Friday, June 27, 2008

interview • katja mater

i heart photograph: this image is from your series 'burning with desire'. what is your process in making this body of work? where does the title come from?

katja mater: the series ‘burning with desire’ shows pictures of the complete content of books by shooting all the pages on only one negative. i ‘show’ the entire contents, and by doing so, erase them. the result is a summary, a book shaped blur. the books i used for this project are books that were recently important to me for my thinking about photography.

the title of the project comes from one of the books i used, a book by geoffrey batchen called burning with desire. batchen writes about very early experiments with photography, starting about 45 years before its invention was announced in 1839. he analyzes the emerging desire to photograph which preceded the actual invention. he examines the output of various very early experiments by the ‘first photographers’. he finds they were not, as many historians seem to have thought, devoted to capturing reality, but that their main interest was in deconstruction.

the title further comes from the act of ‘burning’ as used in the darkroom, leading to more image showing up by overexposure, one of my desires using the medium.

i.h.p.: you've said before that your subject matter is the ‘medium-specific characteristics of photography and its framework.’ what are those characteristics? how/why did they begin to interest you?

k.m.: i see the possibilities and impossibilities of the medium as the medium-specific characteristics of photography. its framework, lighting, history, the relationship between photography and its referent, three-dimensional space within the limitations of a flat surface, time that eludes a normal sense of time. conventions such as these and their inherent limitations intrigue me.

most intriguing are the border zones of the medium—i try to find a balance there. analogue photography has clear-cut rules, its standards are not subject to change. many people see photography as a medium with a highly focused function. to me it functions as a sort of grid in which i aim to trick the camera into recording unrealistic scenes. i try to capture phenomena and moments that one would think are impossible. thereby, creating extra space to view the medium and focus on photography more as a creating medium than a recording medium.

i.h.p.: in many ways your photographs work to make transparent what most photography aims to keep well concealed: its process. can you talk about this deconstructive impulse?

k.m.: my work is like an investigation, experimental, but unlike the methodological approach of scientists, i examine the subjects of my investigations with keen interest, almost in a playful way.

mostly, photography is considered to be a very factual medium, devoted to constructing and revealing matter, but it can disturb and deconstruct just as well. i emphasize the deconstructing and concealing qualities. i am interested in and see photography as essentially experimental. i take it apart to see what is inside, what makes it tick. i am intrigued by the technical context of the medium, in contrast to the ‘magic’ of the photographic process. i emphasize and at the same time escape it, break it with itself.

i am intrigued by phenomena such as light, time, and color, and how these aspects change when you photograph them in a certain manner. photographic registration is often compared to the perception of the human eye. by placing the photographic perception of the camera next to the perception of the human eye, i show the extreme differences in outcome. i turn the medium in on itself, and by doing so disturb its status of accuracy. i offer the viewers my look at photography and at the same time make them experience their own perception.

i.h.p.: many photographers make control over the way a subject is framed, lit, composed, etc. an important part of their practice. one thing i've always loved about your pictures is that they feel against this way of working. visual decisions seem to follow from content or subject matter more than rules about what makes a good photograph. how do decisions about what a photograph will look like play out for you?

k.m.: i feel that my subject matter and the visual decisions that i make about the appearance of an image need to be balanced, need to complete each other. i guess i am a purist in that sense. the construction of the images is almost self-reflective in the sense that the process is always present and apparent in the work in such a way that a viewer cannot look at the image without seeing a reflection of the process of its making. in the 'dancers' series, for example, the audio equipment that i used to play the music is visible in (almost) every frame, as a ‘production-still life’. i like that kind of thing and i think it helps to create images that go beyond the flat surface.

it makes little sense to further improve or perfect my technical skills, i don’t consider them very necessary for what i do. it would be more distracting to smoothen all asperity out of the images, making them look like they are in ‘dustless still-life heaven’. i want them to visualize the connections to time and space and sometimes even show the context of the studio.

since i have no formal training in photography i have been free to be inquisitive and to explore it from an informal angle without the limitations of conventions. i work in an investigating and experimental way, so i consider trial and error part of the job. a failed experiment might still become a frame, the subject of a discussion on the parameters of failure and success.

[photo: het fotografish genoegen by katja mater. see more of katja's work here.]

interview by laurel ptak