Interview on Hitspaper JapanThe interview with the japanese Magazine Hitspaper with me about life, silence, meadows, emptiness...
野の花、草木、鉱石、空、水面 —— アンネ・シュヴァルベが写す、名も無い風景。その写真にわずかでも感銘を受けた人は、写真を見るうち、そこに何か革新的なことが起きている訳ではないとい...
Text: Yu Miyakoshi
Translation english -> japanese: Mariko Mizukami, Chie Takada
Translation japanese -> english: Shin Harakawa
Photos: Kisa Toyoshima
organized by Atsushi Hamanaka / twelvebooks
Wild flowers, trees and plants, ore, sky, and the water surface --- Anne Schwalbe captures those insignificant sceneries. Those who are impressed or moved by her photos, as you take a good look at them, you may realize that nothing innovative is happening in her world. For example, some of you might associate recurrence to the nature, and some others just might be relieved by the color of nature in her photos. Her photo books spotlighted in Japan since twelvebooks started distributing from 2012, and her first exhibition "Alles" was held by twelvebooks (@POST/limArt, Ebisu, Tokyo). One might re-recogoize the depth, extending inside her works, is astonishing.
In the morning of the interview, Anne appeared casually and naturally just like the atmosphere of her works. Then, she sat on her favorite small chair, made of scrap wood, and started to talk about the background of her works and about Japan.
- First of all, could you talk about your encounter with photography and your career?
I had taken some workshops in photography in high school, and I slightly had an idea to do something in photography when I was graduating. However, I was not sure about what I really wanted to do at that time, so I went to Humboldt University in Berlin and studied German literature and culture. After graduating from University, I started working for a radio station but I figured it was not something I wanted to do. So I quitted after 3-4 months. I ended up working for a flower shop, where I already used to work during university for 6 years. I like to work with my hands more than with my head. The reason I started photography again and more intense was an interview with Arno Fischer in a magazine. I was really impressed by his thoughts for photography, so I soon applied for Ostkreuz School of Photography where Mr. Fischer was a teacher. I learned from Ute Mahler and Werner Mahler, and they are really important to me.
- Could you say the experience in the school led you to become a photographer?
I can say that. We had not only learned the techniques of photography but also discussed often our work. I felt so right and made sure that photography was what I wanted to do while I was in the school. Before then, I always had a question of what I wanted to do in my life. I was always searching for the answer. Some people find a way at young age, but it took me 10 years, went a long way round, after high school. I'm always slow. And i become slower every day. (laughing)
- Is the camera you are using now the same as the one when you started?
Yes. I bought this YASHICA during the first year of the school. I was taking photos with a regular format of 24x36mm in the beginning. Then professors said my photos were too perfect and boring. I didn't understand the meaning of it then, but now I understand the sentence. My works, at that time, were placing the objects perfectly and nothing was out of shape. Then, I went to look for a camera and bought this YASHICA with 6x6cm format. A Japanese camera from the 1980's. It's an old camera but it still has an excellent quality.
- Did your works change as you changed your camera?
Yes they did. First of all, I had been taking monochromes, but started taking color since I switched to YASHICA. It took a while to get used to it. Some works of those days (2003〜2004) are also collected in my first photo book "Blindschleiche und Riesenblatt".
- You are using films. Is it better than digital for you?
As a digital camera i only use my phone.. You need a specific type of concentration to take a photo by film which is very different from that with digital. And I love the whole process. I take time looking around before releasing the shutter. Then I stop and take 2 or 3 photos. I don't take many for one spot. And I develop films at the color lab. Bring them to the dark room and decide the ones to print out in big size by looking at contact sheet. Working in a dark room is very important. It is as important as taking the photograph somehow. It would probably be done faster by Computer, but it is very important for me to take the time in the dark room. It requires a long process.
- Your photos have an impression of tranquilness. They are also meditating. Are you interested in ZEN？
I do not really have a knowledge about "What is ZEN." I just had some chances to read documents of ZEN, and I could emphasize with some ideas. I did not have a concept to capture tranquilness from the beginning. I don't plan to have a concept before I go out to take photos. I just go out there and take photos and the concept develope as I develope the photos. Simple as that. I am not aware of ZEN mind, but I suppose I enjoy tranquilness. Not always though. Sometimes I enjoy dancing at a party.
- It's wonderful idea to enjoy tranquilness.
It is. I needed very long time to find what I wanted to do. My enjoying tranquilness may be similar to the process of my searching of 10 years.
- By looking at your photos, they are very simple and a question comes up how you sort out to live in this world of overloading information.
Recently I read an article about overflowing information in a newspaper in Germany. It was an interview of a Korean philosopher, Byung-Chul Han. There was an impressive sentence saying that "you need to have silence and tranquilness and emptiness if you really want to be able to think." He was also saying that there was not much time to relax in this modern world. I agree on the idea and it is a problem always to be drawn in information.
- You are here for your first exhibition "Alles" in Tokyo, Japan, staying for 3 weeks. How do you like it?
I'm really enjoying it. I like the kindness of people and basically I feel the tranquilness in Tokyo.
- Really? It's quite busy city, though.
I was afraid of that but it is not actually. It is a busy city but I feel the kindness here which is a bit different from NYC or London. I was surprised, however, there is a cleaner sweeping the leaves in a park! Tokyo seems like a hotel to me that there is not much of dirtiness and perfectly beautiful everywhere. There could be a bit more chaotic places. I felt like as if the city is running under an unbreakable rule. It might be only in Tokyo and might be different in other area.
- Was there any impressive place specifically?
I visited a park of Japanese traditional farm houses in Kawasaki and it was marvelous. There were around 20 old houses lined up and they were very interesting. I really liked the atmosphere as the inside was dim, totally empty, but with a hearth. Perfect atmosphere. I spent all day. I usually get inspirations from the comfortable atmosphere through nature, abstract paintings and sculptures. I got so much inspiration from those farm houses as well.
- It is surprising that your sense has something in common with that of Japanese. And there may be new discovery as your sense meets with Japanese culture. We wish to have a chance to see your upcoming works.
Thank you very much. I really appreciate that Atsushi Hamanaka/twelvebooks have found my photobooks by chance and organized my exhibition in Japan so well. I am glad that I am here now by fortune. I would love to come back to Japan.
Anne returned to Berlin 2 days after the interview. As listening back to the interview afterwards, there was one thing which had to be concerned. It was when she said she really liked how "empty" the inside of farm houses were. She might be talking about "space"/"Ma" which the Japanese respects when drawing or building something. We asked by e-mail on that matter and Anne responded immediately. Here is the quotes from her mail.
- About the idea of "space"/"Ma"
I did not know about the Japanese concept of "space"/"Ma". However, I emphasize very much with the idea as I know it now. it's very important to have an empty space in something. I actually like to have enough space around a photo when I exhibit. I believe things go better when there are less things and when there is more empty space.
Well, I did not do anything in the plane from Japan to Germany. There were too many memories of the 3 weeks in Japan. I am feeling that I need some time to comprehend to all the information. There are so many memories, things to be done and feelings welling up in my heart that I can't even listen to music. I feel like my head is about to explode with those emotions. It's too noisy in my head that it's even hard to stand the noise outside. Tranquilness was defenitely one of those thingsＩreally enjoyed in Japan. People talk much more quiet and no one talks on the phone in subways. (Crossroad in Shibuya may be an exception.)
Let's get back to the subject on farm houses. I really felt comfortable in the emptiness of the farm houses. I felt free and so right. I believe I can breathe more deeply in an empty space. There were only beautiful wooden walls, a hearth, and some minimum objects. Floors were made of wood and there was just a hearth. Then the hearth suddenly seems to be a sculpture. It was really beautiful because it was extremely simple and functional. The most mysterious and interesting things may hold simplicity and deep complexity together.
As if something is maturing slowly within her slow life, her words had surprisingly strong impact. It was already different impression of her in the interview. More suprisingly, she was mentioning the inseparable relationship between tranquilness and noisiness. Her words were convincing as if the tranquilness is an echo of noisiness.
When you are rich in heart, you may need tranquilness to really listen to something from noisiness or richness in the world. There was a photo of a sky in her collections which makes you associate with a circulation of the air or a prelude before a storm. It seems tranquil but the intensity lies at the same time. Her mail seemed to contain the same energy.
Foam AmsterdamThe series Blindschleiche und Riesenblatt by photographer Anne Schwalbe can be seen as an ode to slowness - an ode to nature, light and emptiness. Schwalbe photographs her surroundings intuitively, with no preconceived ideas. Compiled in a publication or hanging together in an exhibition, the photos become the lines of a poem. Photographed prose. Anne Schwalbe visualizes stillness, providing another voice and a welcome change from the contemporary visual bombardment.
In the series Blindschleiche und Riesenblatt (translated literally as: slow worm and grant leaf) Anne Schwalbe has reduced the world around her to core images. With no reference to location or other narrative aspects, she reveals what has caught her notice, or the things that fascinate her. Rain dripping into water, a close-up of a dung-hill or colourful confetti on the asphalt: each image has its own strength and tells its own story in the mind of the viewer. A rhythm of colours and forms is created, invoking contemplation and peace.
The Forever ViewA text for the exhibition Blindschleiche und Riesenblatt by Anne Schwalbe in Foam (31/03/11 - 11/05/11),
combining poetry and prose. Written by Basje Boer
Excerpt - read the full text here: www.basjeboer.nl
I’d been walking along the seasons, walking for eternity. Carrying
thoughts, thought of
in the earliest of the morning and
dreamed up colors
lost words and
shadow hands giving shape
to the mist.
All the seasons gave to me – dark blue and grey and rain drops making patterns – I would replace.
Severed Head Gallery, DublinSchwalbe's Blindschleiche und Riesenblatt describes an anonymous natural world, at once both familiar yet touched by the unreal. Sometimes sublime, Schwalbe's temporal Incisions explore environments defined by stillness, emptiness, and light, spaces in which man exists only as a tracedenoting the existence of an ambiguous present-absence. These dichotomous and discontinous elements conspire to suggest an elusively personal yet resolutely open narrative, one suggestive of the poetic possibilities layered within the microcosmic levels of everyday experience.
Joscha Bruckert, Gebräu 1The minimalistic work of the Berlin artist Anne Schwalbe never show more than a structure, an object, a phenomenon, nevertheless there is in every picture a microcosm. Detachad from well-defined places and without indications about the time - rain, forests and light become universally valid, poetic allegories.
Youngna Park, Hey Hot ShotGermany-based photographer Anne Schwalbe also photographs the lines and patterns in nature. Schwalbe, however, departs from landscapes into the abstract, often focusing on the subtle minutiae of undulations caused by raindrops, the varying densities of fog, or the asymmetry if a pine tree. She abandons the specificity of a place, avoiding characterizing them by their distinguishing markers. Instead, Schwalbe invites her viewers to interpret the spaces she photographs, saying, I want to have a complex void in my photographs. Her work evokes comparison to Japanese photographer, Rinko Kawauchi, who is well-known for her natural-light photographs of details in nature and everyday life. (...) Both photographers emphasize the beautiful color palettes expressed in nature, and show a welcome talent for honing in on the subtleties so many of us miss in the everyday.
Jean Curran, LeCool DublinHer work is soothing and beautiful and her images draw you into another, more mediative, world. Her ability to emphasize the common detail in nature, whether it's blades of straw or a worm (Blindschleiche), draws you in it like it is your first time exploring the world. Anne's work doesn't just say that she sees, but it allows you enough space to see and say things for yourself.
25books, Berlin›What flowers there?‹ was the name of a book that more than 30 years ago was always at your fingertips at home. A book with pictures and information on countless plants encountered in forest and fields, often without knowing anything about them. Very often we have opened it. Anne Schwalbe´s ›Wiese‹ (meadow) of course is not an identification book but even a hike with many such encounters and discoveries. Flowers, grasses, ferns - they are simply there and radiate in an unnamed grassy paradise. Almost too beautyful to be true. The clear layout, the particular choice of materials, the special finishing - everything contributes to the fact, that we step on this meadow slowly and cautiously, look around in peace and can enjoy the often overlooked gems. Every E-Mail, my friend Wolfgang Beinert sends, ends with the words: EVERYTHING GOOD IS FRAGILE - SAVE IT! This also is the message of Anne Schwalbe´s WIESE.
Bemojake, LondonAnne Schwalbe's second self-published book continues her majestic editing and beautiful photographic approach. Wiese, German for 'Meadow', focuses on a gentle photographic catalogue of various kinds of plants in an un-named grassy wonderland. From the mystic to the banal, each photograph is somehow able to captivate the viewer, with a strange and eerie depth to the images, ghost-like and compelling.
The Photographers' Gallery, LondonAnne Schwalbe, photographer from Berlin, publishes her work herself. This, her second book, depicts details of open country side, presumably shot around the plains and woodlands in norhteastern parts of Germany. The images although void of any narrative reveal an enormous amount of curiosity and intensity. Also the delicate presentation of the book as a collection of loose leaves seems more than adequate to the subject matter. This is an absolute gem.
The Photographers' Gallery, London