Sunday, June 14, 2009

Interview with Florian Fritsch of Hobokollektiv

This is the first time I have chosen a "Monthly Special" topic based on an interview I wanted to do. Florian Fritsch has been an active participant here at Take-out Photo, which led me to his site. When I was first looking through his hobokollektif posts, I was struck by the artful combination of text—in particular, lyrics—and image. Music permeates his photography, and each image seems to contain a secret soundtrack, a part of which he reveals with a quote. The following interview takes a look at his creative process and work.

NOTE: All photos in this post are copyright Florian Fritsch. Please respect the copyright of my guests.

What sparked your interest in photography?

Most notably, I've been interested in telling all kinds of stories since I was a kid. Twenty-five years ago I started to write poems. Looking back, writing poetry for me was a way of taking photos with your head and a pencil but without a camera. I got a head full of stories, music and pictures that needed to get out. For my fifteenth birthday, I got my first camera and rolls of film. Hence, I dropped the pencil and was out on the street immediately. I was wandering around the city with a friend of mine, taking pictures, and we were processing them all by ourselves in my little bathroom.

Photography for me is just another way of storytelling like writing books or composing songs. It gives me the opportunity to be right in the heart of things and to keep a distance at the same time.

I guess it all started with words. Spoken, sung, and written words evoke pictures in my head. And for me, it seemed inevitable to take this pictures one day.

How has your style developed or changed over time?

That is a pretty tough question, Marc, because I don't know how to describe my style.
I have studied the works of Robert Frank, Anthony Hernandez, and Saul Leiter for a long time now. There is something in their pictures that really touches me and that I can hardly describe, but I know that I wanted to take pictures like they did. Besides, I think my way of photographing is influenced by the music I listen to, the books I read, and the place I live.

Music and books have always been an inspiration to me because they let my imagination paint pictures to words. Since I stopped leaving home without a camera, I noticed that I look at things differently. I'm more interested in details, and I hope this leaves room for interpretation on the part of the viewer.

I live in Berlin and one of the things I really love about living in a big city is drawing attention to the things that we pass by every day but we often do not recognize— the anonymity and the city's rough edges. You can find beauty on a simple painted wall, an ashtray on a wet table, or in the middle of a deserted main street at midnight. David of the lowrevolution blog once wrote a comment saying that he likes the griminess of my images. And that's pretty close to what I think about my photos and how I wanted them to be looked at.

Tell me about the name of your photoblog.

I want to look at amateur photographers as the hobos of our time somehow, especially when I look at the works of Robert Frank (The Americans) and Anthony Hernandez (Waiting, Sitting, Fishing and some Automobiles) that I mentioned earlier. I'm interested in the stories behind these "songs about roving, rambling and plain hard luck," which actually is a subtitle of a song book. When I started my photoblog I thought about creating a place for like-minded people to share their love for photos, words and music. That's why I called it "Kollektiv": A collective of hobos that tell their own stories about migration, abandonment, isolation, loneliness and luck.
I'm always lucky when I get comments with quotations of films, books or songs paired with personal experiences. It’s all about the pictures and some words that need room to breathe and that want to be spread around this world.

Your use of lyrics with photography inspired this month's theme. The words and images work so well together that I have to ask which comes first—do you shoot with words in mind or do you make the connection after you capture the photo?

Mostly I choose the words after capturing the photo. The processing of a photo is a very intimate and private moment for me. I always listen to music while I work on my photos. That means looking at my photos, choosing the right one to post on the hobokollektiv and the processing of a photo is always combined with heavy vinyl rotation. Sometimes it's easier to find the right lyrics because of the story of the picture. Some pictures got married to a lot of songs, got divorced and found new partners.

He’s a Hollywood hillbilly his stereo is blaring Willie / Johhny Cash, Hank and Lefty down to Sunset and Vine (Dale Watson)

The “hillbilly” photo was hard work to find the appropriate lyrics to. Because it features Jack Nicholson, I watched the film "The Shining" again for maybe using some quotation for the photo. But I wasn't satisfied with it. So I went back to my records and listened to a hundred songs to find the right one. Weeks later, I picked up a Dale Watson record and listened to the “Hollywood Hillbilly” song by chance. And there it was: Hollywood, Jack Nicholson, and the great four Willie, Johnny, Hank and Lefty.

But tomorrow’s fall in number, in number one by one / You wake up and you’re dying you don’t even know what from (Bruce Springsteen)

From time to time, it happens that I know the words the moment I look through the viewfinder and take the picture. An example for this case is my contribution to your monthly special about colour. Bruce Springsteen’s “The River” album is one of the most impressive pieces of music I have ever listened to. I knew while taking the picture that “Point Blank” was the song that best describes what I captured and that it could only be that song.

I got so used to the word and image combination that I nearly always have to quote some more or less known song when looking at other people’s photos. At least it’s like T. C. Boyle once said in an interview: “It all comes natural, man.”

What advice would you give to people who want to create more expressive (and even lyrical) images?

I am a self-taught photographer. For that reason I don’t know if it’s up to me to give some advice. But I would like to say what is important to me.

Taking pictures is finding your own point of view and looking for stories to tell. The world is full of great songs and lyrics. Songs and words are both there to be used. The pleasure comes when you let your imagination do the work. For example: There are many songs out there dealing with driving, cars and roads. But what is a road or what does it stand for? Is it just a way to get from here to there? Is it symbol for decisions we all have to make someday or the ways we all had to go? Does it tell us something about leaving and arrival, companionship or loneliness? Is it a symbol for freedom or are there people who walk on roads to escape from poverty and find work? So go ahead and listen to all kinds of music and read good books. The photos will follow.

I try to keep it simple and minimalistic. I never use a flash because this draws attention to the photographer who should never be on the center stage. And most important to me is that every picture needs time to be composed. Some of my pictures need weeks or months to be finished. That can be discouraging, but on the other hand it gives me time to listen to another song. And every picture sings a song.

I love hearing the story behind the photo. Could you share some of your own favorites?

Let’s look at “the glitter & the roar” photo:

The desire to have much more, all the glitter and the roar / I know this is where the sidewalk ends (Tom Waits)

I was listening to Tom Waits extensively while I was working on a series about neon signs and street lights. The neon lights captured here belong to an old independent movie theatre which still shows movies, and I was attending a reading by T. C. Boyle there when I took the picture. Thinking about the death of these beautiful, old and independent cinemas through replacing them with huge modern movie complexes and listening to Tom Waits singing “Fannin Street” just brought together what always seems to belong together: An old song for some good old-time feeling.

And I’m driving in a stolen car on a pitch black night / And I’m telling myself I’m gonna be alright / But I ride by night and I travel in fear / That in this darkness I will disappear (Bruce Springsteen)

I like the “pitch black night” photo because of a simple story: I was thinking about some serious decisions I have to make. After meeting a dear friend to talk things over I went home through a pitch black winter night in Berlin. Seems like everybody had already gone to sleep while I was walking through a half empty city singing Springsteen's great “Stolen Car” to myself and feeling completely alone in the biggest German city. I looked down this street and took a photo. Every time I felt downhearted or kind of sad I used to look at this picture, listen to that song, and I started to feel better. Months later I showed this picture to a friend who went through some pretty sad times and his reaction was the same as mine.

Blattlos die Bäume, deren Gerippe in den Tag ragten, als reckten sich knochige Finger in die feuchte Luft. (Beverungen)

The “Morning in Berlin” picture is actually from a series that I started after buying a new camera. I take a picture of this tree every morning at the same time. It became part of my morning routine after having breakfast, coffee, and a cigarette. It was inspired by the film “Smoke” where the main character Auggie Wren always takes one photo every morning at the same place without looking through the viewfinder. And I like the idea that I will look at hundreds of tree photos in some years, find things I never noticed before and build up a photography forest.

"Restless No More"
Well I’ve been throughout this land / North & east & back again / Roamin’ around in my old Volkswagen (SongDogs)

The “restless no more” photo was taken on a road to Orange in southern France. I have known this road for a very long time and I have been fascinated by straight roads like this ever since I saw a photo by Robert Frank of the interstate 285 in New Mexico. I knew then that my photo must be taken on that road which was originally built by the Romans. Last year I finally sat down in the middle of this road and made this picture that I've been planning to take for more than ten years and that I've been writing songs about ever since I picked up a guitar. This road and I have some kind of longtime relationship and I always call this road my road.

There's no road to follow / only stones left unturned / You must play with fire / in order to get burned (Langhorne Slim)

“Langhorne Slim”: This one is not yet published on the hobokollektiv. But since this monthly special is about photos and music, and I feel very honored to inspire this monthly special, I saved it for a special moment. This special moment is now, Marc. This man is a hell of a songwriter that constantly rocks my soul with his fine folk music. His lyrics are an inspiration to me most every day. The story behind it: No song that can't be sung, no photo that can't be taken. Thanks for letting me inspire this monthly special and having me on your blog.

Thank you, Fristch, for sharing your work and words.