1. Before pursuing the field of communication- and photo-design at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Dortmund, you studied law. What influenced your decision to switch fields? Have you always had an affinity for art and photography that eventually encouraged you to devote your career to them?
When I finished high school, I wanted to become a lawyer and fight for justice, very idealistic. Quite soon, I noticed that this was the wrong place for my idealism. During that time, a friend gave me a medium format camera to work with during a trip to France. That moment changed everything. I was deeply touched by the experience to see the world in the cutouts, squares, the ones I had chosen before. I was fascinated by the fact that there were no “maybes,” no lies in the result, but just what I saw and what I decided to concentrate on. Studying photography and photo-design in Germany required more than pressing the button on a camera. I had to learn everything from the beginning. Developing black and white films and printing the photos in black and white. So I became a volunteer for 6 months and then applied for university.
2. Not only have you held exhibitions in various cities in Germany, you have also presented your artwork in other countries, such as China, the Netherlands, and the United States. Have you noticed any differences in feedback among audiences in cities in different parts of the world?
Actually, I have not seen the exhibitions in China personally. These were group shows organized by a group of professional photographers (BFF) that I was a member of. About my other experiences with shows in different countries, I can say that the audience in the United States is very open-minded and interested, and there is less hesitation to talk to the artists about their work.
3. In the exhibition, you also included original negatives of the photographs you took of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Could you elaborate on the significance on these negatives – why did you choose to display them along with the photographs and other materials?
Conceptualizing and elaborating on the theme and the show involved a lot of thinking about photography itself, then and now. Working with a theme like that for me always meant not only presenting “completed” pictures, but also leading the audience into their own memories, emotions, and opinions. So the negatives are symbols - symbols for the event, as well as for the medium. I have always conceptualized my photographs as unique pieces. The negative, purely used as an original, is the only picture existing in the world. The material somehow encapsulates the event. Time and place as well as all that occurred is eternalized in the negative at the very moment the picture was taken. It stands for itself and at the same time, for all the pictures the viewer can imagine or remember.
4. You use silver gelatin paper to print your photographs. Why did you choose that specific medium?
First of all, it was the material I worked with at that time. I very much appreciate the surface, the color, and the fact that it changes after a while, like our memories do. After 30 years, the theme of the fall of the Berlin Wall has a lot to do with memories and the changes in emotions and thoughts. Somehow fading, blurring, or darkening.
5. This exhibition is a collection of your personal memories from this momentous event, captured not only in photographs but also in other pieces of memorabilia. One of the exhibition pieces is what appears to be a square cut-out of a material with the caption “Mama, Papa, Harald und ich vor dem Brandenburger Tor in Berlin am 10. Nov. 1989” (Mom, Dad, Harald and I in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin on November 10, 1989). Can you tell us more about this piece and the memories it evokes?
You are talking about the last picture of the exhibition. The finale, so to speak. Indeed, this was one of the first pieces I made. The paper belongs to a photo or family album from around that time and earlier in Europe. It was placed between two pages of photographs to protect them from sticking together and from humidity. So every time you look at a photo album, you can always find this kind of paper on the right side of the book and it has always produced a little tension for me, the moment before turning to the next page of photographs. It also is something precious in my eyes. The paper (there is a negative behind it, too) also stands as a symbol for family albums which no longer exist today, I am afraid. I designed it as the last picture to emphasize the aspect of the imagination, which extends through the entire exhibition.
6. Looking at the photos of the people at the wall, a lot of them are of the border guards. Why did you select more photos of the guards than the civilians?
I was quite young, a student, at that time, but I immediately understood that there was a big mass of professionals from TV, magazines, and all the newspapers, national and international press; all of them were going after the “big picture” and all of them wanted more or less the same: happy people, laughing, hugging each other, dancing, and climbing the wall, crowds and masses. From the beginning, I considered the event as something individual and I saw no reason to follow the mainstream. Interestingly, the wall in front of the Brandenburg Gate, which was and still is a landmark, actually did not fall until the December 12th, 1989. For me, the border guards were also a symbol and a big question: why did they still try to protect something that no longer existed? Would they not rather celebrate with the other people?
7. Another remarkable feature of your photographs of people is that few of them depict joy – in fact, only one photo has people noticeably smiling. Is there a different side to the fall of the Berlin Wall, which is often depicted with euphoric and sometimes triumphant expressions in some of the most renowned photographs that you would like to depict?
At that time, I already knew, and history has also shown, that most of the photos of the event at that time would show euphoria. Euphoria and boundless joy were the prevailing mood, but not the only one, and at the Brandenburg Gate, which was still closed, the mood was rather restrained. Partly, my photos also reflect my own feelings as well, namely disbelief and a kind of mistrust: will the border be closed again? Can this be true? Is this real? The border guards for me also symbolized a regime I could never really imagine or understand. This kind of state power, suddenly insecure but still present and almost persisting.
8. Oftentimes, each generation reflects upon an event in different ways. Do people of different generations react differently when viewing your photographs of the fall of the Berlin Wall? If so, how do these reactions differ?
In fact, the older generation – those who have experienced the fall of the Berlin Wall, at least in the media – have lived through the event. They tell me how they experienced it and talk about the differences between the former two Germanys and the way things were in the years following the reunification. The younger generation asks much more about the history of the partition itself and about the material I worked with. There is a lack of personal experience, so they react more objectively.
9. If we may ask, what is your current or next project?
The style and content in my personal work has changed into abstraction and combinations of pictures. I am planning more exhibitions and a book of photography and collage in combination with words, poems, quotes, etc. In fact, I found some beautiful abstractions in the streets of New York during my stay. There is also an idea forming in my mind to make a book about the fall of the Berlin Wall.