Ill. II : Unknown, identikit photograph WA 2007. 0112

Ill. III: Unknown, identikit photograph WB 2007.0113

Ill. IV: Unknown, identikit photograph WA 2007.0114-1






Gerhard Lang © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn