Autor: Natalie Neomi, Pasqual Schillberg / Fotografie: Abe Frajndlich

COULD YOU TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND?

I was born in Germany in 1946 in a displaced persons' camp in Salzheim, near Frankfurt. Both of my parents were originally from Poland. My mother had been in the concentration camps and survived, and my father was a soldier in the Russian army until the end of the war and helped to liberate Berlin in May 1945. After the war the Russians wanted to keep him but he said "I'm done, the war is over!" and he went back to his hometown Lodz in Poland to find that everyone had been killed and only the few that had survived were in the displaced people's camp in Salzheim. He went there and in 1947 my father was murdered by three Polish guys who picked him up on the road between Frankfurt and Hannover – they realized he had money on him and they shot him. My mother took me to Israel where she remarried and we lived in Israel from 1947—1951. In 1951 we came back to Frankfurt where I started first grade, then we spent another year living in Paris, so I learned French and then, in 1953, we moved to Brazil. When I was ten my mother died and my stepfather sent me to live with his sister and her husband in Euclid, Ohio, where I became an American citizen. English was the seventh language l had to learn - I had started out with German, Yiddish and Hebrew, then Polish, French in France and Portuguese in Brazil and finally I learned English in America. So in lots of ways by the time I was doing photography, photography became my next new language, a language which is totally universal. It translates into any language very easily because we all have eyes and see a world and we all interpret it in our own way. Only years later did I realize that all the digression in my life had led me to becoming a photographer. Using the language of the medium of this little camera became a way for me to really be able to communicate, because my whole life had been about how to communicate with people who didn't speak my language. It gave me the ability to relate to a whole range of people and situations, and all these years of constantly having to adapt became a tool and strength rather than a weakness. I've become a very chameleon-like creature, you can't be rigid because you never know what is coming and what to expect. So you stay loose, you flow, you get rigid, you crack. So the trick is to flow, and the better you flow the further you go. Life and time are a river, you never step into the same river twice because every second it's a different river. it's the same with the flow of life. The camera is a way to still time and space, and just having the instinct when to still it makes these little moments.

THROUGHOUT YOUR WORK, THERE IS A CERTAIN SENSUALITY AND INTIMACY. ON THE OTHER HAND, HUMOUR AND IRONY ALSO PLAY AN IMPORTANT ROLE. COULD YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT THE WAY YOU SEE REALITY? IS THERE SOME KIND OF MESSAGE YOU HOPE WILL COME THROUGH YOUR WORK?

I never wanted to deal in terms of messages, but I see the world in a slightly skewed perspective and seeing it straight, which what most photography is about, always bored me. To me, 95 percent of photography is just information. I always wanted something else to be happening: Someone stepping in the way is just a way to start, and bringing someone into a picture and interpreting it, is so much more. The givens of photography is capable of so much more - it is just like language- it is the same language as James Joyce used to write his novel "Ulysses", and is the same language any artist uses, for example, Cy Twombly or Picasso, who use the same materials and transform them into something else. My feeling about photography is that it is far too often not transformative enough - it is just informational. You can send a camera out and let it take pictures every 12 seconds, and quite often it makes interesting pictures. There is even a new Barbie doll that takes pictures of you playing with it. Now, even Barbie has become a photographer, but that does not mean Barbie is a Cy Twombly. Now that Barbie can do it, who will be next?

THE INSTINCTIVE PART IS THE GREAT THING ABOUT MAKING ART. THE SURPRISES YOU MAKE/GET ARE WHAT IS INTERESTING. WHAT DOES INTUITION MEAN TO YOU?

Intuition to me is similar to instinct. Inside all of us are all the answers. Most of the time our brains get in the way of allowing ourselves to hear that deep-down voice that we all have, and the brain says "Oh no think about twelve other ways to do it", whereas if you go with your instincts and go with your intuition you can never be wrong - it will never ever lead you to the places you don't want to go because that is in our DNA. If you're walking down the street and three guys are following you, that same intuition tells you: "Get out of here”. When you make pictures in a positive way, by listening to your instinct instead of your brain, you might actually make a picture. If you just listen to your brain, you will just produce information using the perfect eight-by-ten camera, with the big piece of film, with the perfect light and you will get information. The picture will look perfect, but it says nothing because no instinct, no imagination and guts have gone into it. Technology will always continue to make boring pictures. When I started working for the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung", I had never used a strobe light before, but slowly I learned to use it as a medium. But that is not what it is all about. I never went to art school and never went to photography school.

WOULD YOU CONSIDER YOURSELF A SPONTANEOUS ARTIST? HOW DO YOU APPROACH AN IMAGE?

I don't know that I am even an artist. I know that I make pictures, and what I know about making art is that it is usually not clear that you've made art until you have been dead for 75 years. So whether I'm an artist or not, is not an issue to me. I do make pictures; I make them every day as much as I can. I'm involved in the process and I enjoy doing it. I think the whole term "artist" is a tricky term. You can say Picasso was an artist, and maybe Cindy Sherman is an artist. I have great respect for her because I see her working out of amazing emotion combined with an amazing brain. She works out of intuition and out of taking risks and has results from it.

YOU STARTED WORKING WITH MINOR WHITE AS YOUR PERSONAL TUTOR/MENTOR WHOM YOU MET BY CHANCE AND WORKED WITH FOR SEVERAL YEARS. WHAT KIND OF EFFECT DID THIS CLOSE RELATIONSHIP AND FRIENDSHIP HAVE ON YOUR WORK? WHICH OTHER PHOTOGRAPHERS WOULD YOU CONSIDER INFLUENTIAL ON YOUR WORK?

When I met Minor White in 1970 I didn't really know who and how important he was and that gave me the green light to approach him. If I'd really known, I think I would have been too intimidated to go up and talk to him. I just said: "I've been doing photography for five months, would you look at my work?” Most people doing photography for five months know that they're doing shit. I didn't know that because I was twenty-four years old, and twenty-four-year-olds all think they know everything. So I went and showed him my work and he confirmed the fact that it was shit, but he allowed me to come and work with him. The main thing about Minor in terms of interactions with him is that he is a remarkable teacher in the sense that, from the beginning, he let you know that he was on the same path as you were on. He wasn't one of the teachers who say "I have all the secrets, and if you're really, really good, I'll give them to you one at a time". He didn't know anymore than you did, was his own expression, so every day he would start afresh. He would meditate and would do his work, and so he became a kind of example of how to move forward that seemed realistic and viable. He was very intent on you not becoming a "little Minor”, but on finding the voice and the path of becoming your own person. What he always stressed in our one-to-ones was: "Go find yourself - that's the best thing you can do", and gave me the freedom to find my own way. The two other people who I really learned a lot from were Bill Brandt and Eikoh Hosoe. They both explored a wide range of subject matter, and that's what I saw as the strength of their photography. Many people just go and find their little square meter and spend forty-five years just digging in that one square meter. To me that's digging a grave, because it's not realizing that the camera can be used for a lot of different things - that you can sort out how they connect to each other at a later date. Both Brandt and Hosoe were examples of photographers who had wide-ranging interests, passions and obsessions and explored them throughout their lives.

“OPEN FLOWERS ARE PURE EROTICISM, CONTRARY TO EVERYTHING THAT GEORGIA O'KEEFFE MIGHT HAVE SAID ABOUT HER OWN FLOWER PAINTINGS... WHAT DOES OBSESSION REPRESENT FOR YOU?

Doing what I do every single day is a kind of obsession. A lot of people have obsessions with green monsters that they see up at the top of the room - those are obsessions also. I don't see any green monsters, but I keep coming back to similar subject matter and keep digging in the same places. It's an obsession that is within accepted norms. So I'm lucky they haven't put me away in an asylum - yet! That's the case with any artist: If you go through Cindy Sherman's exhibition you see that at various stages some of her stuff is extremely obsessive. Nobody has put her away either, they're paying money for her stuff and she, too, is blessed with following her obsessions and activating them in a really big way.

WHICH FILMS OR WRITERS INSPIRE YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY?

The big film makers were Fellini, Bergman, Godard, Truffaut, Kurosawa, Dennis Hopper and his film "Easy Rider" or Antonioni's movie "Blow up" about Bailey as a photographer. All these seminal things were my moment. I'm sure there are a lot of photographers who became photographers after seeing this film. On the one level there is the erotic side, but on the other side there is the absurdist element. For example, in the final scene of the movie the main character has not solved the murder, everybody is blowing dope and he walks into the park where people wearing masks are playing tennis with no ball - you can just hear the sound that they are making. At some point this imaginary ball goes over the fence, lands near the main character who then picks it up and throws it back to the people who thank him. This is a brilliant way of summarizing my own approach. It's all to do with absurdity. It all needs to be fun. It needs to take you out of the ordinary. It needs to keep surprising you, otherwise don't bother doing it.

A STRIKING AND INTERESTING CHARACTERISTIC OF YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY IS THAT, ON THE ONE HAND, YOU PROJECT HUMAN QUALITIES ONTO INANIMATE OBJECTS AND, ON THE OTHER HAND, YOU TURN HUMAN QUALITIES INTO TANGIBLE SCULPTURES.

I think mother nature has a few tricks that she uses over and over again. In pictures I've done of trees in which I've found body forms, or when I shoot nudes, the common denominator is that the pictures are all of the pussy. I'm interested in the power of sex as a life-form which, for me, emanates from a woman. For me that's a very powerful thing because we all come from there, but I'm trying to transcend it beyond just the physical aspect. It is a form, but behind the form there is a kind of life-force which is the center of this life force. We have to both look at it, acknowledge it, extol it and tansform it into something aesthetically pleasing so that you can look at it, not be embarrassed by it and realize this is the primal mover. So this is, for me, ground zero; it all starts here and everything else is satellitic to it. I don't see it as sculpture; I see it more as vitality and life expressing itself. We all get raised in a culture where this is forbidden, and for a lot of people this becomes pornography, but for me it's not pornography – it's still exciting and alive. When I got to be in my mid-fifties and looked at the pictures that I'd made of trees when I was 25, I found myself thinking: "Can you imagine fifteen years ago making a picture like this?” I was seeing it from a different perspective because you keep evolving and you understand things in a larger way.

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