Irmel Kamp’s first large grouping of works, Zink (1978–82) began as a means of documenting a local building phenomenon in villages between Aachen and Liège and how the zinc cladding, mined at Kelmis on the German-Belgian border, shaped the landscape of the local area. The use of sheet zinc harks back to a 19th-century practice, when it was used primarily as a uniform roofing material for Baron Haussmann’s urban planning measures in Paris. In these images it has been used in various arrangements to protect the facades or sides of existing residential and commercial buildings in East Belgium – constituting a modern, material addition to existing architecture. Her serial and objective approach allows for cultural-historical, as well as sociological-atmospheric readings of the importance of zinc, an element also present in the human body.
Silke Hohmann writes on the external influences brought to bear on Kamp’s otherwise scientific and completist endeavour: “In modern zinc processing, the term ‘preweathering’ is used, meaning that the material is subjected to wind and weather before its use. For Irmel Kamp’s series, the weather always plays an important role. She waits for what she considers just the right lighting: high cloud cover, no sun. Only then can the velvety depth of the zinc present itself to the fullest. Its shadows, traces, and lesions are a process of storing information. A surface reaction, like photography itself.”
Irmel Kamp enrolled on a metallography course in the 1950s, only transferring her interest in the structures and treatments of metals and materials in built environment into photography in the 1970s. For over four decades, she has been photographing architecture, exclusively in black and white, conducting long-term research projects focused on singular styles or regions. Kamp does not employ a typological gaze in the vein of Bernd and Hilla Becher, rather, she portrays particulars, vernacular expressions, buildings embedded in their surroundings and shaped by their circumstances. The buildings in Kamp’s photographs are distinctly ‘lived-in’ and not mechanical, imbued with a sense of place and time and a poetics of presence.
Zink (1978-1982), gelatin silver print, 30 x 40 cm; 11 3/4 x 15 3/4 in