Elmar Vestner Berlin, Germany
Elmar Vestner was chosen by photographer Brigitte Lustenberger
Laatikkomo’s interview with Elmar Vestner May 19th, 2014
L: Where are you from? What cities, and/or countries have you lived in – or what places have influenced you?
EV: After finishing schooI I moved to Berlin where I am living and working for almost 16 years now.
With the help of scholarships I was however lucky enough to study in London and New York where I eventually finished my degree in “Photography and related Media” at Parsons School of Design in 2006.
L: What is your first memory of photography?
EV: I actually still remember the first photo I have ever taken. When I was 7, my parents gave me a small pocket camera for my birthday and I started documenting the sky I could see outside my bedroom window.
L: It seems that you use photography among other techniques to create your images. Do you consider yourself to be primarily a photographer?
EV: Yes. I work Image-based and although a huge part of my practice involves manually rendering images into various forms of painterly expression, I also work in the classic sense of photography.
e.g. The work I am showing at Laatikkomo has not been altered or changed in any way.
L: There is an obvious physical process involved in your work. What technique(s) do you use, and what is your relationship to these techniques? In some of your images, the actual photograph appears damaged or destroyed by the creation process. Is the destruction of the image a subject you would like to speak about through your work? Many of your images are representations of different spaces. How do you choose your subject matter and what do those spaces mean to you?
EV: I sand or engrave prints, I work with heat or chemicals and also approach the motif by applying and removing paint, by scratching and dissolving, systematically deconstructing the pictorial surfaces. I create work that exists in different stages of dissolution, of transition. There are repeated allusions to Romantic painting, Gothic motifs, and processes from alchemy. Images of gardens, discotheques, caves, mountains, plants, forests, cloisters, and statues become corroded, pulverized, fogged over. Scratches and traces of sanding break the image down and veil the photography.
Alongside music, I also often use poetry as a source of inspiration for creating a body of work, a series of images or the concept for a show. Last year my inspiration was deeply founded on the literary work of Walt Whitman and his role as a flaneur in an ever-changing city landscape. I pick up on leitmotifs from Whitman’s cycle such as evanescence, disintegration and decay and a fusion of emotional states with symbols from nature. “G A S”, my last show at September, Berlin was inspired by a project by the german electronic musician Wolfgang Voigt. Critics have described the sound of GAS, a blend of ambient and techno, as though “one were listening to a band playing from a very great distance, under water or behind a wall”.
L: The surface of your images is often worked to create different effects with colour or texture on top of existing images. Do you take all of your own photographs or are some of the images appropriated from public sources such as magazines or found images?
EV: I take pictures on an every day basis but I am also constantly looking at various books and magazines. I often decide to work with an image not only because of its content but also because of the materiality of a printed image. My work is all about perception and I equally use both sources of that visual archive to create a unique experience of reality.
L: It seems like much of your artistic process involves arbitrary results obtained from unpredictable processes. But often photographers work within a controlled system of careful lighting, composition etc. How do you situate yourself in this rigorous tradition of photography?
EV: I am experimenting with a lot of different techniques to manipulate the photographic surface. Some of these processes are controllable, some of them are not. I am not interested though in simply adding another layer of material onto an image. I pay close attention to the idea that my interference with the surface keeps an organic and symbiotic character and that my manipulations seem to be woven into the photography.
I don’t see myself in the classic tradition of photography but have established my own controlled system of careful composition that I feel obliged to work in.
L: Could you list 5 (or more) words that you were thinking about when you made this work (shown in Laatikkomo)?
EV: Nature Nature Nature Nature Nature
Thank you so much Elmar.