Brigitte Lustenberger Bern, Switzerland
Born in Zurich, Switzerland, Brigitte studied at Zurich University and received her MA in Social and Photo History in 1996. In the following years she established herself as an fine art photographer. She moved to New York and received her MFA in Fine Art Photography and Related Media at Parsons The New School of Design in 2007. The main issues in her works lie in her interest in the study of the gaze, the interplay between absence and presence in a photographic image, and the fact that the reading of a photograph is most often triggered by a collective memory. She explores the media and its close connection to themes like decay, memory, death and violence.
Brigitte Lustenberger has shown nationally and internationally in both solo and group shows. She had Solo Shows at the Museée de l’Elysée in Lausanne/Switzerland, at Scalo Gallery in Zurich and New York, at Le Maillon in Strasbourg/France, MadonnaFust Gallery in Bern, Photoforum PasquArt in Bienne. Her works have been part of group shows in the Kunsthalle Bern, Kunsthalle Luzern, Art Cologne, Centro Internationale de Fotografia in Milan. She was awarded the Grand Prize Winner PDNedu, the Golden Light Award, Shots/Corbis Student Photographer of the Year, Prix de Photoforum PasquArt, The Photo Review Comeptition, Selection Voies Off at Arles, and others. She received fellwoships for Cairo and Maloja and was just recently awarded with the presitgious swiss Landis&Gyr Resiceny Award.
Brigitte Lustenberger was chosen by photographer Jennifer Niederhauser Schulp
L: Where are you from? What cities, and/or countries have you lived in – or what places have influenced you?BL: I was born and raised in Zurich, Switzerland. After getting my MA in social history in Zurich I moved to Bern because of love … I am still here but have to go away often. Bern is too small, not urban enough for my taste. I am still in Bern because of love. I spent one and a half years in India where I learned to appreciate color and experienced how close two opposed things can be, how tied life and death are. I studied two and a half years in New York, a city full of energy. I surfed on this wave of energy during my master program. This time shaped my photographic language profoundly.
L: What is your earliest memory of photography?
BL: I guess it is looking at the family album, at snapshots taken by my father and my grandfather. My grandmother got the first polaroid camera in the family. I still have one of these polaroids showing my grandfather and myself watching TV.
L: Almost all of your photographs appear clearly staged in their careful composition, the specific lighting and in how the image is presented for lecture. It seems you are able to control how people personally interpret your images. How much spontaneity or whimsical chance do you use in the creation of your images? What is your creative process and do you allow for mistakes or accidents?
BL: I have my photographic roots in documentary and street photography. As a teenager I dreamed about being a photo-journalist traveling the world, making social-documentary photo-essays. As staged as my images may look I work with what is around me and with accidents very often. I work with available light only, so suddenly there is sun when I expected it to be overcast. That means to react quickly and include the change of weather into your images.
L: Your photography has very a consistent and particular lighting. What kind of photography do you take (digital, analogue?) and when (at what stage) do you work this effect the most? (in the concept, in the actual lighting of the object/person, in development/digital form…?)
BL: I work analogue, mostly with a 4×5 camera, a linhof that I can carry around with me everywhere. I am still convinced that an analogue photograph another quality than digital images. And I prefer the analogue quality. You take pictures with another mindset: You only make as many images as you really need because the films are just too expensive. And I don’t see the image until I get the films back from the lab. I kind of have to feel if I actually got on film what I wanted. I think it makes me concentrate much more, anticipate much more. And I like the idea of a photograph as an image of light. In the analogue process you keep this trace of light until the end, the print. In digital photography the sensor translates the light trace into ones and zeros, a mathematical logarithm … that’s not very sexy 😉
L: In many of your photography projects there is a tension: feeling of surprise or an ominous tone. This is partly accentuated by the combination of controlled visual environment and an imperfect subject matter (decaying flowers, ripped seats, flattened grass, spilled sugar bowl etc). Is this a feeling your are striving for, and do you think this is a normal reaction to the story of humanity which we cannot control and which ultimately dies?
BL: I love the beauty of decay, it makes me hold my breath. And I love stories … that is what I want to tell with my images: stories. Not my own stories necessarily. With my images I try to trigger something we have seen or heard before. I try to give a little hint for the viewer who completes the story looking at the image. And to trigger a story I use formal elements used in film noir or thrillers: absence, presence, gazes, mimics and gesture. Suspense is a mean to get the viewers attention and to initiate a story.
L: Many of your photographs play with the dialogue between image and title, which often sparks the viewer’s imagination to ask questions about the “truth”: did that really happen, did you see it, are you revealing stories from your past or just making it up off the top of your head… I personally like to keep the magic of the unknown in artwork and I do not want to know what really happened, but is the aspect of “truth” something you want to bring forward in your work?
BL: I like people to start questioning how they look at images and their visual perception: What do we actually see in an image? And I love to play with the general notion that photography is a visual proof – that has not ceased in the digital age at all. Although my images are staged and taken with a large format camera (a very slow process) I am asked frequently if my images are snapshots.
L: Could you list 5(or more) words you were thinking about when you made this series (shown in Laatikkomo)?
BL: Passion, beauty of decay, social perceptions of photography, telling stories, fascination of violence and death
L: Without giving away the secret of the photographer you have chosen to follow you, could you describe what motivated you to choose this particular artist? (For example, were you looking at style, subject, technique, nationality…?)
BL: The photographer has a unique way to capture light and lightness. The images are almost magical, I can loose myself in them. I don’t say that of many photographs: but some of his or hers I would have loved to have taken myself!
Thank you so much Brigitte!