Thursday, January 6, 2011

Lower their voices,
 And raise their minds

Rafael Neff, Admont Abbey (2008)

Here is where people,
One frequently finds,
Lower their voices

And raise their minds.
(Library, Richard Armour)

Libraries seem to be a popular subject over the last few months, they have have been cropping up on the net, in galleries, on my travels and I've even managed to find some books I want to read in my local.

Raphael Neff, Wiblingen Abbey (2007)

Raphael Neff, Metten Abbey (2007)

Raphael Neff, National Library, Prague (2007)

On my trip to Prague in November, having been a couple of times before, we made a point to see a few things not on the common tourist trail.  So when my colleagues at suggested the Strahov Monastery Library I put it to the top of my list.  As who doesn't want to go to a library when they are on their holidays?

Strahov Monastery Library, Prague (2010)

Strahov Monastery Library under refurbishment, Prague (2010)

After seeing Raphael Neff's images of libraries the month before at Lumas gallery I knew I had to go and see something like them in person.  The libraries Neff photograph's are not your average council run building of books; these are cathedrals and shrines to them.  Hand painted ceilings and parquet flooring and carved wooden cases and balconies housing handcrafted books which are hundreds of years old. 

Candida Höfer, Abbey of Saint-Gallen, Switzerland

Candida Höfer is perhaps the original photographer to study the subject in detail, specialising in rooms in public spaces that are centres of cultural life; libraries, museums, theatres, universities and historic houses and palaces.  Each of her images are meticulously composed and marked with human activity but empty of people themselves.  

The Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania writes on an exhibition there in 2006 that her images are "not purely architectural photographs, her rhythmically patterned images present a universe of interiors constructed by human intention, unearthing patterns of order and logic … Her photos of ornate baroque interiors achieve images with extreme clarity and legibility while the camera maintains an observant distance, never getting too close to its subject."

Candida Höfer, Biblioteca Girolamini Napoli II (2009)

Candida Höfer, Biblioteca Girolamini Napoli III (2009)

I love the library, it's the one place where you can be sure it will be silent (except for maybe the tube at rush hour), where the faintest whisper is met with a quick moment of shock that someone has spoken.  In these places the decor makes up for the silence, it's like a trumpet fanfare being played at all times, in celebration of the people who created the books in the first place and the knowledge that they hold.

Candida Höfer, Biblioteca Uffizi Firenze II (2008)

Check the Strahov Monastery Library, Prague website for details of when you can visit and when the construction work will finish.  There is a small charge in addition to entrance  to be able to take photographs.  Raphael Neff's images can be ordered from  Libraries by Candida Höfer can be ordered from and there is a great review of it on ThePhotoBook.
Images sourced from,, and Images of Strahov Monastery Library are my own.

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