At a glance, Jochen Lempert’s photographs seem to belong to a bygone era. Their use of repetition and a characteristically indexical photographic approach allude to a mid-nineteenth century scientific aesthetic, and yet, for the inquisitive viewer, a closer look reveals this initial encounter to be deceiving. A scientific lens is certainly characteristic of Lempert’s oeuvre – originally trained as a biologist, he first conducted field work with the aid of a 35mm camera. Following this, in the 1990s, Lempert began taking pictures of the natural environment that extended beyond a purely scientific documentation. Since then, the obscurely known German artist has made quietly humorous and revealing photographs of nature, and human relationships to it.
This touring exhibition, entitled ‘Field Guide’, is the largest-scale survey of the Hamburg-based photographer to be shown in the USA or Canada. Upon closer examination, Lempert’s photographs can serve as a counterpoint to absolutisms of scientific method; formal similarity becomes a tool to disrupt foregone conclusions. The work ‘Belladonna’ (2013), pairs photographs of a nightshade plant with the profile of a squirrel, highlighting the berry of the nightshade and the animal’s glistening eye. With further research, a connection between the two subjects is revealed: an attempt to represent a luring tactic used by the poisonous nightshade (atropa belladonna), to attract interest for pollination through imitating the eye of an animal . This difficult task of capturing a cross-species seduction is hinted at through the placement of these images, in which the berry of the nightshade hangs level with the squirrel’s eye.
Art Historian Joanna Fiduccia likens Lempert’s photography to drawing —perhaps deliberately given Lempert’s interest in the mid-nineteenth century, a time of transition from drawing to photography for scientific illustration. It therefore (rearranged this) seems in-keeping that Lempert has remained loyal to black and white analogue photography in an increasingly digital age: each image is painstakingly developed, edited and printed in a studio darkroom. All of his photographs are printed on a loose-weave paper, allowing for softer tones and gradually crinkling edges. This materiality informs Lempert’s sense of display, he never frames his photographs, preferring to adhere them directly to the wall with tape.
‘Field Guide’ provides a generous overview to Lempert’s prolific practice. His choice of title suggests that these photographs, and the relationships which he draws amongst them are still very much in process—the task of examining things “in their natural environment.” For Lempert, this questioning of nature also extends to urban environments. Works such as ‘My garden’ (2014) offer humourous depictions of urban nature: a drone-like aerial photograph features an suburban landscape of trees, grassy boulevard, and parked cars, each image subtly differentiated by a shifting onlooker seated on a bench and the shadow cast by a pigeon as it flies overhead—either could be the central subject. In these four serial photographs, Lempert—much like a scientist conducting research – documents the various species in their natural environment, seemingly unaware of each other in their co-existence. Similarly, ‘Regen (Rain’) (2003) documents an unidentified porous surface, possibly being showered with rain, an homage to Dutch avant-garde filmmaker Joris Ivens’s 1929 16mm work of the same title: in the 14-minute film, Ivens attempts to capture the phenomena of rain (he later tried to do the same with wind). Lempert draws on the relationship Ivens’ work drew between the co-existence of natural phenomena of rain and dreary industrial landscapes.
These quiet photographs are demanding. Without a desire to look, and look again, it is entirely possible to miss their potential to open the imagination to more complex insights. As a ‘field guide’, the exhibition reveals an abundance of relationships not necessarily considered solely by science nor art. Lempert’s oeuvre exemplifies the capacity for photography to pry open a space between the two subjects, to at once offer an objective insight whilst also functioning as a series of carefully composed visual notes with grainy, immaterial conclusions.
 “An attempt to photograph a non-anthropocentric projection: Atropa belladonna (deadly nightshade) imitates an eye in order to draw attention and spread its fruit by triggering a species-specific program for perceiving faces in various animals, as here a squirrel.” Lempert, Jochen. “Field Guide Floor Plan.” Contemporary Art Gallery Vancouver, 2016.
 Fiduccia, Joanna. “Jochen Lempert Domaine De Kerguehennec.” Art Forum, December, 2009.
 Google definitions, 2016.