Interview with Album, Magazine for Photographie

Where are you right now and what are you working on at the moment?

I am in New York, preparing my show for my New York gallery Murray Guy in September.

How did you end up with photography? What were the beginnings?

I actually studied sculpture and not photography. We modeled with clay every day, a nude model posing for us. Our goal was to create a three-dimensional image of our model as naturalistically as possible.

At some point, I took a photography class. We learned about cameras and lenses, we learned to process film, and above all we spent a lot of time in the darkroom.

I remember I was totally struck by seeing, for the first time, photo paper in the developer. Slowly, like a ghost, it revealed the traces of reality, finally ending up as a complete image with the finest nuances of grey, black and white. I think the fact that I was working so extensively with clay, which is such a blatantly neutral material, without any reference, sensitized me for my

What other media did you try regarding your art and how did it influence you?

In recent years, I have realized how much my work with photography relates to my early involvement in sculpture. I have noticed, for example, that my set-ups for the photographs are closely related to my practice as a sculptor.

For instance, when I photograph, I arrange several cameras around the staged scene. This mimics the sculpture classroom, which involves a nude model standing on a turntable with students all around. The table rotates every 10 minutes, and every student sees every possible angle of the model.

It feels like I’ve come full circle, but under very different circumstances and with different intentions. I am using photography now, and not clay. I am not interested in the naturalistic image of the model anymore. I am interested in the effect of the naturalistic image—the photographic image. When I make a series of images, I am deliberately producing these effects myself, and deliberately revealing them as effects at the same time. For example: one work consists of 2 images of a staged situation made at the same moment. One image is dark and mysterious; the other one is somehow bright and cheerful. Within this juxtaposition, these 2 photographs declare themselves to be pure effects caused by 2 different strategies of image making.

Do you think that photography – as a medium – will someday exhaust itself

Since photography is flourishing and in full use in today’s world, it is difficult to imagine its exhaustion. There is an enormous fascination with photography, and I think that is due to its connection to reality. In the age of Photoshop, this tie to reality is somewhat compromised. However, even knowing about Photoshop and image manipulation, we still wish to believe in a photograph.

Of course, from the beginning, photography distorted reality. Even the simple selection of the point of view of the camera, or the photographer’s choice of framing, narrows reality to a single perspective, and therefore distorts it. Nonetheless, there has always been the desire to believe that a photograph shows us “how it was”. And if one cherishes this belief, photography is intriguing. Whenever this last thrust or belief in photography gets lost, then photography will inevitably lose its value.

What is your oldest memory of a photographic situation?

It depends on what you mean by photographic situation. Living in New York might be like living in a “photographic situation”. New York is photographed more than any other place in the world, which makes you feel like you are part of a huge three-dimensional reproduction.

What represents your work best, books or exhibitions

My work is designed to be experienced in space. One series of images often takes up an entire room by being installed on several walls. The individual photographs of a series are not meant to be looked at on their own, they are not meant to provide a cohesive narrative separately, they are not meant to be found successful or not on their own. Only in relationship to each other do they make sense. In this relationship, the images contradict and unsettle one another. The space of this relationship is the space between the images, and that can be experienced best when the viewer is able to move back and forth, through space, amongst the images.

In this sense, to make a book about my works is always a challenge, but one that can be resolved. I feel that my last book with Steidl came out very well.

More and more artists seem to operate as curators, developing specific forms of exhibitions themselves. Do you think that is because of keeping or regainig control of one’s own work or because new degrees of artistic freedom evolve through curating?

This certainly depends on the artist. There are artists who use curating as a tool of control, but there are also artists who curate an exhibition out of desire to see their idea expressed, be it within a certain constellation of their own work or within a compilation of different artistic points of view.

It’s said that photography bares a sovereign centered subject because of the immanence of central perspective. You seem to aim on the exact opposite with your work, expanding one thing through viewing from many directions. Can you explain what excites you about that?

Central perspective mirrors the nature of human perception. We only can see the world from one point of view at a given moment. By photographing a scene from different points of view simultaneously, I make visible what is impossible for us to see in real life.

In Akira Kurosawa’s movie “Rashomon” the idea of the ›one‹ truth is dissolved by the use of various perspectives. In any case one might say that the idea of of an unique truth is naïve. What is the relationship of truth and photography to you?

The relationship between photography and reality was a starting point for the “exposures”. In the beginning, I was very interested in testing every aspect of this problematic relationship. Now it still is, by nature, part of my work, but no longer the starting point. This issue has been discussed extensively in general, and I don’t feel the need to add to this discourse. At this point, I see my work as a kind of visual statement that goes beyond this problem.

What fundamental artistic attitude appears in your pictures? What’s near to your heart and what’s out of the question?

I guess you can call it analytical work that I am doing. I am interested in strategies of representation, but not in representation itself.

You take photographs of the same thing, but from different points of view, what reminds us of the slogan ›same same, but different‹, a Thai-English phrase. ›Same same, but different‹ would describe your work pretty efficiently. What challenges you about it?

It is fascinating how different a thing can look just from a slightly different angle. We always assume that another person sees the same thing the same way we do. Within this universal assumption, we are able to communicate. Otherwise we wouldn’t call a lemon ‘yellow’ or a fire truck ‘red’. But if one looks at it closely, this assumption stands on weak ground. A slight change of angle creates a very different impression.

Do you think there are certain characteristics to “german photography”, something unique or unmistakable? Do you see yourself as a part of it?

I am not too interested in thinking about national characteristics. It might be more inspiring to discuss the observation that things are getting more and more equal globally, to the substantial credit of photography.

Who should be interviewed next?

The Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami about his films “Shirin” and “Taste of Cherry”.

Victor Balko
Album, Magazin für Fotografie, (issue #2), pp. 214–15.