Musician, actor, producer, designer – and photographer. Kravitz has been taking photographs for many years and has now put together a selection that will be presented for the first time in an exhibition at the Leica Gallery Wetzlar: Drifter will be on display as of 24 May 2019. And he is also introducing his latest design object –the “Drifter” set, a special edition based on the Leica M Monochrom with synthetic leather covering in imitation python.
We spoke about his father’s camera, the love for black and white and his life in transit.
Are you an intuitive photographer or do you have a specific idea before taking a picture? More feeling or more calculation?
My photography relies on intuition. It’s a gut instinct. When you’re looking through the viewfinder at what’s happening in the world, you see everything differently. You can’t necessarily calculate or prepare for the outcome. It’s necessary to adopt a new perspective through this prism in the moment. In that space of the camera’s eye, all you have is feeling. So, I’ll snap the photo when it feels right.
Black and white removes the reality context from a picture, makes it unbound, more timeless. What is it about black and white photography that appeals to you?
I believe reality thrives in black and white photography. I actually think it’s more realistic. My sight improves in black and white. The pretense is stripped away. You’re seeing shape and form without the distraction of color and the chromatic choices we make to impress others around us. To me, it’s raw beauty. I’ve always preferred black and white photography. I’ll forever be a black and white enthusiast.
Your most recent exhibition is titled Drifter. Why? Can you explain the idea behind it?
It’s who I am. Since the age of fifteen, I’ve spent the majority of my life in transit. I’m always in motion. I’m rarely in one place for too long. I spend much more time on the road than I do at home. Traveling is what I do. Being a drifter informs everything. It’s a big part of my photography as I’m taking pictures everywhere I go. It tells my story without words. I can’t wait for people to see it.
Does the desire, the tendency to take photographs have something to do with the fact that you’re always on the move, seeing new countries, places and people? Is photography like an assurance that something “was” or happened? Many photographers say that the fact that photography has the ability to document history, is the most important factor. Or do you think it’s more important to eternalize an atmosphere, the feeling in any given moment?
Being on the move is definitely a part of it. There are many factors though. The initial desire came from checking out my dad’s Leica when I was a kid after he got back from shooting the Vietnam War. I ended up in front of the camera for my career in my twenties, and eventually found my way behind it in 2012 when I decided to take up photography. It is an assurance to a degree, because it reminds me that something significant happened right in front of me. I enjoy this aspect of photography. I’m able to bottle a piece of time in a photo. It lives on afterwards. As a picture, it grows. People can share in this sliver of time in a book or an exhibit. So, it never dies. I love that.
Ice, cold and stunning beauty: the fact that the Arctic has so much to offer is evident in the impressions captured by the Icelandic photographer. Ragnar Axelsson – who has chosen to go by a shortened version of his name, RAX – is not only the most acclaimed photographer from his homeland, but also enjoys great renown around the world as an award-winning, documentary photographer. His work offers us unusual and beautiful motifs, while also revealing his active and cautionary role in this time of global, climate change.
In an interview with Leica, the photographer speaks about his new book, his work and his experiences.
How long have you worked on the series? When did you take the pictures?
I’ve been shooting the glaciers in Iceland for a few years now, while I was flying over them; but the project really took off in 2015 when we decided to make the book about them. According to scientists, the Icelandic glaciers will disappear in around 150 to 200 years.
What childhood memories emerged when you flew over the glaciers for the first time?
As a young boy, it was a special moment to see a glacier for the first time. It was overwhelming; and that feeling for the beauty of the glaciers and nature got stuck in my head and has never left.
What is it that fascinates you about glacier landscapes?
It’s always exciting going on a plane or a mission to photograph the glaciers. There is always something new and adventurous to see, new forms and figures in the ice; and there’s the ash on the surface, which comes from the volcanic eruptions in Iceland and is hardly seen anywhere in the world.
It is the forms and figures and the special light they give off. It is a world of adventure, an extraordinary one. The glaciers are like a book, because there is information in the ice that speaks about the weather hundreds of years back in time. Every year we are losing five years of the information being stored in the glaciers. All those pieces of information are melting into the ocean and will be lost forever.
What significance do glaciers have for Icelanders?
The glaciers are the pearls of Iceland. They have the kind of beauty that can leave you speechless. Most of us won’t be around when the glaciers are gone; but I think I’ll be here with the immortal Keith Richards and see what it will all look like in 200 years time.
Considering the experiences of the economic crisis and the political upheavals in the country, does nature today play a greater role in Icelandic society than it did a few years ago?
Nature is acquiring stronger ambassadors every year. It is the most critical part of the identity of Icelanders and of the country, and we understand well the powerful attraction it has for visitors from all around the world – visitors coming to see untouched nature.
Would you also describe your glacier images as portraits?
Ha ha, good question. The landscape does not hit back at you; it smiles, especially the glaciers. Both are fun. I do get along well with people, and that is more me, I think.
So, how would you describe the biggest differences between portraits of people and portraits of landscapes?
Well yes, if you look at the forms in glaciers, you can find a lot of figures and faces. That was what I looked at, imagining the iceberg was talking to me, trying to tell us something. All those figures are melting into the ocean. It has been a long journey – in some cases nearly 1000 years. Soon they will be free.
Does a feeling of humility emerge when looking at a glacier? What hope do you have for the global climate?
Yes, it does. Just imagine looking at them, and then thinking about them disappearing. What is under the ice, what new landscape will we be facing? The Arctic is the refrigerator of our planet, and now it is melting and, as a consequence, the earth will heat up. It is something that all those living on the planet should be worried about. When the glaciers are gone they will not reflect back the rays of the sun, and the dark surface of the land will heat the planet. Ocean and sea levels will rise.
What technical equipment, and which camera systems were used to take the pictures?
All the images in the last three years were taken with a Leica SL. I used two lenses for the project, the Summilux-M 50 f/1.4 ASPH. and the Vario-Elmarit-SL 24–90 f/2.8–4/ASPH. By flying higher or lower, I could also “zoom” with the 50mm lens.
Can you tell us more about the new publishing house?
Qerndu Publishing was formed solely to publish books about the Arctic. We feel it is imperative to document the changing life there, because the Arctic will be one of the most significant issues on our planet in the coming years.
What are your current and upcoming projects?
There are a few big projects ongoing which I’m very excited to share in the near future. The largest project is a big book about all eight of the Arctic countries, showing life under harsh conditions and the beauty of life in the Arctic.
Thank you very much and good luck for all further projects.
You will find a portfolio of Axelsson’s work in LFI 2.2016.
Ragnar Axelsson was born near Reykjavik in 1958. When he was ten, he borrowed an old Leica from his father to take photographs he also developed himself. By the time Axelsson was 18, he was a photographer for the Icelandic newspaper, Morgunblaðið , and since then has been documenting nature and the lives of people in the North. His pictures have been published in Life, Geo, Polka, Newsweek, Stern and Time magazine, among others. The books he has published so far are: Faces of the North (2004, new edition 2015), Last Days of the Arctic (2010), Behind the Mountains (2013), and the latest photo book, that appeared at the end of last year, Glacier. He has received numerous awards for more than just his books. They include the Grand Prize, Photo de Mer, Vannes, and Iceland’s highest award, the Order of the Falcon, Knight’s Cross, for his work in the Arctic. In 2001 he received an honorable mention at the Leica Oskar Barnack Award.
To see more of Axelsson’s photography you can visit his website.
At home in a foreign land: for her long-term project, the Japanese photographer took pictures of the Japanese ballerina, Mayu, of the New York Theatre Ballet. We spoke about the concept of home, the beauty of dance and the world as a stage.
For a classical ballet dancer it must be very strange not to perform on a stage. What was Mayu’s first reaction, when you suggested she join your (rather unusual) photo project?
She liked the idea from the start.
How did Mayu “work” within these special locations?
Even though we often got stares from people walking by, Mayu was so brave and professional, she didn’t seem to care about the people around us at all. I think once Mayu starts performing, any environment becomes a stage for her.
How did the people passing by react while you were shooting?
Some people tried to secretly photograph Mayu on their phones, and others asked us for permission to take a picture. Sometimes cars would slow down.
How did you find the settings and locations?
When I have free time, I often go out with my camera to explore specific destinations that I pick in advance. I never did any location hunting for this series; I picked the locations from memory. As you might be able to tell from my landscape pictures, I like to isolate my subjects within the frame, and that approach worked very well with this series, I think.
In this series it was the ballerina Mayu you isolated. How did you work with her?
Everything she does as a dancer is so beautiful, so I asked her to not be too beautiful.
On your website you write that the idea for the project was to express feelings of alienation, degrees of self-doubt, regret. Your photos speak very intensely about these feelings, and in a very aesthetic way! Did the project change your own attitude towards your own experiences? Maybe kind of “healed” them?
By the time I met Mayu I think I had overcome the more difficult part of adjusting as an immigrant, and I think Mayu had also. If I had still been struggling with those feelings, I don’t think I would have made the series, because I wouldn’t have wanted to share them. But even so, the series did feel like a milestone of sorts for both of us. Collaborating with another artist was a joyful experience that reminded us that we were free and independent.
What does “home” mean to you? Do you feel at home now in New York?
New York is a difficult city to call home. It’s always full of energy and constantly changing. I do have good friends and family here now, and I am beginning to feel much more at home; but it is hard to say when that process will be “complete.”
How important is the fact that you are both immigrants?
We are not only immigrants from the same country, but we are also both female artists, which was another very important reason for me to do this series together with Mayu.
Could you imagine realising a similar project with an American dancer?
Yes, I can imagine a similar project with an American dancer, but I would try to find a totally different way to shoot the dancer. For example, in Mayu’s series I purposefully didn’t show her face clearly, so as to express the feelings of an immigrant; but with an American dancer, I would probably take a more open and direct approach, bringing the dancer forward and closer to the viewer. It is hard to say. It depends on the individual themselves.
You realised the series with a Leica M 6 …
Until I started thinking about buying a Leica, I never gave much thought to the particular camera I was using. I viewed cameras as mechanical tools, and as long as they performed I was satisfied. One day about five years ago, I went to an exhibition in NY that had a separate space with a few Leicas on display. I loved the design and, after some research, I decided to buy one.
Which lenses did you use and how did the camera perform?
I love shooting with it. It’s become my go-to camera when heading out, and I use it when working on series as well. It delivers images exactly as I envision them in my mind. I used a Summicron 50mm for this series.
I have been focusing a lot more on shooting people recently, and so I’m working on a couple of portraits series.
Sayuri was born in Fukuoka, Japan in 1985. After graduating from Tokyo Visual Arts College in 2006, she worked as a photo studio assistant at Iino Media Pro in Tokyo for three years. She moved to London in 2009 where she worked as a fashion photographer, and then moved to New York in 2012 where she worked as a digital photo retoucher in the fashion industry. In 2014 she shifted her focus away from commercial photography to pursue her own photographic interests and projects. She received the Japan Photo Award in 2016 for her Deja Vu series – a house series inspired by the memory of her childhood doll house. In 2018 she was selected among the winners for the Fotofilmic 18 Shortlist Show held in Canada in June for her Mayu series.
To see more of Ichida’s photography you can visit her website.
On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the twinning between Tokyo and Berlin, Kiên Hoàng Lê captured the German capital for an exhibition project at the Japanese-German Centre in his current hometown, Berlin. His images taken in the Lichtenberg district, combine portraits, landscapes and still-lifes, and reveal both the small and large aspects of the metropolis.
Photographically speaking, Berlin already has a strong presence. What was it that still made this project interesting for you?
A city is defined by the space it gives both its citizen and its visitors. When the enquiry for the exhibition came, I knew immediately that I wanted to dedicate my project to the Vietnamese community. It was important to me to show a part of Berlin that is barely present in people’s awareness. I decided to take a closer look at the Lichtenberg district, and to allow my protagonists to show it from a new angle. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the people who define the personal experience of a city.
You were born in Vietnam, grew up at Bogensee in the former GDR, and now live in Berlin. Do you still have an “outsider” perspective or do you observe the city as a local?
In daily life I no longer have the perspective of an outsider. In my photographic and film work in Berlin-Lichtenberg, however, I got to rediscover the district through the eyes of my protagonists.
Your pictures show people, nature and also buildings. Are these the things that define a city?
In my mind, a city is characterised as a living space that people have created. Within it, they limit nature according to their needs. In my photos I only ever show a minimal excerpt. That’s why I like to combine portraits, landscapes and still-lifes. Together they create the pieces of a puzzle that the viewers themselves can put together. With each new experience, each new encounter and each new thought, a new picture of Berlin-Lichtenberg emerges – which also means a new picture of Berlin. At the end, the viewer always has a constantly changing puzzle in mind.
In the exhibition we find pictures of Berlin hanging next to pictures of Tokyo. You yourself lived in Japan for a long time. What do the two cities have in common?
It is really interesting that I learned to see Berlin with different eyes following my time in Tokyo. The image of Tokyo as a highly-technological metropolis was firmly anchored in my mind. However, when I was there, I discovered many little villages the moment I moved into the side streets. When I returned to Berlin it became very obvious to me here as well: the town has grown out of different villages, and the locals rarely move away from their neighbourhoods.
Your pictures show a different, not exactly trendy, Berlin, that appears desolate at times …
Berlin is primarily un-hip and raw; but I don’t find it desolate. Precast, concrete slab buildings are a phenomenon of the sixties, a time when there was a shortage of accommodation. Large surfaces and places give room for development; demolition and core restoration tend to cause upheaval. I consider them a symbol of positive change. Old structures are transformed and people create new spaces for themselves.
Did the fact that you grew up in the former GDR have any significance for your work?
My biography is, of course, reflected in my work. This is actually the reason why I came up with the idea of dealing with the Vietnamese diaspora and, in a next step, the changes in Lichtenberg. Lichtenberg carries a weight of history. Before the fall of the Wall, it was the headquarters for the Stasi secret police, and was a more or less gated community. In common vernacular the district was referred to as Mielke’s village. I’m only here because there was a relationship between North Vietnam and the GDR.
You used the Leica S2 for your series. How was the experience for you?
Venezuelan photographer Ana María Arévalo spent a long time living abroad. When she returned to her homeland in 2017, she found a country in a deep state of crisis. She began her Días Eternos series by photographing women being held in detention centres. Many of them have been imprisoned arbitrarily and languish there for months or even years before coming to trial. For Arévalo, the image of the inhuman conditions these women experience while they wait, was a reflection of the crisis in Venezuela. We spoke with the photographer about closeness, respect and the advantages of the Leica Q, an inconspicuous, quiet camera.
How did you come up with the idea of doing a photo series on detention centres?
I went back to Venezuela in 2017 after having been away for three and a half years. Three years without going back to Venezuela, in the middle of the crisis the country is going through, was like an eternity. The country had changed radically. One day, I was working with a journalist friend on ideas about how to photograph the crisis. She talked to me about the situation of people who have been arrested and taken to pre-trial detention centres. Soon after that conversation we visited one of the detention centres in Caracas and I realized that the situation was very critical. So many of their human rights were being abused.
What did you see exactly?
Inside the “dungeon” (that is what they call the cells), a group of women were sharing a very small, dark room. The air was suffocating. They had little room to sleep, no privacy, and to go to the bathroom they had to use a bucket in front of the other women. They were waiting for their families to bring them food and water. They were imprisoned for months or years, without even knowing when their trial was going to be.
That visit gave you the impulse to produce your Días Eternos photo series, a long-term project …
Yes, after the visit I was embarrassed not to have known anything about these conditions – like so many other Venezuelans. So I decided to deal more intensely with the subject. This is where one of the roots of the Venezuelan crisis becomes obvious: the penal system is not on the side of the citizens, and certainly not on the side of the most needy: the women.
How did you manage to get such close, touching pictures?
First I needed to develop their trust and take my time to talk to them, listen to their stories and be honest about my purpose: to advocate for their rights through photography and interviews. As they talked about their different stories, I also talked about my own experiences. I sang for them. Once we trusted each other, I took the camera out and shot the pictures. In a period of three years, I went back to visit the same centres several times.
You have invested a lot of time. Do you consider time to be the key to trust and, ultimately, the basis for a good picture?
Yes. One day I spent so much time with them, that when I yelled for the guard to open the cell he didn’t come: he forgot that I was there! I decided to keep on shooting pictures of the women until the guards remembered me. The intimate moments arrived when they realized I was not scared of staying with them. We always treat each other with respect. That is the basis for taking a close-up picture.
As a moderate wide-angle prime, the new APO-Summicron-SL 35 f/2 ASPH. is a universal lens. Its fast autofocus, robust construction and exceptional imaging quality make it a go-to lens for all areas of photography. It also couples beautifully to the Leica SL-System and has been conceived for a long working life under professional shooting conditions.
UK photographer Matt Stuart got his hands on the APO-Summicron-SL 35 f/2 ASPH at the Leica Store in Mayfair, London, and took it for a test shoot on the streets of the British capital. Inspired by his first impressions of the lens, Matt shot the following series on a sunny Winter’s afternoon at The Ritz. We spoke with the award-winning street photographer about the shoot and his love for 35mm lenses.
Can you tell us a little about your route into photography?
I was working in a call centre, a real dead-end job, when my father randomly gave me a couple of books that he had picked up in a museum bookshop. One was by Robert Frank and one by Henri Cartier-Bresson. From that point on, I never looked back.
Who would you say are your biggest influences?
Winogrand, Tony Ray-Jones, Leonard Freed, Lee Friedlander and my friends Joel Meyerowitz, Alex Webb, Richard Kalvar and Trent Parke.
When did you first start shooting with Leica and how has your relationship to the cameras and the brand developed?
After a weekend workshop with Leonard Freed in 1998 and watching him work, I realized how useful a tool the Leica was for getting close to people, discreetly. It appeared to be a very polite camera, unlike my cumbersome Nikon at the time.
Sadly my Grandma died around this time and left me a small amount of money, enough to either buy a Leica or pay off my credit card debt. I followed my heart, not my head and got the Leica. It was the best decision I ever made. Since then I have had relationships with a variety of cameras in the Leica range; from the Q through to the M to the SL. I’m proud to say I also have a room in the Leica Hotel! Leica has been very good to me.
You shot this series in London’s Piccadilly. How did the shoot come about?
I was in the Leica Mayfair store and the manager, Jason, asked me if I would like to test a new lens for a few days, so I decided to take it up the road to The Ritz, which was basking in late winter light at the time.
What was the concept behind this series?
My plan was to wait in one place and photograph everyone as they emerged into the light. They all seemed like rabbits in the headlights to me and it seemed symbolic of the current Brexit situation in the UK.
To what extent do you think the whole Brexit saga has influenced the general atmosphere on the streets of London?
There are far more homeless people on the streets. Politicians aren’t concentrating on anything but Brexit. Everything else seems to have been overlooked. It’s a shameful situation.
I’ve heard you mention that the 35mm is your favorite focal length. What is it about the 35mm that you like so much?
It’s wide enough but not too wide. It doesn’t distort too much and I can use hyper-focal focus with it on a bright day. I’m also very familiar with it and it is very comfortably suits my point of view.
What struck you about the results you achieved, shooting with this new 35mm SL lens?
It was interesting to have a lens that auto-focused so quickly and responsively. Using such a quick lens with face detection focus was new to me. Nevertheless, I generally always got the subject in focus, whether I was looking through the viewfinder or not.
If you had to pick one, which of these images are you most happy with? And why?
I like the grumpy taxi driver looking at me with the lady lit in the back. The light works and his expression is great. Funnily enough, the following frame, when he realized he had been photographed, he smiled at me and gave me a thumbs up.
How would you describe the experience of shooting with this lens and the Leica SL?
The lens didn’t feel too big and the camera didn’t feel too heavy. It was well-balanced, responsive and the images were extremely sharp.
When shooting digital on the street you often use a Leica M10-P and a 35mm f1.4 Leica Summilux lens. How does the combination of the SL and a 35mm lens compare?
They are very different cameras. The SL shoots up to 11 frames per second, while the M is slower and more contemplative. They are both extremely good in their own way. In an ideal world I would use both on the street.
What can we look forward to seeing from you in the near future?
Photos from the UK, photos from Europe and a road trip with my dad.
What one piece of advice would you offer to anyone looking to improve their street photography?
Be hopeful, open and positive, then the shots will come to you.
You can find out more about the technical specifications of the APO-Summicron-SL 35 mm f/2 ASPH. via this link.
Devoid of people and with drooping palm leaves: the Berlin photographer, Christian Werner, has regularly been taking pictures in Los Angeles since 2015. On the whole they are detail images, and rarely landscapes. They reveal a tired, burnt out city, far from the ideal of the American dream. We spoke with the photographer about places of yearning and the challenge to not lose focus.
What links you to Los Angeles?
I always saw Los Angeles as a very symbolically-loaded city, and for a few years now it has been a real place of yearning for me: I don’t, in fact, just connect it to beauty, but also to a strong feeling of melancholy; like a premonition of the end of western civilisation. Los Angeles is the furthest place I can think of from where I come from in the provincial area of western Germany. It’s a place where you can immediately and continually reinvent yourself, or where you can disappear completely if you want to. Breaking out of middle-class constraints and Catholic humbleness into the endless vastness and eternal light; yet, at the same time, in fact, too big, too garish, too artificial and too excessive. Using psychoanalytical vocabulary, it is a type of fearful thrill that links me to Los Angeles.
Is it easier to photograph at home or abroad?
When you’re in foreign places, your eye for signs, places and situations is always much more alert than when you’re in more familiar surroundings. That makes it easier, of course. In the case of Los Angeles, it was also a challenge not to lose focus. The city is so visually intense, that at first virtually everything seems interesting and worthy of photographing. But, when everything fits together, the individual things lose significance.
The photo book, Los Angeles, appeared in Spring 2019 published by Korbinian Verlag. Does the book contain a photo you are particularly fond of?
Of course it includes some pictures that I personally prefer over others; however, it is the actual composition and dramaturgy of the book that are most important to me. I took a lot of time for the editing, looking at the pictures for months, placing them side by side, and then reselecting again. In the process, some pictures I had originally decided on ended up falling along the wayside, as they would have driven the flow of the story in an undesired direction. Kill your darlings!
Did you already have the book in mind when you were taking photographs?
During my first trip to Los Angeles I already felt a need to commit myself to a visual narrative about the city and undertake a larger project. However, it took a while and further visits before I found my own particular approach. Los Angeles is an intimidating subject for a photographer, and certainly a precarious one. The city is among the three most photographed places in the world. The supposition that there are still secrets to discover here seems, at first, highly unlikely.
I made the decision not to include any portraits in this book relatively quickly. For me it was about showing the surficial in-between and behind-the-scenes places, in front of which the film industry spreads out its sets. I also deliberately avoided any level of clearly visible scripts or symbols in the images. For this book, I considered they would be too powerful and would distract from what I wanted to show. The fact that absolutely no one is seen in the urban landscapes further underlines the book’s slightly dystopian mood.
Towards the end of the book, however, people are given the word. Rather than a “classic” catalogue text, I was able to get author Tom Kummer to write fictitious interviews with five characteristic inhabitants. Consequently, for example, Dr. John (life coach), Julie Kay (helicopter pilot) and also Tomas (tennis trainer) speak about their lives in Los Angeles. Using the fictitious interview format plays with the displacement between fiction and reality that has always been an inherent part of Los Angeles.
What camera did you use for the project?
The project was photographed exclusively with Leica cameras, primarily an M-P and an M10, which are predestined for this kind of street photography, if you want to be out and about with a relatively light bag of equipment. Some of the pictures were also taken with a Leica S, which has very special qualities and reproduces colours brilliantly. Even though I still like to work with film – especially when it comes to portraits –, it was very important for me to photograph this project in digital, so that the pictures would have a modern and more objective finish. I wanted to get by without any “aesthetic tricks” to describe Los Angeles at the present time
Are there other places that you’d like to capture in pictures?
I would really love to travel to Tokyo and find out what keys I might find there to produce an interesting and maybe novel portrait of the city.
The Berlin, Leica photographer Christian Werner (born 1977) works for many national and international magazines such as Zeit magazine or Numéro and clients such as SSENSE or 032c. His work focuses on long-term projects, which have already resulted in a number of books. Another of his books that has just appeared is Bonn. Atlantis der BRD (Bonn. Atlantis of the GDR). A series taken from this book appears in LFI 3.2019
To see more of Werner’s photography you can visit his website.
Desire, longing, happiness, pain and disappointment: in her delicate yet powerful black and white series Borders of Nothingness, Margaret Lansink dwells on the emotional state of transition between knowing and not knowing another person. At the same time, the pictures are an expression of her own feelings.
YourBorders of Nothingness series is based on the lost contact to your daughter. What is the meaning of the title, and what was the starting point for the project?
When I started this series I was doing a Artist Residency in Japan. During that residency, I was hardly able to work because my daughter had already decided to suspend contact some years earlier. I had to do something with this sharp emotional pain – also as an artist. I had the feeling that I would never see my daughter again in my life. At the time it helped me to believe that we might one day meet up at the “borders of nothingness”. I see the series as an image for farewell.
Are your pictures always memories of your own life?
Always. I’m an intuitive person, and that’s exactly how I photograph: with my feelings in every picture. It might be the moment in which I took the photo; or it could be a moment that lies way in the past. The picture always expresses what I’m feeling, when I release the shutter. For me, the images of the two girls, for example, symbolize my two daughters. They are a sign of my love, but not just for my daughters: they are also an expression of love and respect for all women on this earth.
Is it at all possible to photograph something to which one has no connection?
I can’t speak for others, but in my case it’s like this: when I take pictures to which I have no relationship, and then I see them in the dark room or on the computer, I don’t feel any vibe. They land in the garbage.
Can your images be seen as a social commentary?
Yes, I think so; even though you may not think so immediately when you look at my pictures. But we live in a world that is very fast paced and materialistic. Therein, we forget to feel the real meaning within us. People who look at my series often become quiet. They are less fearful about looking at their own emotions, fears and desires. In Arles last summer, a number of visitors cried in front of my Borders of Nothingness series, without having read the accompanying text.
Why do you choose to work in black and white?
The black and white in Borders of Nothingness imbued my pictures with the emotional message that I had in mind. My new series will be in colour, however.
Your pictures are a bit reminiscent of daguerreotypes. Is it a homage or a deliberate form? What does it express?
Honestly speaking, I’ve never made the connection. But there is some truth in it: I love the old, authentic way of taking photographs. Virtually everything I do is analogue: I develop everything myself, I make the first contact sheets in the dark room. After that I can feel free: I can print in the darkroom, I can work on the pictures with photoshop, or I can make pigment prints. At the end of the day, it’s the result that’s the most important thing to me.
You work with a Leica M6. What do you find is special about the camera?
Before I worked with a Leica, I was a bit sceptical about all the stories I’d heard of how great this camera is. But I fell in love right from the first hour I spent with my M6. Every time I use the camera, I think: this is how photography is supposed to be. Everything is manual and it can require a bit of time – a piece of quiet in this hectic world.
If you were to take the pictures again today, would they look any different?
As far as I’m concerned, the series is good as it is. Of course, if I were to take the pictures again today they would look different; because my life has gone on. The feelings have changed; my daughter and I are now working with a psychologist on a new form for our relationship. That is the reason why I always interpret Borders of Nothingness a new. I combine the pictures, tear through them and “heal” the breaks with gold leaf – these are the photos in Borders Revisited. With this I’m expressing my hope for a stronger and more beautiful relationship.
Transnistria, the no-man’s land between the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine, rarely makes it into the news. With the exception of the short war between 1990 and 1992, when the country was fighting for independence only to later sink back into east block oblivion. It is precisely these kind of isolated places that interest the French photographer Cédric Viollet, who has already been on photographic exploration trips to Lesotho and Hong Kong.
Viollet took twenty days for each of his three trips travelling around Transnistria. Without a clear destination, driving an old Dacia, he actually spent most of his time on foot, because he found that was the best way to connect with the locals. We present a selection of unpublished-to-date pictures from his Eastern Exposures series.
When did you discover your passion for photography?
I was a skateboarder, but following a number of broken bones I couldn’t do that anymore. So I looked for another way to follow my skateboarder friends and began taking photographs of them. Above all, I took portraits and pictures in movement. It was the best training.
Which photographer has influenced and inspired you most?
Josef Koudelka for sure. His book, Exiles, was the first photo book my father gave me. To this day, I still admire the way Koudelka arranged his life in exile, and how he travelled the world with just a rucksack and a note pad. He was always close up, spontaneous, yet he composed his images very precisely. That’s how I consider photography should be.
How did it come about that you took photographs in Transnistria? What was it about the region that fascinated you?
The first time I was there was in 2015, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Pridnestrovian Moldovian Republic – as the land calls itself. I’m interested in isolated places like Transnistria, Lesotho, or even Hong Kong, because in some way or another they are each cut off from the outside world. On the whole, they are regions geographically located between two larger countries. Like Transnistria is quasi squashed between Moldova and Ukraine. At first I had no idea what I was actually looking for in Transnistria, because I did not know the former USSR. I was just curious about the country.
How did you get access to the country?
You can’t get a visa as a journalist, and even as a tourist the officials at the border will decide if you are able to stay one, two, or at the most three days in the country. Then you get a piece of paper where you have to fill out the names of all the places and hotels where you stayed. When you depart the country, you’re supposed to hand over this documentary proof to the border officials – a bit like how it used to be in Russia. So I had to go back repeatedly into the neighbouring countries.
So you were travelling “undercover”?
Yes, and my Leica cameras were very useful for this reason, because the people at the border always look for big camera set-ups with large zooms, which you would usually use to observe someone secretly. They tend to laugh at Leica cameras, considering them rather like toys. I was also travelling in an inconspicuous rental car, the smallest Dacia that’s available, so I could move around as discreetly as possible. After the twelfth time I went in, the border officials became suspicious and I was arrested and questioned: for this reason I had to take a break with the project. Luckily I’d hidden the films in the backseat of the car, so not everything was lost.
How did you make yourself understood there? Do you speak Russian?
No, I don’t speak the language; however, I found that to be an advantage: because virtually no one there speaks English either, we had to find other ways to communicate. Sometimes we’d draw something in the dust on my car, or explain things with hands and feet. Basically it was quite easy: I have a camera and I take a photo. Full stop.
I find the pictures are very poetic, but they capture a rather sad atmosphere…
Yes, that’s how I felt the country to be: a prisoner of monotony. Maybe the fact that I was never there in summer had something to do with it, as it was always grey and rainy. The people appear to be happy: not like in Africa or South America, but rather muted. It’s a very poor country; no one has money. They have their own currency, but it isn’t accepted anywhere outside the country. I saw many empty venues: empty swimming pools and empty ice rinks, because no one can afford a ticket. And there’s nothing to buy in the supermarkets. In Transnistria everything is quite simply empty.
What’s your next project?
I’ve been photographing the area around the Darling River in South Australia. The river is over 1570 kilometres long and the most important water source in the region. In more recent times there have been water shortages because the river is polluted and overburdened. In addition, it hasn’t rained there for three years and the Darling River is gradually drying out.
Another, totally different, project, shot in the Moroccan desert by Viollet with a Leica SL, can currently be seen in LFI 2.2019.
To see more of Viollet’s photography you can visit his Instagram.
Monica Menez is an award-winning fashion photographer and filmmaker from Stuttgart, Germany. Whether she is working on a photoshoot or a fashion movie, her vivid imagery is accentuated with moments of absurdity, humour and eroticism. As such, her distinctive style is instantly recognizable and presents fashion in a fresh and unique way.
After having won various awards for her photography, Menez has also won prestigious awards for her films, such as the Berlin Fashion Film Festival 2013 Award in the category “Best Fashion Film” and the Madrid Fashion Film Festival Award for “Best fashion film international”. Menez’s success story continued in 2014 with the ASVOFF “Best Art Direction” Award, this time for “The Journey”. The film, was praised by critics as one of the best fashion films ever made, and also won prizes at the 2015 Miami Fashion Film Festival: “Best Film Audience Award” and “Best Cinematography”.
Here we feature a selection of Menez’s photography shot with the Leica S and Leica SL. While we also interviewed the in-demand artist about her approach to studio work, her inimitable style and how she goes about concepting her shoots.
When did you first pick up a camera and how did you go on to become a fashion photographer and filmmaker?
It was during my teenage years that I picked up a camera and took pictures of myself in various outfits. A short while after that I started to take pictures of my friends and my little sister. When I think about it now it becomes clear to me that I have always tried to stage my shots. I enjoyed working with models from the very beginning – in contrast to taking photos of landscapes, which I never did.
I originally wanted to study graphic design. A crucial part of the entrance examination was photography. While I was in preparation for the exam, I became increasingly attracted to photography. For that reason, I decided to undertake an apprenticeship with a commercial photographer. After that, I worked as a press photographer. During that time, I came into contact with fashion photography.
Which photographers/filmmakers have inspired your style? And where else do you source your inspiration?
In the field of photography my all-time heroes are Guy Bourdin and Helmut Newton. When it comes to film my idols are John Waters and Jacques Tati. When I am working on a film, I draw inspiration from music in particular. For photo projects I source my ideas from basically anything – a piece of clothing, shoes, a certain fabric or a specific colour that catches my eye.
How do you normally go about creating a concept for your shoots?
This depends on the medium. When I do a photoshoot, I decide whether I want to tell a story or depict bodies in an abstract form. In terms of film a good storyline and a great location are essential. Sometimes I discover an inspiring location, and then I build a story around that particular place. Other times, I already have a story in my head, so I start to build the setting and the entire concept around it.
Your photo shoots, as well as your fashion films, display a very choreographic feel. Where does this aesthetic come from?
I have always been fascinated with ballet, even as a child. The bodies of dancers and the way they express emotions through their body is very inspiring to me. In other words: I admire dancers in motion, and I enjoy implementing a choreographic feel into my films alongside the music that I use. I love to work with expressive dancers or models that have a good physical feeling.
You work with simple, colour backdrops in your studio work, which often harmonize with the clothes and skin tones of your models. How do you approach creating the colour schemes of your shoots?
The first and most important preparation that I do before any kind of shoot is to create a colour moodboard. This way I establish the colour world, in which the photos or film will be shot. Most of my moodboards consist of three to five colours. My preferences for certain colours change from time to time, but I generally favour pastels.
Your fashion photography also stands out thanks to the abstract composition and posing of your subjects. When did you start working like this? And why do you tend to focus less on the classic look-to-camera approach?
Before 2010 I solely worked as a photographer. Already at that time I tried to tell stories with my photos. However, it was very difficult to convey a story within only a couple of individual images. Since I started filming in 2011, this problem just went away, and I can now tell stories through the medium of film. At the same time, the style of my photos went in a more abstract direction.
The thing with the look-to-camera approach is that I focus more on the shape of the body rather than on a model’s face. I feel that an emphasis on the face would disturb and eventually ruin the abstract feeling that I try to create in my work.
In many of these images your models are interacting with the set, certain objects or the clothes themselves. At times this can lead to very humorous results and at others it creates a very sensual, tactile feel to your images. How important are both a humorous approach and sensuality to your photography?
Humour is very important to me. I love to create images that are special and make the viewer smirk. Humour is something that’s..