The following questions are only answered by a part of ACMV, namely myself, Oliver Schneider. Julia and I are working closely together but for the most part Julia is responsible for the content you see online. Because we have a pressing time schedule, we have to organize the time we spend working on ACMV and doing paid jobs as designers and art-directors. Additionally I’m co-founder of a social network for favorite places called earthfaves. Now, my part is mostly to write about our work and sometimes about other photographers and that’s why I answered your questions for the both of us. We hope that my answers give an insight on how we work and what we think, in a lot of ways Julia and I share a similar view on photography and on life in general. But because it is still my thoughts and opinion you’re reading, I thought it would be important to say that in advance.
1. Let’s first talk about you both as fine art photographers: like many artists of your generation, your photographic education was first rooted in film photography and culture, are you still currently shooting film? If yes, how has your artistic practice changed since then?
I always dreamed of having the opportunity to take pictures of situations as I saw them at that moment. Working with film was always complicated and very expensive and techniques were often counterintuitive, like the mirrored screen of a medium format camera. I really love photography and I like the old-fashioned way of taking pictures, developing them in the darkroom and making prints. I even built some pinhole cameras, was working in a b/w lab as a student and had a proper photographic education in general. But the scenes I was interested in, often in very low light situations, were hard to catch without a heavy tripod, making test-polaroids etc. Although the colors of analogue film are still hard to beat under normal lighting situations, in low light colors were always too strong, contrasts too hard and the grain too big for my taste. When I could afford my first really good digital camera, I was blown away by its light sensitivity. I felt like I could finally start taking pictures like I saw them or that came very close to what I saw or found interesting. I’m still very happy about that. I see the problems with digital pictures but I don’t think going back to film is going to solve them. I consider myself a hobby photographer only, I don’t have the time or the money to be a full-time artist. Working with a digital camera is really easy and I think perfect for finding my way to take pictures, my own voice. But I would be up for it to use film again for projects where I think I would need a better resolution or sharpness or a more experimental approach.
2. In your opinion, what are the main pros and cons of photographing on film in 2013?
To be honest I never found the technical aspects of photography so interesting. At times when you see a lot of good work online, the differences between digital and analogue pictures are marginal yet visible. Admittedly, you probably could immediately spot a picture made with a large format camera among digitally produced ones even in a resolution of only 100 pixels wide, it just looks different. Beuys always wanted a world where everybody is an artist and today we’ve reached that point with all the digital cameras in cellphones. Radical artists like Joseph Beuys, Guy Debord or Jonathan Meese actually dreamt and still dream of a world purely consisting of artists. Part-time artists working commercial jobs and fulfilling their passions only in their spare time don’t change the world to the better. But photography is now used as emotional information that is obsolete a few minutes after the transfer. You can find pictures of everything in and outside of the world. There’s nothing to add except your story, your view, your problems, hopes and dreams. And even though one might think everything has been already said, there will always be new books, films, songs and artworks. But which ones will stand the test of time?
3. Do you photograph digitally as well? If yes, what’s your rationale for it?
Working with digital cameras has the advantage of being cheap, fast, uncomplicated and immediate. Because it leads to randomness, you need to put in a lot more time editing pictures and it’s easy to take pictures of everything, get distracted, lose interest and forget the actual intention of taking a picture. It would be easy to assume that digital pictures have no aura and that this would be the reason why there are so many vintage filters available online. But when printed on paper, the distinction of analogue and digital produced images is hard to impossible to determine. I think it’s all depending on the artist and the goal he wants to achieve, and how he wants to tell it. And not only photography has the problem of being ephemeral, paintings and sculptures need restoration too.
Interestingly in photographic history some work of renowned photographers was closely connected to the use of specific films, like for example Andreas Gursky was using Kodak VPS in his beginnings. Nowadays you can create your own filters or color spectrums, which actually is a great thing. You can be your own film engineer and decide how your work should look like. But I still don’t like it and I don’t know why, maybe because you don’t rely on the film engineer anymore but on a software programmer instead. When filters or effects are being overused by hobby photographers, the actual personal message and the intimate feeling becomes layered and extinguished by a cheap effect. That’s why I choose to use the default settings on my camera a lot, but I’m aware I’m using the defaults of my camera’s manufacturer.
4. You also are the founders and editors of ACMV (Actual Colors May Vary), an online magazine dedicated to showcasing and promoting emerging photographers and artists internationally: what essential advice or recommendation would you have for the new generations of photographers out there?
Try to stick with your passions and obsessions, your seemingly strange interests and boring or hard to explain work. Don’t get nervous because there is so much great work to be found online and offline. Try to find a way to do what you like as often you can. Be honest and don’t try to be fashionable, try finding and being your self. Don’t overdo self-promotion. When you have something to say in your work, there is no need for advertising – it will speak for itself.
5. Since 2010 you have published a truly diverse spectrum of photographic works: is the nature of the process behind photos of interest to you something you consider for ACMV?
There is a thin line between irony, sarcasm and bitterness. We’re both working as designers and have to deal with a lot of stereotypes in photography. This work can make you bitter and sarcastic easily. We have to be very careful not to judge pictures by their mere surface – we question every work we receive or find. We talk and try to understand why and if they might be interesting for ACMV. Since the process is often not directly visible we rely on additional info from the artists. We’re more interested in the result, if the process doesn’t lead to results and pictures we find interesting, we might not pick it. For us, emotion is a very important aspect of photography and to talk about emotion, love, life and death without using stereotypes is hard. We’re looking for outstanding and very individual work from honest, stubborn or shy artists – how they reach their goal of telling their feelings about the world is secondary. But it helps to have an outstanding form matching your message, we think a deep understanding of the photographic medium helps to find your individually fitting form and medium.
6. How do you see the future of film photography? In what ways can it remain a relevant artistic medium?
I don’t see film photography as an independent medium but photography is. An artist should be looking for his fitting medium to transport his messages. Economical questions aside, he’s free to choose any medium he likes. Every photograph, digital or analogue, shares the same problems: how to present them, make them durable and how to store them.
7. You have recently launched an online radio reviving early 1960s and 1970s psychedelic and electronic music (great stuff by the way!): can you explain how this musical stance may connect to renewed awareness and interest in analog cultures in general, and perhaps to film photography more particularly?
Sometimes it seems the world is just getting worse. Everything is getting produced cheaper but in a worse quality. MP3s are great, you can listen to them anytime and anywhere you like but the sound quality is worse than 40 years ago. You can buy strawberries in winter but they taste horrible or you can buy ugly cars that need less gas but all look alike … I could go on, but I think you get my point. There are a lot of contemporary bands trying to sound like bands from 40 years ago and if they can’t add their personal message to their art, I lose interested. Truth is often not hard to tell but hard to find out, every artist needs to go through fears and failings to find what he wants to tell. It’s much easier today to produce a great sounding record but if the content isn’t enough, the great production doesn’t help it. The psychedelic era was an extremely experimental phase in music. Complex electronic effects and electronic instruments were used in pop music for the first time and folk songs and unusual instruments from different cultures had a huge impact too. In that way it was the first postmodern music because it mixed so many different cultures and music styles together. In some former politically or religiously oppressed countries like Iran, Egypt or Turkey artists had a temporary window of artistic freedom and a relatively easy and happy life in the late Sixties and early Seventies that helped to produce some outstanding music that still influences musicians today. It was hard for me to connect to german culture as a teenager but the “Krautrock” era was certainly really interesting and had a huge impact on rock and pop music and I’m not talking only about Kraftwerk. I collected over 200 psychedelic tracks from 1966 to 1975 from all over the world on my blog “Kopfleuchten” (www.kopf-leuchten.tumblr.com). On the other hand I’m really enjoying the “Punk” attitude of very young musicians from all over the world who produce a certain kind of electronic music in their living rooms you might call Post-Dubstep. For me it sounds like a unfiltered and immediate diary of young people around the world, although or even because it’s mostly instrumental music. It doesn’t say something specifically but I can relate in a way that’s what I’m trying to find in photography too – a story I can relate too but that is not trying to tell me everything and doesn’t give away its secret. A great contemporary electronic album or track can give me the same satisfaction as an old psychedelic rock or pop song but it’s hard to compare real masters in songwriting with 20 year old producers of electronic music. No doubt, analogue produced live music has a bigger emotional impact than an MP3 of an electronic track. But still – the “analogue is better” argument seems too simple, I think we can use different tools to achieve different goals. The bigger problem I think is also visible in the music and the photo industry: how can life be better for everyone without producing so much trash we throw away so soon? How can we do what we love to do and make a living from it? How can we live together without prejudices and stereotypes that lead to aggression and war? Is there a way to live outside of capitalism or can we change its rules?
8. Any other recent achievements, projects, or news you would like to share?
We were invited to the Belfast Photo Festival earlier this year to present our work for ACMV to a wider public, which was a great experience for us. We curated and produced a slideshow to the festival’s theme “Spectacle”, you can see the whole projection here: http://actualcolorsmayvary.com/2013/05/belfast-photo-festival-2013-projection-programme-artist-as-curator-spectacle-in-photography/). We selected photographers whose work we admire and additionally started an open call on ACMV and chose our favorites from the submissions. The accompanying music came from contemporary electronic music of very young producers from around the globe. The projection program was shown in a cinema-like room and we really liked the outcome and the whole experience to mix photography and music and to show it to a real audience.
The whole experience in Belfast, meeting so many great people and the feedback we received from them motivated us to do more public events in Berlin. We’re starting a new event in Berlin/Neukölln at the bar “Das Gift”, which is owned by Rachel and Barry Burnes (who is playing in the band Mogwai). We will take part in an art festival in Berlin/Neukölln called “Nacht und Nebel” and curate a slideshow, which will be shown in “Das Gift” (http://dasgift.tumblr.com) on November 2nd 2013. We like the idea of showing photography about and produced in Berlin, and contrasting it with a live set of improvised or semi-improvised music by a musician or DJ. We’re still in the middle of organizing the event, so further details are not clear yet – but we’re certainly very excited and will keep you posted.
Oliver Schneider & Julia Schiller
FotoFilmic’s new FILM TALKS series is all about sharing experienced views, artistic endeavors, industry outlooks and how to reshape the contemporary practices at the center of the film photography medium today. FILM TALKS invite advanced artists, independent publishers, photo editors and art dealers, as well as the broad creative crowd of visual arts to engage in insightful dialogues with FotoFilmic about film photography in all aspects.