Interview : Alexander Binder
Sator Arepo is an ongoing photo-project about the place where Johann Georg FAUST (the protagonist of Christopher Marlowe's play and Goethe's Faust) was born around 1480. It's a tiny village in Southwest Germany, which has still today a very unique aura thanks to its timbered houses and old buildings. Despite making a traditional photo documentary about this site, I tried to capture the transcendental quality of the place via self-made pinhole lenses, longtime exposure, crystals and color filters.
In your work there is a relationship with life and death. It has one question, the transcendental, and is psychologically active. With this in mind, what are you seeking to communicate?
We are very focused on the material world nowadays. In a certain way we are almost addicted to technology, physical objects, the ongoing optimization of our body and of course to the money that helps us to achieve all these things. We spend an enormous amount of our time on documenting these efforts in an infinite stream of posts, status updates and images.
It’s completely ok, to share ideas with people and to spend your energy on the things that you like. But very often I don’t see a real message, any passion or dialogue. It’s just a constant “look at what I have achieved” and in addition to that, all the achievements look pretty much the same. Even on a verbal and visual level. People tend to use the same syntax, filters and tools to adapt their own expression to some kind of semi-official global standard. We are trapped in this ongoing economic and social rat race. Sometimes it feels to me like a pact with the devil or the modern version of a Faustian bargain.
I have always had an interest in topics that exceed and transcend our perception. The first artworks I fell in love with were Memento Mori still life paintings. Most of them are pretty obvious with their extensive use of skulls, rotten flowers and vanishing smoke. Nevertheless these symbols reminded me at an early age, that the material world is not the only sphere of importance. In recent years I have spent a lot of time reading a wild mix of books ranging from the works of Rudolf Steiner to Carl Gustav Jung, Austin Osman Spare and the more contemporary publications of quantum physicists. Their texts showed me that there’s a huge cosmos of fascinating concepts about the universe and our role in it – beyond buying an ultra-limited pair of sneakers.
To cut a long story short: I am not constantly contemplating about the afterlife, but I try to remind myself that human existence has to offer much more than earthly possessions, social status or celebrity fame. I would be more than delighted, if at least some of my works were able to open the viewer’s mind and make him reflect on his own life – and death.
The occult has been an influence in your work, going right back to its roots. How has this shaped your perception of picture making?
Today we use the word “occult” as a metaphor for the paranormal and label different movements from Mysticism to Alchemy, Esotericism and even New Age with it.
In relationship to my work, I prefer the very classic translation of the Latin word “occultus”, which means “secret” and was used to describe hidden knowledge about the inner nature of things. A secret also deeply hidden within yourself and your individual perception of the physical world.
So my photography is not so much about the things that I see, but about the emotions that I feel and the aura of an object. Of course a two-dimensional photo can only be a very vague approximation of this unique impression – but it is an intriguing and never-ending motivation for me to follow this path.
Your early works are intimately hunting, whilst your most recent works bloom with psychedelic light and vibrancy. How would you describe the transition?
Like you have mentioned in your initial question, my work deals with the relationship of life and death. So I guess that my early images concentrate much more on the dark side, while my latest endeavors deal with colorful and transcendental aspects.
Actually it’s just the other side of the same coin.
But I wouldn’t talk about an evolution. I think it is a constant process of moving back and forth between two extremes. Many of my publications pay tribute to this process on a visual level by combining color and black-and-white photos.
Can you tell us about your previous photographic methods and how they relate to how you work today?
The whole photography thing really started for me, when I threw away my professional camera equipment and experimented with pinhole lenses and primitive camera objectives. It changed my whole way of working, instantly adding a new level of unpredictability that came closer to the imagery of my inner world.
I began to collect vintage camera lenses and also built my own objectives with duct tape, glue and the remains of old disposable cameras. Furthermore, I used crystals and all kinds of optical toys to produce otherworldly light effects. By combining all these tools I was able to create even more abstract images.
This was a necessary experience for me, I began to re-focus on the images themselves – and not on the visual effects. I think it has to do with the ideal balance of content and form. I guess at that time I spent too much energy on the form.
I prefer to go with very light equipment, just my camera and a few pinhole-lenses in a small bag. Despite wasting hours on combining different lenses and an endless amount of filters, I try to dive much deeper into the specific atmosphere. Sometimes I sit down and start with a meditation. After several minutes or hours I take a handful of images and that’s it.
What are you working on or towards at the moment?
I enjoy working on several projects simultaneously. These days I am creating new images for the “Sator Arepo” series shown in this magazine. They will become part of an exhibition at the Faust Museum in 2017.
In autumn 2016 I am hoping to release my first Tarot deck – this is something that has fascinated me for a long time.
Not to forget: My ongoing visual dialogue with FOAM Talent’s Catharine Maloney on Anewnothing.com. We started our image-based conversation a few months ago and we are posting a new image every week. It’s an exciting yet challenging experience.