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]

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Link to a selec­tion of works:

Link to Micha­el Pfitz­ner’s web­site: