August Saint Freytag

Concept and Experience Designer, Video and Story Artist
Best in landscape.

Views of a Detached Hometown

An early look at a photographic series of 135s, re-taking a perspective walk through my first hometown that I took many times with my parents in the 90s, returning to some of its sights and sentiments.

I lived in the place captured in this series until I was maybe twelve years old, a tiny village in the south-western end of the German countryside, with the French border in cycling distance and the Swiss border reachable by following the south bound highway. Inspecting it formally through a researcher's lens today, the place I grew up in was a salt mining town — which in part might explain my skewed sense of taste and developed preference for overly salty dishes — and its past in mining is apparent from certain insignia set in stone in various spots, a central historical museum, and a giant "potassium hill" that grew from the soil carried out of the tunnels.

Of course, the town's past was not much more than a backdrop for the time I spent there with my parents, just like that personal story has been reduced to a backdrop in my later life, twelve and on, when we moved away. My parents, my younger brother, and me moved from a street named after a Polish town to another house in a stretched out cul-de-sac, a part of the town where you had one uninterrupted street going in and following it all the way, past single family homes to the left and right, would lead you back out to the same road you turned in before.

The life there was marked by a major accident that forever tinted it with a layer of emotions and effectively placing the whole region in a vacuum-sealed time capsule into which you may sometimes be teleported, live through certain moments of it, then leave it again to return to a life that feels detached in what it feels like to be right now than to have been back then. These photos try to capture some points of interest of my childhood and how they appear inside their unbroken frozen state.

The dam, north-western approach
Atop the dam, east bound

The dam was first choice for a family walk. It wasn't far from the house and could be reached easily by crossing a single street. More than half of it was a slim but paved road commonly used by the farmers owning the surrounding plots, then winding into basic dirt and mud further back behind the dam. Much of it wasn't a path you would want to take after heavier rainfall, though it was quite serene in good weather. My mother called it the "mill walk", after the "moat of the mill", its adjacent streets with similar labelling and, as a most prominent attraction, a well situated inn at the edge of where the rooftops fray out into open fields.

Mud paths behind the dam, east bound
Dark entity of the fields

Beyond the dam, where the mountainous ranges of Black Forest are scraped by clouds, the paved road dissolves suddenly into dirt paths. These have always been untouched environments that may have been ripped from medieval Europe, with horses, carriages, and carried fruit baskets behind the next tree line. There were some detours and variations of the mill round you could take, some leading further away from the asphalt and more into wilder patches. Near the fork into one of these areas lies a slough just behind one side of the dam, a tiny creek running into it — I remember always being fascinated by that and the little island in the middle of it, just far enough that you would need a small rubber dinghy to get to it.

Miner's Consecration (Barbarastatue)
Rose court houses

The mining history runs deep with the town, dating back to 1911, following the discovery of salt deposits on the French side (Alsace) in the years prior. The statue captured here, enclosed in a bent segment of tunnel rails, is Saint Barbara (also known as the Great Martyr Barbara) of Nicomedia (Heliopolis, Phoenicia). According to "An Old French Life of Saint Barbara" (Alexander Joseph Denomy, C.S.B.), she consists more of legend than history.

Her story is written in a popular medieval compilation, the Legenda Aurea or Golden Story, created by Jacobus de Varagine, found in Volume 6 in a section titled "The Life of S. Barbara". In it, Barbara, daughter of Dioscuros, abandoned her family's strong Pagan faith for Christianity in a time when Christians were persecuted on the state's behalf, a common occurrence in many nations in the 3rd century. Once discovered, her father handed Barbara over to a supreme court judge where she was eventually sentenced to capital punishment. After her execution, her father was struck by lightning, killed in a great thunderstorm. Decades after, she was reinvoked as Saint Barbara, the protectress of electricity, flame, and fire. The connection to the hazardous lives of miners and their use of high explosives formed with it and lives on throughout different cultures.

Rose court street, south-west bound
Detached home, new entrance

Last in the series are photos of the street we lived on, my view heading out from the house down the one direction south-west towards the rest of the town and my view coming back home, entering the little paved entry, garden to my left, house to my right. While the street itself has barely changed and leaves some houses suspect to be abandoned, the semi-detached №13 has transformed quite a bit more with a new family moving in after us, most substantially so glancing over the yard around it. Seeing all of its features and details, so effortlessly recognised, the windows and their now repainted wooden shutters, it's easy to imagine standing behind the glass on the other side looking out, maybe seeing someone older than yourself standing motionless — and maybe a tiny bit lost — on the street right there where the gate used to be, peeking back at you.

Initially published by August Saint Freytag.
Follow on Twitter to get notified of new publications and updates.