BR. You call this book and the new series Neue Welt. The title brings to mind the 1928 photography book Die Weilt ist schöne ( The world is beautifull ) by Albert Renger-Patzsch, in which he used 100 photographs to depict the state of the world in motifs like those of plants, people, landscapes, architecture, machinery and industrial products. It also reminds me of the 2002 publication Sichtbare Welt ( Visible World ) by Peter Fischli & David Weiss, in which they revisited every sight seen hundreds of time already, every longed-for mythologized location, and made touristy, postcards images from them again.What was your project? How can one grasp the world today?
WT Recently, a friend referred to my studio as a laboratory for the contemporary. What is the current situation? From the start, I was concerned with trying to answer this question as a whole. In the process, I was constantly aware of only being able to do this based on selected motifs and significant fragments taken from the world. For example, carefully studying a single edition of a daily newspaper tells you an amazing amount about the world. It poses the question of how information density nowadays is incredibly high. For that reason, only fragments can actually be processed. We might possesses more absolute knowledge than ever beofre, but everything is fragmented – the same way hard drives save « fragmented « files. There is no longer a view of the totality, of the whole.
Until now, I had already found this whole in facets of the private and the public, and I usualy remained close to my own living environment at the same time. Foreign and exotic exceptions to the rule have always existed. Of course, my work was primarily an involvment with people and things in some way close to me, or with art-immanent questions concerning the picture, the material, and the installation. Basically, to study a wrinkle in a piece of cloth or a dent in an unbroken surface is already enough to locate a picture of the whole. It’s all matter of the gaze of an open, anxiety free gaze.
BR So you have dealt extensively with questions of medium, abstraction and representation
WT For the last ten years I’ve been dealing rather introspectively with abstract, medium-reflexive images like those in Brushes, paper drop, and ligther. During thaht time, I also continued to photograph with the camera. But only now, after years of studio practice, has a really new, artistic interest in the outside world, but they confronted paper and abstract compositions for the most part. This is why, at the end of the last decade, I arrived at the question of how the world actually appears when seen at a distance from usual beaten path. In this sense, I was gripped by a restlessness and curiosity. I asked myself why I shouldn’t travel to places where i was nothing but a traveler. I wanted to know : how does the world appear twenty years after I’ve begun to form a picture of it? Can there be a «new» view of it? And «new» also in the sense of greatly expanded technical possibilities. The tremendous political and economic shifts of recent years, and technical advancements have considerably altered the world’s appearance.
BR You could have also said : The world is so greatly altered that this even shows itself in my immediate vicinity. W definitely see « old friends» too, among the portraits in Neue Welt.
WT That’s why I photographed simultaneously in London, New York and Berlin, also «old friends» whose world has likewise moved on, but also found as uncomplicated and, actually, as utterly wondrous things like cell phones and flat screen monitors.
BR You repeatedly talk about the micro and macrocosm connection that you reinvent in particular in the digital resolution of high-resolution pictorial world. After these abstract worlds in the introspective space of the studio, did the new digital technology first inspire you to travel to take photographs?
WT There was no direct connection. The wish to expand the field of vision was there first. I bought this digital camera before taking the first trip. That was in 2009, on the occasion of the total solar eclipse in Shanghai. I had always deprived myself of the China trend. But the total solar eclipse was different. That was my China moment. On my way back, I traveled through different Asian countries. During this trip, I took both analog and digital photographs. By the way, the photographs in this book are also, in part, analog prints.
BR The attention to detail in digital pictures no longer corresponds tu our everyday seeing experience, unless one consciously changes to extreme focusing. In your new photographs, one continually encounters this extreme perceptual density, for example, in the picture of the waterfall (Iguazu, 2001) where even, the smallest spray of water surprises with it staggering resolution, or when mictostructures becomes large-format images.
WT This question deeply preoccupies me, now more than ever since I switched to the digital camera. It enables pictures to be taken with an endless information density, which only reveals all its details when enlarged to two meters. Even then, one doesn’t see pixels! I hav to learn from scratch how to take pictures. Thirty-five millimeters film is actually enugh for me, since it corresponds to what my eyes actually sees. Large-format images are, of course, impressive, but they don’t usually move because of their inhumans sharpness. Now, I find myself in the situation of using a camera capable of achieving large-format sharpnes. Nut now, too, the increased sharpness strikes me as being consitent, because everything in the wolrd is «high definition» in the meantime. The increased sharpness corresponds to what feels like a new percpetion, and since I otherwise use the new camera like I did the other – without a tripod et cetera – the former view remains the same.
I find it extremely challenging to generate photographs in an already overdepicted world using precisely these new technologies. Just the same. I often had my doubts and tought. What sort of randomness and complete worthlessness is this?
BR The digitalized world archive is still physically and mentally impossible to grasp, as well as disturbing model of an archive. Has digitally photography changed your approach to taking pictures?
WT I needed a year to ignore feedback on the small display on the back of the camera, detailing what’s being photographed at the moment. For me, photography is a dialogue between the photographed and the one photographing – a projection, a hope, and a presumption, regardless of what emerges from it. With analog photography, this first becomes visible a few days later. In the viewfinder, you can see what you photograph, but the translation process constituting the magic and psychology of photography is not just optomechanical. Photographs are also spiritually charged objects. In the past, this idea had a space of its own. Today, however, you already see the image in the display a half second after taking the shot. For me, a customary approach encountered a great disturbance in this way. I had to learn to ignore this. Taping over the display is not the solution because it also gives me access to important controls. Evaluating the deeper quality of the pictures is done later on the computer.
BR The you should say : you still make your decisions for the pictures in the same manner?
WT Exactly. It hapens afterwards, week or months later. I don’t take advantage of the possibilities of immediate processing. I always feel images somehow need time of mature. Of course, that’s not true, since they don’t really do that. But the more distance you have from the moment the image is photographed, the more you can separate yourself from your wishes and hopes.
BR Like in your earlier work, similar to Renger-Patzsch, large thematic groups move through Neueu Welt as well : people, social constellations, natural formations, plants, points of transit like airports, shopping malls, animalsmeans of transpotation, tecnhology, and science. How do you view these thematic groups, and what do you see happening when pictures are juxtaposed?
WT I’m not concerned with contempleteness of conceptual principle. Popular locations and landmarks can be followed the next day by a totally unfamiliar and banal place, perhaps some small town I hung around in because a friend of my parents lived there and I could say a couple days. There is less of a system to my travelling. It has more to do with searching for possible flight routes : what lies over there? What could be connected to that? That’s now landed in unheard-of spots like Darwin in North Australia. And I’m not scared off by Iguazu Falls either, since I trust that many places are unsually popular simply because they are, in fact, special. For example, the Sydney Opera House is such a famous landmark that it shouldn’t necessary to see it in life. But it looked totally different from the well-known photographs of ti, and felt totally different from the way I had imagined it.
BR While searching out these well-known places again, you have neither a guiding concept nor any thnological or investigate intentions. Also, you say that you don’t stay very long in each of these locations.
WT That’s right. A short period of full immersion is enough for me. More isn’t possible than simply being physically present, moving around as much as possible, gathering impressions, making contacts, and opening a few doors. It comes down to physically taking a good look at various things location and confronting them as best you can. This was no touristy round-trip that forces the so-called foreign into familiar interpretive patterns, but rather the attempt to have a genuinely new experience.
BR What also suggests itself here is the critical disourse on the exotic and the reception of the exotic. How do you deal with this difficult question? What does it mean today to travel and to grasp the world?
WT The more interesting question is : «What is normal?» Who decides what is aestheticizing, what is research what is familiar, what is exotic? Pictures are always retranscription of an experiencing of world. Ideally, they pose the question of there possibly being another way to experience the world. It’s not the world contained in the picture : the picture is a translation. A representational pictures does no more and no less than form reality before your eyes. Even if this is fundamentally a platitude, it should always be kept in mind. Of course, I’m aware of the problem addressed here. It was even a key point for me, as a privilegied individual traveling to places less connected to the West and suffering economically. Just the same, these places exist and people live here without seing their existence purely as hardship.
BR That’s sound like a higher wisdom that ignores social conditions and relationships.
WT The tought that « life is astronomical» is not meant : deterministically implying that everything follows its « higher» path and no one can change the course of things and so forth. It’s rather the question of : what can and cannot be changed? In what position does one find oneself as an observer? In my experience, occurence advances in its simultaneity and always remains ungraspable in its wholeness. Nevertheless, I was driven by the question of wether it might be possible to achiever the awareness and experience revelant to wholeness via a short-term visibility of things. In order to engage in such «experiencing the world» one has to physically move oneself to the most diverse places on earth.
BR What does photographying stangers mean for you all? That’s not exactly a problem-free activity. And you don’t always ask for their permission before hand.
WT In my opinion, observing people and sometimes photograpying them without their knowledge is acceptable when done with the kind of empathetic gaze just mentionned. Of course, each person has to decide this for himself. It could also be considered questionable, how people use posed profile picture on Facebook in order to be appealing. I think the unobserved photographing of people in their everyday life can also contribute, in general, to a more empathetic understanding of the world. This should never be about capturing photographic «spoils». I realize I’m walking a thine line here, but I always try to remain aware of this. The moment I sense a lack of consent or catch people at a bad moment, I immediately delete the picture. That’s good about the camera display. But this photography in a state of flux, which dives into life with the camera, risks embarassment, and has no safety zone whatsever, continually brings forth something truthful, something genuine. I’m sure of that.
BR In the series and here, too, in the book, pictures or stellar constellations and night skies frequently appear. You have as strong as interest in astronomy, the universe, scientific research focused on perceiving the universe, and viewing the world we live in as scientifically ascertained and ecologically endangered, as you do in basic questions concerning human existence, in light of knowledge and non-knowledge.
WT The question of knowledge and non-knowledge, of everything non-scientific applied to the scientific and the reverse, naturally leads to an ironic way of dealing with knowledge and/or non-knowledge. This is the topic of my work Truth Study Center. It opposes those people who accept nothing outside of their own truths and religions; it opposes an ideological understanding of knowledge and truth.
BR This seems to be just the beginning in CERN, in Genevo, discussions in the area of the microcosm are opening up similar fundamental boundaries of our knowledge of the world.
WT Yes, on a neighbouring mountain beside the one that is home to the largest ESO telescope to date, consisting of four mirrors, each one eight meters across, the E-ELT is going to be built and completed by 2022, with the telling name «Extremely Large Telescope». It will have the incredible reflector diameter of 40 meters. For a period of 40 years, the five-meters reflecting telescope at Mount Palomar was considered astonishingly big. During the last fifteen years came the eight-meter reflectors, and today, thanks to further advancements, even 40 meters are possible. My guide at ESO spoke of being on the brink of a Galilean moment.
BR This thought is directly realized in your new pictures : the conditions for creating the earth’s surface and its extremes basically correspond with the conditions for creating images. The presence and absence of composition is definitively similar. The world is uncessantly recorded microscopically as well as macroscopically, for example, on the pages of Google Earth Technology is everywhere nowadays. What exactly does it mean to produce pictures in this overdepicted and over-represented world, and to make physical and mental journeys? Couldn’t you also make these pictures and journeys on the Internet?
WT Not really. I still believe it’s possible to show something new and say or find something inexpressible in picture. In fact, I think a value is created when I ‘put myself in situations» and subject myself to unpredictable reactions. Taking a step on the Internet always means following the respective «command». Maybe you never know what follows on the next page, but you basically see only whatever you have asked about. Everything is predefined on the internet. On the other hand, in the real world the possibility of a surprise is always immanent.
BR The Swedish poet and artist Karl Holmqwist said that, provided the collectivization of a given world is advanced, the individual will become collectively meaningfull again. Precisely because the overlapping, the collective autorship like on the Internet, is so omnipotent regarding the simultaneity of all the «voices», the individual voices becomes revelant again in order to etablish a connection to the collective as a dialogue factor. Today, the internet is no longer the technical other or counterpart, we imagined it to be ten year ago. Now it’s a fully integrated aspect of reality – and for that reason has a completely different connection to the individual…
WT …and perhaps even demands this. In any case, at the end of the 1990’s, I sensed less of a need to photography my contemporaries. I felt the parameters had changed. In the early 1990s that was still the exception and it wanted to be visualized. Ten years later, however, to photograph a young European-American person meant something else, and we were only then on the road to the over photographed state, which was nowhere near as far along as its today. As a kind of counter reaction, I slowed down my picture production and directed my attentionmore towards nonrepresentational, abstract photography. Now it strikes me as necessary to become active in such excessive backgournd noise. And so I asked mself : Would it be possible not filter out individual pictures that «ring out» from the general noise?
BR During your travels , you has to «resist» using your new digital camera’s photo-editing possibilities. So which pictures surprised you most?
WT Actually, everything continued to function the way it always does : when something interests me, or when I’ve thought about it long enough. I always find the right moment to photograph it, without having to force it in order to make the pictures.
BR You could have also photographed these headlights in an underground garage in Berlin
WT Yes, but somehow it needed…
WT There are many pictures in the series I could have made in London, a city I know better than any other, but neverthelsssan endless, unfathomably deep, and intricate place that functions like a mirror reflecting the whole world, of course reinforced by the commonwealth that practically was the whole world once.
BR Let’s go back to the photographs of the car headlights and the association with shark eyes it triggers in the viewer. The relationship of technology and nature, or the association made to this relationship, frequently appears in your work, for example, in the photographes of new technologies for food processing and packaging, but also with the copy and printing machines and high tech settings. You often show transportation vehicles and technical facilities…
WT It’s amazing how high technology visually overpoers and spreads around the world. In the past, a smaller number of people participated in the use of high technology. Technical advancements were best recognized in connection with icons of sought-after achievements like space travel, the moon landing, and the Concorde. Today, billions of people communicate with the same cell phones. Even in poor countries, like Ethiopia, no one uses a cell phone from ten years ago.
BR Surfaces, disguises, and architectural cladding constantly turn up in these pictures as well : designs evolving from folds, but also architectural facings like the Arabic architectural elements used as decorations in one of your photographs (cladding 2009) taken in a new structure built in concrete; the radient surfaces of the new hotel and merchandise temple, but also the forms and encasements of the world’s surface in urban structures, shown from a bird’s-eye view; or the Masaî’s hair sculpted into an artistic shape with mud ( Young Masai, 2012).
WT Cladding is not just a construction type, enormously popular and almost considered normal. It also grants expression to a specific attitude. Other similarly questionable attitudes are, in the Anglo-Saxon realm, exposed brickwork and te factory-building aesthetic in Berlin, both interesting at first, but later became the cliché of stilfled forms. I always travel around the with half an eye open only to architecture. What interests me is when something is «genuine», meaning when something is pure facade and when something is either false or honest. In my opinion, architecture often handles the expectations of its users very carelessly. In this respect, I consider deception, when its presents itslef as such, much less problematic. But when everything is just curtain-walled slabs, my first reaction is that I don’t feel taken seriously as a user. In the Anglo-Saxon realm, everything is completed with cladding or curtain walling. The Centre Pompidou like approach is more to my taste, everything left open, or else everything permanently plastered. Of course, the cladders could say that they are being honest in their illusion, that it never lasts longers than five years anyway, and being fake is used in the same way to nealty plaster or cover with bricks.
BR Alongside cosmological, technological, and organizational constellations you frequently express an interest in social constellations, groups of people entangled in everyday situations. Here, I’m thinking about the marketplace scene in Ethiopia (Market i, 2012). What I find especially interesting about this picture is that it makes an immense picture archive available as the basis of our perception : we encounter such a huge number of images. Unlike nineteeth-century ethnologists, we no longer bring home with us from our travels pictures that appear foreign in nature. A great deal of this comes accross in the marketplace picture. On the one hand, this is your own «authentic» picture. But it also shows everything we know about composed imagery. One witnesses the interplay of everything possible : expressions of so called «authentic» life or the not composed, art history, and a visual range spanning from our collective projections to the collapse of this acquired way of seeing. Like you mentionned earlier, the same scene, with people wearing different clothes and with other goods, could have taken place in a park in London, right? What role does the migration and globalization of pictures and merchandise play for you in this context?
WT Markets and merchandise define people and cultures. People come together where trading takes place. Markets are economically vital for their participants, but also places of communication and places to ward off boredom with. People are never alone at markets, and they can hope to personally benefit from some part of the general activity.
BR How and why do the photographs become specific?
WT That’s another important aspect. This has nothing to do with making a stereotypical image of the wolrd, but rather with making something in the general realm of things visible. I don’t think of this as a «balancing act». It’s actually inherent in all things. For example, a hotel room is, first of all, nothing out of the ordinary and simply standard. At the same time, however, it’s this specific hotel room that prompted a reaction in me (Jurys Inn, 2010). So it’s not just the idea « ah yes, there are millions of hotel rooms like this one, but also the specific combination of red carpeting, offensive lamp stand and this particular abstract painting on the wall.
BR The internet, perhaps the last twenty years of images and image transfer, has played a major role in establishing access to a different dimension of the subjective and the individual in order to enabble other assertions again. In media theories, this is discussed in terms of new maneuvering space for the subjective. I can imagine that there must be more advanced theories of the subjective, theories we haven’t actually read yet and therefore can’t discuss.
WT It is probably becomig increasingly difficult as an individual to make an individuallt valid depiction of the «world» because people are overrun, like never before, by an incredible number of preconceived opinions and pictures of an unknown magnitude, and these are constantly colliding and ending up beside and on top of one another within a sustained noise. What interested me was not only to passively submit to all this, but to consciously let things bump against each other and stand side by side, even when – or precisely because – their references are so obvious.
BR This is really about an latered reality and, therefore, having different experience with this simultaneity.
WT The simultaneity and availibility of all things constitute our reality today. That hint of the didactic is gone : there are the poor and there the rich, and so forth…
BR …and the genuine and the perhaps no longer genuine. What does it mean when you refer to all three of these pictures without immediately activating the clichés of your existing or, to some extent, learned and educated criteria? The first time I saw these works, I had the impression they were about an emptying process – not of pictures, but rather an emptying of the clichés and stereotypes we are familiar with and readily approach.
WT Essentially, artworks are only endowed woth a soul and uniqueness when a specific set of criteria exists in the artist. I found it to be an enormous challenge, verging on frightening, to unlearn how to photograph, to ignore the criteria I felt sevure with, and to expand my focus to the extreme : to the whole world, to the entire pixel and/or information density, and to the complete range of subject matter, while pulling out the rug of my own social environment from under my feet in the process. Added to that comes the hugely increased number of pictures, around three times as many as I normally used when I photographed with film…
BR That means you must have had many more pictures to choose from…
WT Exactly. Where image consummtion in concerne, I believe there’s a limit. Books with thousands of pages don’t interest me. «A lot» has never really interested me. Even though I’ve always been very productive, I only fully utilize thirty to forty camera pictues as year as art works. As a viewer, you can’t really process more than that.
BR With your abstract works, the studio works, from Freischwimmer series to Silver Works, there is a development linked to a material-induced composition. You didn’t want the Freischwimmer series brought in connection with the «travel» pictures, but with the latest Silver works you did…
WT …because the Freischwimmer series connects intention and wish to the uncontrollable with far more intensity. Ultimately, it deals with traces and compositions I actively bring into the picture manually. With the Silver works, my hands are involved only insofar as I expose some of the sheets to colored, homogeneous light. The imaging process is subjected to the inherent logis of the material purely mechanically. The undevelopped photo paper – sometimes exposed, sometimes unexposed – passes through a photo-developing machine, which I intuitively, or depending on my intention, leave dirty or clean to varying degrees. Because of the remnants of chemicals in the empty ùachine, filled with only water, the photo paper continues to develop, but only partially. On ther other hand, dirt and silver particles from the traces of chemicals settle on the paper’s surface, and this often produces interesting scratches. The result is basically no less a piece of reality than the photograph of a tree, but one for which I also didn’t create the depicted object.
BR A self-depiction of the process?
WT This is fundamentally something mineral, a piece of nature, genuine matter, a changing environment. Residues of every kind – dirt, remains and scratches – are unavoidable, basic ans intermediate states in nature. Even in the photo emulsion, I view color in exactly the same way – as a natural phenomenon. Placed in connection with the subject, this «natural autonomy» development of the Silver pictures material perhaps transforms thinking and perceiving in the sense of a new subjectivity.
Actually, here in the book, one always confronts a representational picture as though the main concern is likewise a kind of reflecting on reality. At the same time, one could view the Silver works as a farewell to the organic-chemical nature of photography.
BR In Books, you have recently begun to layer photographs onto the pages.
WT The first time I did that was last year, in the catalgo of the exhibition in the Zacheta National Gallery of Art in Warsaw. One naturally lessens the «preciousness» of the individual picture and uses its as pure image material. But we should also have confidence in the picture as simply an excerpt in a new relationship to other pictures, as able to be something entirely new. On the one hand, this might create an image from the simultaneity of pitcures I sens. But, most of all, I believe this adresses an interest in new developments, in the question : «How does one arrive at new picture?3 In some cases, I see these compositions and pages created from layering as new, individual works.
BR For example, you have three technological pictures, headlights, and technical spaces overlap on the back cover. It looks as if cutting took place, but the pictures are no longer the classical, cut-out fragments of a collage technique, but rather layered images and visual simultaneities.
Can you say more about these layered images and overlaps? They not only seem to demonstrate your special percpeption, but also a transition of this simultaneity to a picture.
WT These layered images, the impure, the contaminated, and that which isn’t compatible but which functions just the same, were present in my work from the start. This not only happens in the pictures, but has always been a central apsect of my installations. Books, too, if you turn the pages rapidly, have this simultaneity. As a result, a new formation of something that was there all along is currently in my work. Now my perception of the world has found this form.