“Unternächte” is the term Helfrecht’s grandmother and great-grandmother in Bavaria used for the time around the longest night, between Winter Solstice and Epiphany – a time known in other parts of Southern Germany and Austria as “Rauhnächte”. Here, life and death, light and darkness, good and evil meet, and a door opens to the otherworld. This time, where the old has not yet entirely faded, but the new has not fully risen, is seen as a vacuum, both dangerous and cathartic, requiring specific rules to ensure a safe transition from the old chaos into a new order. During these nights, when magic and divination are said to be the most efficient, the women in Helfrecht’s family practiced specific customs to get a glimpse into the new year and to keep the family safe. The legends told in this time still serve as warnings and guidance. The Unternächte, marking the renewal of the solar cycle, are a tangible metaphor for life and death, and an opportunity for introspection. Exploring mortality, the human need to believe, and generational transition through ideas of ritualism, magic, dreams, and clairvoyance, tied to my female lineage, Helfrecht wants to invent new rituals and expand the myths she grew up with. Local customs, family history, and personal experiences are woven into dreams and fantasy, in an attempt to grasp a full circle.
Elena Helfrecht (b. 1992) is a German visual artist based in Bavaria. She completed her MA in Photography at the Royal College of Art in 2019, after receiving her BA in Art History and Book Science from Friedrich-Alexander-Universität in 2015. Elena’s work has been shown internationally, and in group and solo exhibitions at institutions such as South London Gallery, Rugby Museum and Art Gallery, Galleria Civica Cavour, Palazzo Rasponi 2, Photo Vogue Festival, and Palácio das Artes. Among others, she was a recipient of the BJP International Photo Award (runner-up), the Sony World Photography Awards (2nd place), and the Camera Work Award.