Interview with Frank Lassak, photographer.
Iconic PhotosÂ By Frank Lassak Â :
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Lets start with talking about you Frank…
Where is home for you?
Berlin â€“ is the place to be. I moved here more than ten years ago, and like the city a lot. It’s a very international and culturally inspiring place, and that’s exactly what I like. The only thing that’s missing, is an ocean. Global warming could change that in a few thousand years, though.
Where and how did you first find out you are into photography?
As a teenager already â€“ many moons ago. At first, photography was just a hobby, and it took quite a few years until I discovered it as my preferred medium of art. That happened around 2008, so I’mÂ still newbie in the art business.
What equipment do you prefer to use? How much does it matter?
A camera is a tool, not a gadget. Thus, I see it pragmatically and use whatever equipment does the best job or may be needed for a given project. Could be a large format 8×10, a medium format shooter or even a small 35mm SLR. For a few years, I tried digital photography, but it wasn’t satisfying. So I went back to film photography â€“ the real thing. Shooting film, by the way, is cheaper than digital, if you consider the time you’d spend in front of the computer, editing otherwise unusable RAW files, and if you take into account that equivalent digital equipment would cost at least $25,000 to begin with. Needless to say, the look of film is much more authentic than any digital image.
Did you go to school to study photography? Do you see and importance in photography education?
As part of my journalism studies, I also learned a lot about press photography, documentaries, etc. It helped a lot to understand the basic principles and philosophy of the medium. So, yes, photography eduction is important. It doesn’t have to be academic, but the curriculum should include more than only the technical aspects. Creating pictures is a process that encompasses aesthetic skills and conceptual thinking as well.
Have you seen a change of style or path or interest in your works through time?
Absolutely! It’s all evolving. I guess it would be boring if I did the same stuff over and over again. Art calls for renewal, even for radical change. So every once in a while, I’m peeling off my photographer’s skin and get rid of old habits. It does hurt a little, but it’s definitely worth the effort.
DEEP in Frank LassakÂ and his photography
Your work has a very strong cinematic taste, what are the most inspiring film makers, movies and film genres for you, and how are they reflected in your works?
Cinema has always been my favorite medium and art, and many film makers have inspired me. Alfred Hitchcock for example, whose â€žRear Windowâ€œ and â€žVertigoâ€œ are two of my all time favorite movies. A few years ago, I produced an homage called â€žBlack Windowâ€œ with actors from a local acting school. It was one of my first cinematic series. Later, films by David Lynch, Terry Gilliam, Andrey Tarkovsky and some other well-known directors have influenced my photographic work.
Many of your works are in black and white. What fascinates you about monochrome pictures?
I don’t prefer black and white over color. The bottom line is: both monochrome and color have their reasons to be, and I make the decision in which way a series will be produced at a very early stage of a project. Essentially, it depends on what I want the final pictures to say, and how the story is told in the best possible way. As an artist, I thorougly plan each and every work. And if the plan calls for monochrome, for example, I follow it.
One of the most fascinating aspects of your works is the conceptual depth of them. How much time and work do you spend on your ideas comparing to hunting the moment?
Almost every picture I’ve done so far is staged. Even if I see a random situation on the street, I donâ€™t bother to record it, but save the idea for later and construct something fictional around it. That is, because reality is so profane. I love to create what I call a â€žmeta realityâ€œ: a semi-transparent layer of what could be reality. That layer has an impact on how viewers perceive the work. Thus, profanity is overcome; things suddenly have a new meaning. Consequently, there is a lot of work and time necessary prior to the actual shoot. Once I’ve bred an idea, the perfect cast and crew has to be found, and of course the place. Most of the time, I’m working on location â€“ so location scouting can be quite time consuming. It took two years to complete the series â€žWelcome to Twin Peaksâ€œ, for example, because it was such a large-scale project: ten pictures, almost 30 actors and actresses, and a huge staff of assistants, stylists, makeup artists. Finding all the places that convey the atmosphere of the TV series was the hardest part, a lot of time for location scouting was needed. In addition, working with actors and actresses to make them play authentically, is also quite time consuming. Those are the best moments of a production: being a director on the set, interacting with the cast and crew in the best possible way to ensure that the result will be satisfying for everyone involved in the project.
In all your series there is an underlying story. A story that connects the photos. But at the same time every photo has a story of its own. Is that something you do on purpose, and if yes, how do you implement it? Do you actually work with a scenario in your mind?
Can you explain what happens from the start, when an idea strikes your mind, to when you are done producing the artwork?
Sometimes, thereâ€™s just a spark of inspiration â€“ whatever it may be â€“ that tells me: â€žHey, what about a scene showing this or that?â€œ. If the idea is strong enough and the subject interesting enough it will most likely end up in a picture or even in a complete series. In most of my works, Iâ€™m trying to show only 80 percent of what the scene is about. There is always some hidden meaning that could or could not be discovered by the viewers. Thatâ€™s because I do not like to impose my view of the world, things or events on the beholders. Also, people should be given the opportunity to inhale the meaning of my works without being restricted by conventional patterns of interpretation or curation.
There’s an initial seed that often has to grow for a long time before it contains enough energy to trigger a production. A lot of thinking, many discussion with my muse, who is my sharpest critic and my faithful supporter at the same time. I’m drawing sketches of the scene(s); then I have to find the right place, the right people â€“ get everyone on board, make a budget calculation, get the necessary equipment, etc. It’s pretty challenging all the way.
On a scale of 1 to 10: how much are you satisfied with your works, after having finished a production?
That’s variable. It’s all about how good I am at self-reflecting â€“ and that depends on the mood of the day. But in general, most productions yield wonderful results.
Three months ago, I was asked to join a project initiated by Berlin-based techno/art collective Bipolar. A group of twelve people devoted to creating aural and visual experiences for their audience, they invited me to produce a large-scale staged photograph that would best represent their ambition and uniqueness. I agreed immediately, since this kind of creative collaboration most likely would not only prove as a challenge, but could yield a very interesting result.
I was given complete freedom with regards to designing the set and scene, and proposed to do something along the lines of Leonardo Da Vinci’s â€žLast Supperâ€œ â€“ not as an historicising tribute, but as a modern interpretation of the classic theme, void of all religious content, and focused on the dramatic composition with twelve actors/actresses worshiping a sculpture in the center of the room.
Aside from the socio-dynamics that are present when shooting a large group of people, there was yet another challenge, since I had opted to produce the frame with a film that I hadn’t used before: Cinestill 800T. It’s a special material without anti-halation layer, so I could expect some halos around any visible light source or bright reflection in the frame. Together with my light assistant Marc Maria, I designed light setup that factored in the capabilities of the film, using a number of Arri fresnel lamps, gels and styrofoam walls.
Behind the scenes, creative assistant Lena Krebs was following and recording every step of production, while at the same time she helped actors and actresses find their best positions.
The production lasted for ten hours. In the end, we were all pretty exhausted and curious as to how the negatives would turn out. The results came in a week later â€“ and blew everyone, including myself, away.
Preview of an untitled new project based on operas
How would you describe your style?
Contemporary cinematic photography
How much is photography a hobby or work?
Neither anymore. Today, I’m only seeing it as an artistic medium. Although I still have an atelier and some faithful clients â€“ mostly actors and actresses â€“, I don’t consider myself a professional photographer anymore. On the contrary: the idea of having to earn a living in such a competitive business environment is totally unattractive. As a consequence, I take the liberty to live the life of a part-time artist, whose other job is good enough to cover the expenses.
Biggest inspirations in your works outside photography.
Cinema, theater, dance, music, current affairs, society problems
Photographers who inspire you?
Jeff Wall, Gregory Crewdson, Bettina Rheims, Cindy Sherman, Noboyashi Araki
Any website or blog you often visit about photography.
Too many to count. Currently, I’m hooked on Photovogue. Awesome talent to be found there.
Do you market your photography and if yes how?
Aside from my own website and social media, I have several online portfolios, for example with Vogue, Get Inspired and other magazines. Some of my works have been featured on Art Limited, some were presented by Saatchi Art. I’ve also published two books: â€žSkin Deep Encountersâ€œ (out of print) and â€žIn Recent Yearsâ€œ (available on my webiste). In the physical world, my works have been exhibited in several European galleries and in the USA. Later this year, there will be works shown in London, Rome and Johnson City, USA. For next year, I’m planning a new exhibition that will tour through several galleries in Europe. The working title is â€žContemporary Profanityâ€œ.
Is there anybody or anything you would love to photograph and you still have not?
I would love to design, produce and publish a photo novel that deals with the story of my book manuscript: a twisted 20th century tale of romance and war, heroes and villains, similar in style to Hemingway and the likes. The scope of the project is quite huge, as the manuscript has 280 pages. The task can be compared to converting a novel into a story board (with photos instead of drawings). But I’m confident that it will eventually happen in the not too distant future.
What advice do you have for somebody who wants to pursue photography?
See and think. Don’t follow the hype. Do your own thing.
Is there something youâ€™re still learning in photography?
What would you like to be doing in 5 years from now?
Continue to lead a happy and satisfying life. Relax a little more.
How much do you care for digital editing after you get the shot, cropping, colors and…?
Editing is absolutely necessary, even with film photography. It’s either done in the lab or on the computer after scanning.
What is the recent artwork you have seen lately that really moved you?
Renaissance paintings at the Uffizi in Florence, Italy.
What is a recent project you have been working on and what inspired you?
As mentioned above, the most recent series was â€žWelcome to Twin Peaksâ€œ. Now, I’m continuing a long term project called â€žThe Forgotten Landâ€œ: a documentary series about the people, their lives and the region on both sides of the border between Germany and Poland. Later this year, I’m planning to write a few pages about that series; pictures and text will be published in my next book.
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