How Much Land

A meditation in photographs inspired by Tolstoy’s short story “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” (1886), in which Pakhom, the rapacious protagonist, is offered a deal by the Bashkirs. Their rate is non-negotiable: one thousand rubles, and all the land he has been able to encompass between sunrise and sunset will be his. Striding ahead as fast as possible in order to maximize his claim, Pakhom is finally forced to rush back to the starting point – and there dies of exhaustion. The only land the peasant eventually needs has the dimensions of an ordinary six-foot-long grave.

Two years before, on the Great Wall, I had found a dead body. Peasant’s black clothing. No shoes.  The cause of the death impossible to determine. I was alone. I didn’t tell anyone of the find or of the two photographs I had taken. The body was lying supine beyond the watchtower. The head turned away. One leg stretched, the other bent. Both arms slightly tensed up, the finger tips already blackish. It seemed to merge with the gradient rock and was surrounded by broken twigs of brushwood. A still life – eerie and peaceful – of 1.5 square meters.

The other key image of the portfolio was the portrait of my Vietnamese grandmother, taken from behind, shortly before her death. The picture’s focus is the chignon. Accompanying the photograph is a quote taken from her journal. Her last wish was to be cremated with the silken Cochinchine wedding dress laid across the coffin. Some do not long for land; the dress of their native country is enough to carry them home.

How Much Land is the first example of a preoccupation with literature – attested to by various texts,  some accompanying my own reportages, others collaborations on literary projects such as Weltreporter unterwegs. Die Kunst des Spurenlesens (Burma Road to Wall Street for Lettre International, Berlin 1998), the anthology Nichts als der Mensch. Beobachtungen und Spekulationen aus 2500 Jahren (Georg Brunold, ed., Berlin 2013), culminating in the account/memoir/reportage Schnee in Samarkand. Ein Reisebericht aus dreitausend Jahren (Eichborn-Berlin, Berlin 2008).

The interaction of photography and literature dates back to the welcome of the daguerreotype by Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne, after which there were many such pairings of the two disciplines, including the Egyptian voyage by Maxime du Camp and Gustave Flaubert. Photography, moreover, is either the subject of, or is visually integrated into books by John Banville, André Breton, Vladimir Nabokow, Peter Nadas, Cees Nooteboom, Patrick Mondiano, Marcel Proust, and W.G. Sebald. The two fields’ capacity to influence each other is evident in Bill Brandt or Brassai on the one hand and Evelyn Waugh and Claude Simon on the other, and it led to active collaborations such as that between Walker Evans and James Agee, Ilja Ilf and Yevgeny Petrov, John Steinbeck and Robert Capa, Jean-Paul Clébert and Patrice Molinard, and John Berger and Jean Mohr. Finally, there are the interdisciplinary Janus-headed writer/photographers such as Sophie Calle, Teju Cole, and Patti Smith, as well as the great travellers/reporters like Gertrude Bell, Nicola Bouvier, Ryszard Kapuscinski, Ella Maillart, Annemarie Schwarzenbach, and Wilfred Thesiger.


Wieviel Erde – Ce qu’il faut de terre – How Much Land – Quanta Terra
Texts by Dieter Bachmann, Adrian Budge, Lanfranco Colombo, Charles-Henri Favrod, Hugo Loetscher, Martin Schaub
Concept: Daniel Schwartz
Schweizerische Stiftung für die Photographie, Zürich (now Fotostiftung Schweiz, Winterthur), 1989
28 pages; 23 offset-printed photographs


Wieviel Erde – Ce qu’il faut de terre – How Much Land – Quanta Terra
Galleria Il Diaframma, Milano 1991
The Photographers‘ Gallery, London 1990
Photoforum Pasquart, Biel-Bienne 1990
Nikon Gallery, Zürich 1989


»L’obiettivo di Schwartz viaggia alla ricerca delle gestualità, degli sguardi, delle tensione fisiche ed emotive dei personaggi che sembrano legati ad un destino comune. L’intensità dell’imagine, mai statica, trova la sua più alta espressione ed il suo profondo significato del ritorno “all’uomo”, negli scatti che immortalano la gente al lavoro.«

Il Giornale, Milano, 18 Gennaio 1991

»In the tradition of social documentary photography Schwartz retains a belief, and a pleasure in visual evidence, but he makes none of the conventional reformist claims for his work. His images dwell on codes of behaviour, both social and private, on the sometimes brazen, sometimes discreet language of gesture, poss, dress and display.«

(From the exhibition information, The Photographer’s Gallery)

»Les photographies de Daniel Schwartz dérangent et attirent en même temps. Elles sont marquantes et fortes.«

J.J., Biel-Bienne, 13 Juin 1990