Peter Hinschläger. Le Rayon Vert

Le Rayon Vert 

"Be aware that it is no red ray that you are going to see, but a green ray, of a wonderful green, a green that no painter would ever get on his palette, a green that nature did not yield anywhere else, not among the variety of colours of the plants nor in the colour of the clearest oceans! If there is a green in paradise, then it cannot be another green than this one, the real green of hope."

Jules Verne, Le Rayon Vert, 1882 

A green blink, visible for the fracture of a second only. Observed on the horizon, in one of those moments, when the sun rises from or sinks into the open sea and so ushers in day or night.

Shortly before the transition, the surreal flickering light phenomenon appears promise-like with the air of a glimmering emerald: Le Rayon Vert. It is an utterly rare natural phenomenon that only few people have observed so far. This may well be the reason why it has served poets, painters and film makers as metaphor of a revelation. The great Utopian Jules Verne named one of his novels after this natural phenomenon. It is a love story in which Helena, the heroine, announces she was not going to marry until she had seen the green light. Legend has it that he who has seen the Rayon Vert cannot be wrong about matters of love.

To this day the peculiar of this romantic idea which requires the scenery of a cloudless sea can be understood. Unlike hardly any other phenomenon in the field of atmospheric optics, the Rayon Vert lends itself so readily to celebrating the present as mythical condensation of life. Particularly as the physical explanation according to which the beams of the sun are refracted in the atmosphere and decomposed into the colours of the spectrum could not deminish its fascination. Seen in the sober light of reason, the Rayon Vert was first seen as a mere physiological phenomenon until someone succeeded in documenting the crucial moment photographically. In retrospect it seems remarkable that the photography not only served as evidence and means of assurance, but, that the photographic picture propagated the melancholy dictum of the crucial moment as well. A moment that could either be captured on a photograph or is gone forever. Its master, the French photojournalist and artist Henri Cartier-Bresson, once melancholically remarked upon the pursuit of the condensed moment: “For us, everything that is gone, is gone once and for all ... We cannot repeat our report once we are back in our hotel room.”  

One may certify Peter Hinschläger a marked consciousness of photography, because the Aachen-based photographer tracked down his Rayon Vert literally in a hotel. In July 2004 travelling to Spain he reached  the French border village of Cerbère,  situated in the eastern Pyrenees. In this seaside village on the Mediterranean coast he became aware of a run down building, a voluminous building in the Art Deco style that was built from 1928 to 1932 in the basic shape of an elegant ocean liner after a plan by Léon Baille: the »Hôtel Belvédère du Rayon-Vert« – insinuating great and fateful moments in its past. The noble promise that echoes in its very name was the motive for looking into the tense atmosphere of the place with the camera. Trained in the aesthetically precise perception of buildings by the prominent architecture photographer Karl Hugo Schmölz, Peter Hinschläger carefully investigated the Belvédère in order to get  rooms and relics lined up in his sight that tell of waiting, longing, and failure. The crucial moment, so their creed, was missed long ago. 

A cord phone has outlived on the white wall, the ashtray on the tabletop is empty, a chair beside it still free. Three light bulbs of a crystal chandelier illuminate ceiling and wall of a hotel room, the wallpaper of which is covered with a bizarrely illustrated texture. The reproduction of a painting hung above a radiator shows the image of a woman after her morning toilet. Bashfully she keeps her right breast covered. She looks back into the void. Undoubtedly, this beauty has not seen the Rayon Vert; she has got lost in matters of love.

The poetic black-and-white photographs of guest rooms in Italy and France that are gathered in this volume are also testimony to a photographic attitude which is aware of its coming years too late; yet there is an awareness of being still capable of banishing the fateful. Peter Hinschläger’s “Belvédère du Rayon-Vert” is a transitional stage of life, in which memories have superseded all promise. Its painful secret remains still.

The ending of Jules Verne’s novel leaves Helena without having seen the longed-for green light. Instead, Oliver, the love she has found all the same, has had an oil painting done. It is a depiction of that wondrous natural phenomenon that causes controversy among those present. It is better, Helena’s brother eventually says, to look at  the Rayon Vert in a picture than in nature. After all, he goes on, the eyes hurt, having watched so many sunsets in vain.

© Christoph Schaden, 2007

published in: Peter Hinschläger. Fotografien, Aaachen 2007, p. 14.

Peter Hinschläger

text published in:
Peter Hinschläger - Fotografien
Aachen 2007, p. 14

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