Christian Pattersons Arbeit zeichnet sich aus durch ihre Affinität für Farben und den Blick für das Besondere im Alltag. Patterson, geboren 1972 in Fond du Lac (Wisconsin), ist ein Autodidakt. Er lebt und arbeitet in Brooklyn, New York. Ein schönes ‘Flip-Thru’ durch sein neues Buch “Sound Affects” gibt es hier. Christian Pattersons Einzelausstellung bei Kaune, Sudendorf läuft noch bis zum 06. Juni 2008.
Ich bitte um Verständnis, wenn ich das Interview aus Zeitgründen nicht ins Deutsche übertrage. Hier möchte ich auf diverse Dienste im Internet verweisen, die Internetseiten zumindest grob übersetzen.
Peter F. (PF): Christian, you currently have your first European solo show at Kaune, Sudendorf in Cologne. How did the Cologne connection come about?
Christian Patterson (CP): I’ve always had an interest in Germany. I studied the language and visited the country twice during college. But I’d never visited the country as a photographer.
In September 2007, I had work in a “Young American Photographers” exhibition in Berlin, during Art Forum. It seemed like an ideal time for me to return to Germany, see the exhibition, and begin showing my work to German galleries.
I met with galleries in Berlin, Munich, Cologne, Düsseldorf and Frankfurt. There was a lot of positive response to my work, and even a few offers of representation and exhibitions.
When I was in Cologne, I visited Markus Schaden’s bookstore, and asked him if he could recommend any galleries. He mentioned Kaune, Sudendorf, a new gallery in Cologne. When I met Michael and Malte (the two owners), it just felt like a perfect fit, and we agreed to begin working together.
PF: Is the reaction to your work different in Europe, when you compare it with the shows you’ve had in the USA?
CP: There does seem to be curiosity and interest in American subject matter. It’s natural to be interested in the strange and unfamiliar. But in my experience, there has been an equal amount of interest in the color, light and composition found within my photographs, and many questions about the conceptual ideas behind the work.
PF: Before you started your career as a photographer you were a musician in a few New York bands. When did you discover photography and what importance does music have for you today?
CP: Yes, my father was a semi-professional guitar player when I was a kid. I began playing in bands when I was a teenager, and played throughout high school, college and my first years working in New York.
I moved to New York City in 1998 to work a boring corporate desk job (but it was a chance to get to New York). I had absolutely no plan to become a musician or a photographer.
But one day, when I was playing guitar in a music store, one of the store staff handed me a CD and asked if I would consider joining his band. We were playing together in New York clubs a few months later.
I became interested in photography while exploring New York City with my camera, and visiting contemporary art galleries. I became interested in contemporary color photography, and began incorporating new ideas into my own photographs. It was a very natural, organic process.
One of the things that I liked most about photography was that it was something I could do by myself, for myself. I didn’t have to rely on other people and their interest or schedules. I’ve always enjoyed the exploratory, solitary nature of photography.
But music is still very important to me. I listen to music every day. It inspires me. And I often have an easier time connecting with people over music than I do with photography. Many of my best photographer friends and I share music.
PF: When you moved from New York to Memphis you worked for the Eggleston Trust. I guess this is not an average job offer. How did you get in touch with the Eggleston Trust and what convinced you to accept the job?
CP: When I first began exploring contemporary photography, the first photographer that really blew me away was William Eggleston. I felt a personal connection with his work. This is probably at least partially attributable to the fact that I grew up in the 1970s, when Eggleston made many of his most amazing images.
In early 2001, I was nearly 30 years old. I hated my job, and I was truly passionate about photography. I took my first trip to Memphis, and visited the Eggleston Artistic Trust. I became good friends with William’s son Winston, and we stayed in touch. I visited Memphis a few more times, and met with the Egglestons when they would visit New York.
After September 11, 2001, I reassessed what I was doing with my life, and what I was truly passionate about. I made a strong case with the Egglestons for me to start working with them, as an assistant and archivist. We planned to work together for about six months, but I ended up staying for about three years.
PF: When you started to photograph the series “Sound Affects” you had no special theme in mind. When do you came across the main focus of the series and what gave the hint? Was there an initial image?
CP: One of the other great things about moving to Memphis was exploring its rich musical history. It is the “Home of the Blues” and the “Birthplace of Rock ‘n Roll”. In Memphis, time moves a bit more slowly. You can see and feel a certain history.
I didn’t consciously decide to photograph anything musical. But I did listen to a lot of Memphis music while making photographs, and I did find myself attracted to the places where music was created or heard in some way. It was a natural attraction for me.
Then one night, I was visiting a friend and stumbled into this room in his house, where there was a poster with the words “Sound Affects”. And I knew right away that this title was the perfect concept for what I had been photographing for the past few years. It was all about exploring Memphis as musical and visual place, and using color and light to try to capture the musicality of everyday life.
PF: The series “Sound Affects” includes some nice domestic still lifes and interiors. Although these images have a complex structure, they provide an instant emotional access for the viewer. For example the image ‘Revelation 21:8′. Was it a spontaneous idea or was it a considered, planed figure? Has the appearance of this image a story?
CP: That particular image is an unusual one.
The part of the image that says “Revelation 21:8″ is the bottom of a hand-painted wooden sign, a religious sign, that I found nailed to a tree somewhere in rural Mississippi. I had pulled the sign down off the tree and nailed it to my kitchen wall. I just liked the way it looked.
And then, months later, I was lying in bed late one night. I couldn’t sleep. And this image came to me. I got up, walked into the dark room, turned on all the burners, and made a very long exposure. All of the light is coming from the blue flames.
I had no idea what “Revelation 21:8″ referred to, exactly. I knew that there is a Book of Revelations in the Bible, but I wasn’t familiar with this specific verse. I finally looked it up weeks later, and was shocked to find that talked about a lake of fire. It says:
“But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”
PF: Your project “Out There” is inspired by the movie “Badlands” of Terrance Malick and the story of Charles Starkweather, who killed ten people in three days. In which way is your work influenced by movies? Who is your favourite director and why?
CP: When I first saw the movie “Badlands”, I thought it was beautiful. I began researching the making of the movie, just to find out where it had been filmed. I then discovered that it was loosely based on a true crime story, the story of a 19-year-old boy and his 14-year-old girlfriend, and their murder spree across the state of Nebraska.
This is the first time I’ve been (initially) inspired so directly by a movie, but I am a big fan of American cinema. One of my favorite directors is David Lynch. He has a truly unique ability to combine sound and vision, to present the beautiful and the eerie, and to make my hair stand on end.
PF: When I look at the images of “Sound Affects” and “Out There”, many images deal with loss and the vanishing of things, – some even combined with a kind of menace. Is this just an aspect of these series or is it a general topic for you and your work?
CP: These are some things that these two series have in common. I’m fascinated with the ghostly, or the phantom event. I guess it’s something that people most often refer to as “presence” – something that you can’t necessarily see, but you feel. I attempt to respond to these things by trying to photograph them.
“Menace” is a great word, because it implies something…something hanging over, pending, or looming in some way. I like that.
PF: You have a homepage which you have designed on your own. What importance has the internet for you as an artist? For a while you wrote a blog about photography as well. What brought you to the decision to close this blog?
CP: The internet is just another tool, another means to an end, like a camera, a car, a hammer or a telephone. The history of photography is filled with innovation and new technologies, and many of its most exciting practitioners were among the first to use these new ideas to their own advantage. I think we’re lucky to be living during a time when this new medium is blossoming.
I started my blog during an earlier, slower time in my career. I would prefer to be too busy as a visual artist to write about other people’s work on a blog. I just had my first book published and had my first international solo exhibition, and now I’m editing my next project and planning my next adventure. So fortunately, I’m busy.
PF: Your latest series “Made in Germany” seems to be different from your other work. Definitely there is the distinctive “Patterson-view” on things, but the colors are different (maybe more European) and you even did some images in black and white. So I’m quite curious to know how you came across this topic and your thoughts about this new piece of work.
CP: When I was travelling through Germany in September 2007, it was my first time in Germany as a photographer. I’m aware of German history, and I found myself attracted to things that evidence that history. I’m also aware of contemporary German photography, and found myself attracted to places and things that I felt were like trademarks of the stereotypical German style — architecture and stone, for example. And I decided to approach these things with perhaps a more rigid compositional style.
The black and white images just happened. I was shooting some things that were largely black and white, so I decided to drop the color out of those images completely. And they have a nice starkness to them. There are also a few images that are mostly monochromatic, an effect I really enjoy, and one that in my mind references the paintings of Gerhard Richter and the photocopies of Wolfgang Tillmans, among other things.
There is a lot of potential for humor and seriousness in all of this. Photography is language and interpretation. With “Made in Germany”, I am trying to have fun, and to learn to recognize, interpret and speak a more “German” language while in the German landscape. Musicians use small musical ideas – often called “hooks” or “riffs” – to establish a musical feeling. This project is about me riffing on Germany and German photography.
PF: What do you think about Germany and German photography? Is there a kind of typical German photography for you?
CP: I love Germany, and I admire a lot of German photography. A few of my favorite German photographers don’t really fit the stereotypes. I’ve long enjoyed the work of Wolfgang Tillmans and Jörg Sasse, for example, and neither of these photographers fit the stereotype. They’re both quite different, innovative artists.
There are certain stereotypes of a “German” photographic style. These stereotypes are rooted in the recent, short history and successes of certain German “schools” and artists. So the “typical” does seem to exist, but I think (or at least hope) that we’re all open-minded enough to not take these stereotypes too seriously.
PF: Christian, you say that you love Germany. But could you give a few examples of what you love about Germany? And when you drop the names of Tillmans and Sasse, what is it that makes their work particular in German photography for you? Some images of your series “Made in Germany” seem to refer on these artists.
CP: It’s funny, I was born in Wisconsin, a state that’s home to the largest population of German descent in the United States. I think the early German immigrants found that Wisconsin reminded them of home. The climate and landscape are similar. Today, we still eat bratwurst, make our beer, and have “German Fest” in the summertime. What do I love about Germany? The lifestyle.The sense of order. The landscape is lovely. The people are friendly. The food is good. The beer is great. The history is fascinating. The German sense of design is impeccable. The recent photographic history is influential and impressive. These are just a few of the things.
Jörg Sasse is an interesting artist. The ironic thing is that I discovered him through his earlier work — “Shop Windows” and “Private Spaces” — and not the manipulated “Tableaus” that he is perhaps best known for. For me, I’m more interested in his philosophy and willingness to play with the medium than I am in his finished work. Both Sasse and Tillmans show such a willingness to experiment.
And I really don’t think there’s enough that can be said about Tillmans. His sense of curation, editing and presentation, and his overall practice, are just so unique. As I said, photography is a language. Tillmans is expanding the boundaries of the medium. He’s expanding the photographic vocabulary. And that’s exciting.
There is one photograph I made, a picture of a rack of Tillmans postcards in a museum shop. My intent is to acknowledge the greatness and success of Tillmans, but also to question the implications of his success. What does it mean when anyone can wander into a museum bookshop, buy a Tillmans image for 1 Euro, and send it around the world? What does that say about where we are today, in the world of photography? It’s an interesting thought.
PF: Christian, thank you very much for this interview.