How do you make these images?
– Deep down in the base­ment of our favorite pho­to equip­ment rental shop we found a UV flash that nobody has bor­rowed in over ten years. That was the ini­tial spark: What if we could decon­struct and then reassem­ble the ele­ments of a pho­to. Name­ly, what light is reflect­ed and how.
– Know­ing a bit about oil paints and pig­ments, we devel­oped our make-up tech­nique – which is actu­al­ly more like paint­ing.
– Then we exper­i­ment­ed with the light­ing. We used small UV lamps, some spe­cial fil­ters, and a kind of man­u­al expo­sure
– then the per­son we pho­tographed moved
– and we moved with him…and it all came togeth­er. We were sur­prised.
– The fun­ny thing is: We haven’t actu­al­ly used the UV flash yet. It inspired us to do some­thing more inter­est­ing.

What is so spe­cial about UV light?
– UV light has some fan­tas­tic prop­er­ties! The most impor­tant one is: You can’t see it! But when record­ed with a cam­era, it reveals a whole new world.
– Just like in astron­o­my, where you see high ener­gy process­es in UV, and the Milky Way, for exam­ple, looks total­ly dif­fer­ent
– or when you dis­cov­er traces of sperm on a victim’s skirt.
– We always for­get that we can’t see 99 per­cent of the elec­tro­mag­net­ic spec­trum. That, when­ev­er we see, we are 99 per­cent blind. Blind for all the real­i­ties that have decid­ed to only reveal them­selves in a dimen­sion that’s inac­ces­si­ble to us.
– We nev­er see what a cam­era sees, although we always assume that.
– Pho­tos car­ry an almost over­whelm­ing temp­ta­tion: To pre­sup­pose that the imaged object actu­al­ly exists. This feeds into our deep desire for the real. Which is a kind of lazi­ness: Don’t both­er me with ambi­gu­i­ties! Don’t con­fuse me! Let’s for­get about the process of per­cep­tion!

What then is the pho­to­graph­ic object, or the object of pho­tog­ra­phy?
– That’s the inter­est­ing ques­tion! Light is emit­ted or reflect­ed over time in some form, and it arrives at some record­ing medi­um. And then our brains recon­struct a scene, objects, emo­tions and mean­ings. It’s by no means a sim­ple one-to-one cor­re­spon­dence. And this is what you can actu­al­ly expe­ri­ence with our pho­tos. The arrow of ref­er­ence is bro­ken. It now points to time, motion, the record­ing process and to the view­er.
– Two friends of mine got into a heat­ed argu­ment over what it actu­al­ly is that they see in one of our pho­tos. Late at night they called me to decide who’s right. What a won­der­ful mis­un­der­stand­ing! It’s quite futile to even ask for an answer. That’s the desire for the real. Real­i­ty-addic­tion.
– But pho­tog­ra­phy can uncov­er this addic­tion. Imag­ine a painter would have pro­duced the very same image. Then you can relax and say: The painter want­ed it that way. But in our case it’s not the artist who caus­es the trans­fig­u­ra­tion. It’s the cam­era and the process. Some­thing we can’t con­trol.
– It’s paint­ing with­out paint­ing.
– The dark room is in front of the cam­era!

You use a dig­i­tal cam­era?
– Yes, but it’s a very, if you like, organ­ic process. CMOS sen­sors have a soul, too! (Although, of course, souls don’t exist.) You can see how the sen­sor strug­gles, laps­es, how it con­flates things, for­gets and ignores. It’s fight­ing to get an image. It’s not made for this!
– It’s the same with us! It get’s inter­est­ing if you’re not made for some­thing.
There’s no dig­i­tal mon­tage involved?
– No mon­tage what­so­ev­er. It’s a kind of direct­ed acci­dent.
– To play with hap­py acci­dents is essen­tial. Fran­cis Bacon, for exam­ple, dis­cov­ered that images are more force­ful if they hap­pen unin­ten­tion­al­ly, irra­tional­ly. We devel­oped our tech­nique to cre­ate these hap­py acci­dents. It’s a bit like sum­mon­ing a demon or per­form­ing a mag­ic rit­u­al, a rain dance. And then some­thing alto­geth­er dif­fer­ent hap­pens.
– The com­po­si­tion, the tex­tures, the emo­tions. None of this can be con­trolled.
– That’s why the pho­tos are like a gift to us.
– Often, when I see pho­tos in a pro­fes­sion­al con­text, it’s as if I can hear a hun­dred dif­fer­ent voic­es: We want the make-up like this, the light like that, the mod­el, the look, the editing…a cacoph­o­ny of demands. That’s why it’s such a relief that with these pho­tos want­i­ng some­thing is irrel­e­vant.
– We made a curi­ous obser­va­tion: most peo­ple imme­di­ate­ly ask: How is this done? It’s like a reflex. As if they all want to become artists. Or physi­cists.
– Peo­ple cling to how it’s made, the process that leads to the image, but what’s more inter­est­ing is: what hap­pens after­wards? What does the image do with the view­er? But that’s a much hard­er ques­tion to answer.
– The ques­tion about the tech­nique is maybe a bit like a dis­place­ment activ­i­ty. If a cat can nei­ther eat nor go out­side, it licks its balls.
– You don’t have to talk about the impor­tant stuff.
I noticed that I dis­cov­ered new things in your images if I kept look­ing…
– Yeah, you can see dif­fer­ent things depend­ing on your view­ing dis­tance, what you focus on and whether you see it in bright day­light or illu­mi­nat­ed by a can­dle.
– The ques­tion for us is: How long does an image take?
Most images hap­pen way too quick­ly. Ah, that’s that, got it. Fin­ished. Bor­ing. We all know too much about images, we’re desen­si­tized. We’ve got cal­lus­es on our corneas.

So, how do we get rid of them?
– I don’t think there’s a recipe for that. It may hap­pen. The first per­son you have to sur­prise is your­self. Which is a bit like try­ing to tick­le your­self. The big­ger the dis­tance between inten­tion and effect, the eas­i­er it gets.
– We noticed some­thing strange dur­ing one of our first shoot­ings. We worked with a won­der­ful, fun­ny and charis­mat­ic actress. She’s not eas­i­ly impressed by any­thing and she’s accus­tomed to the pho­to shoot­ing process. Dur­ing breaks she saw the images, she was shak­en, as if she saw a ghost, and almost cried, unable to say what had hap­pened.
– Some­times you feel like a butch­er when you record things.
– Maybe it’s the unusu­al, spon­ta­neous com­bi­na­tion of vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty, beau­ty, vio­lence, sex, decay and dance.
– The move­ment cre­ates bone-like struc­tures, as if the per­son was turned inside out. Some­times it looks like an exo-skele­ton, like a cyborg. When the mouth is opened, it becomes a scream and you can see inside the skull.
– Which can be ter­ri­fy­ing. Or fun­ny and lib­er­at­ing. A young girl, decay­ing, a man with breasts…
– We look at the images dur­ing the pho­to shoot, which cre­ates an emo­tion­al feed­back loop between the pho­tos and the sub­ject.
– That’s why the pho­tos are por­traits in a deep­er sense and the rea­son why they come out dif­fer­ent­ly depend­ing on this feed­back loop and how it influ­ences the person’s mood, move­ment and rhythm.
– After every shoot­ing, we observe a kind of after glow effect…we want to sleep, close our eyes, and then the show begins…the brain con­tin­ues to pro­duce the images in a furi­ous fren­zy. The visu­al cor­tex laps up the images, and then spits them out again for its own delight.
– I sup­pose that’s the con­nec­tion to Fran­cis Bacon. Of course, we noticed some sim­i­lar­i­ties. But they are absolute­ly coin­ci­den­tal.
– The ques­tion is: Why did Bacon paint some­thing we pho­to­graph? Because: Even if we tried as hard as we can, we couldn’t pho­to­graph what Bacon paint­ed. But maybe there’s a com­mon cause: The things the visu­al sys­tem is hooked on.

Isn’t it prob­lem­at­ic, if things work too well, too auto­mat­i­cal­ly?
– Absolute­ly! Maybe you could say that that’s one of the great themes of mod­ern and post­mod­ern art: The strug­gle of the artist with the reflex-like bio­log­i­cal and cul­tur­al expec­ta­tions of the view­er. Him­self includ­ed.
– Like this: Oh yeah, you want oil paint? Bright col­ors? Naked women? A nice land­scape? I’ll give it to you! You reac­tionary pig! I’ll give you this: A black can­vas, a pile of garbage, a soup can…and so on. That’s how this slight­ly sado-masochis­tic game called mod­ern art devel­oped.
– We should put a stick­er on our stuff: All the gen­i­talia you see in these images are a prod­uct of your own fan­ta­sy.
– One should nev­er use images just as wank­ing mate­r­i­al for one’s asso­ci­a­tions. Art is not a Rorschach blot for the dying mid­dle class. It’s not enough to idly dwell in the pool of your own asso­ci­a­tions. Because then you’re a com­pla­cent con­sumer of your own uncon­scious aes­thet­ic reflex­es and naive desires. Then you’re gullible…Seduction works best if it works uncon­scious­ly. So…
– When I was a lit­tle kid I used to run along the beach, with my upper body twist­ed, I watched my legs run. I was intrigued. My fam­i­ly thought I was nuts. Just as I was fas­ci­nat­ed by my run­ning legs, I’m fas­ci­nat­ed to watch how my brain wants to see images.
– And that’s what you can do with our images. You can watch your­self watch­ing. You can observe how you want to see. And then you can play!

[03. Juli 2016]

* * *

Link to a selec­tion of works: https://leviseur.com/art/studies-for-an-illumination/

Link to Michael Pfitzn­er’s web­site: https://michaelpfitzner.de/