Almost masked in nature’s regrowth are craters from World War II in Germany, pocking the ground as reminders of violence that erupted in the landscape. Since the war’s end in 1945, the craters morphed into part of the ecology, offering new pond habitats. German photographer Henning Rogge set out to discover as many as he could through aerial maps and the exploration of old battlegrounds.
“What interests me about the craters is their ambiguity, the contrast of the calm, almost idyllic appearance to the sudden force they originated from,” Rogge told Hyperallergic. “They are special to me because they show at the same time something that remains and something that is missing.”
Rogge’s photographs are part of The Beautiful Changes group exhibition opening July 17 at RH Contemporary Art in Chelsea. Brought to our attention by the Atlantic’s City Lab, the images are hauntingly quiet, offering pastoral scenes of lush calm out of calamity.
“A lot of them now serve as a habitat for animals, often endangered species, which is just one reason to leave them as they are,” Rogge explained of the craters. His extensive research to find them included examining aerial photographs where you “see the craters as circular dots in the forest,” although he “discovered many of them by just wandering around the woods.” One in the series, #53, is not from the war, but a WWII-era bomb recently found in a residential area, a common occurrence in Germany even seven decades later. The bomb was detonated in a safe area, and Rogge went a year later to the remaining crater, an imprint of the long aftermath of the war.
Germany is not the only country where bomb craters were consumed into and changed the environment. Millions of craters in Vietnam totally altered the topography and thus the ecology, filling with water and adapting into habitats for “aquatic biota” insects, frogs, and even eels. In Laos, frogs have thrived in bomb craters, the impacts on the Earth adding wetlands and altering the biodiversity of the area.
The Beautiful Changes exhibition centers on the transformations of beauty. While much can never be mended after war, there is something both picturesque and echoing phantom horror in the natural healing of its ecological scars.
The Beautiful Changes is at RH Contemporary Art (437 West 16th Street, Chelsea, Manhattan) July 17 to September 13.