Dresden by Phillip Arnold

Like the myth of the Phoenix rising from its own ashes, Dresden is a city risen from ruins. Bombed by Allied Forces at the end of WW II, Dresden was reduced to a landscape of crumbled walls, rubble mountains and clouds as dark as cinders.

Does a city have a soul? Or in the case of Dresden, can a soul inhabit a wasteland?

In a painting that was hung in Dresden in 1699 it is dusk and a woman sleeps before a landscape of hills whose soft contours imitate those of her exposed body. She reclines in a pose that suggests tranquility—far removed from the clamor of nations.

In 1510, Giorgione completed his painting, Sleeping Venus. Inspired by the statutes of Antiquity, it is considered one of the first paintings of the Renaissance to represent idealized beauty—the human form as sensual and transcendent. Giorgione’s nude would inspire hundreds of artists, each of whom would express a reverence for the human figure, and would attempt to capture in their own paintings the soul of the original.

Common among these photographs of Dresden are the statues that crowd the Altstadt (Old Town). Those of the human form, with greater precision, convey both a classical and modern sensibility—a gesture toward the virtues of faith, forbearance and industry. These figures are embodiments of a city’s hope, the human spirit elevated and idealized.

Dresden would rise from its ashes, ennobled by the beauty of the past. Looming like apparitions, these statues inhabit a city reborn. As such, they appear equally timeless and historical, both spectral and immediate. On a wall nearby hangs Venus sleeping, the original symbol of classical beauty that would inspire imitations of its likeness.

Does a city have a soul? Or in the case of Dresden, can a soul be born again in its own image?


BIO: Phillip explained, Enclosed are a series of photos titled, Dresden. Focused on architecture in the Altstadt (Old Town), these images explore a historical city where presences waver in the undercurrent of the past. With my photography I am interested in how the captured image articulates expressions of transience and the fluency of forms. The attached photographs were shot on medium format black & white film using a Holga, an inexpensive plastic camera with minimal controls for focus and exposure. The lo-fidelity aesthetic of my images explores atmospheres created through the optical conditions of plastic lens cameras. Soft focus, distortion, light leaks, vignetting—each of these traditional imperfections play a role in creating a visual environment that adds ambience and resonance to Dresden’s historical landscape. As a biographical note, my photography has appeared in Apeiron Review, fugue, Atticus Review, The Hopper, Compose, and in Black & White magazine as a winner in the 2018 & 2020 Pinhole/Plastic Camera category. My writing has appeared in Rattle, Adventure Cyclist, North Dakota Quarterly, Midwest Quarterly, and apt, where my piece, “Stereoscopic Paris,” was a notable selection in the 2017 Best American Essays anthology. I am the author of the poetry collection The Natural History of a Blade (Dos Madres Press 2019), and a recipient of an Individual Excellence Award for writing from the Ohio Arts Council.

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