Striking a pose in front of “Polarisiert 19” …
Peter: Felix – would you like to tell me something about your internet predilections?
Felix: Well… one evening at my place, me and my artiste buddies, J. and A... we all got plastered good and proper… we were watching YouPorn… or was it PornTube? I can’t remember… In any case, we kept our hands above the blankets… I’ve been online since I was twelve, you know… In this serene and detached state, I took a screenshot of a solo girl vid. Then I put the polaroid in my typewriter and I just punched in a few letters. I took eight more pictures that night. And these eight images are very important to me, very dear. They’re explicit, they’re significant, they’re spontaneous – have a look at What do I feel (http://artdoxa/users/felix/artworks/11765) or Tu as la chance (see below) – the entire green series. We were on a collective high that night, and it kept my buzz going… I used words from the music we were listening to and bits of our talk… it was all very relaxed, but nevertheless exciting… my confrères, they’re used to it… they don’t mind me making with the polaroid camera in front of my notebook and hacking away at my battered old typewriter… being in the flow… and these moments amalgamated into my images. That’s been a fascinating and deeply satisfying experience.
Trying to empathize:
Felix Adelmann, “Tu as la chance” – Photography, SX-70, typewriter/2007 – © All rights reserved
Peter: So all of your pictures are screenshots?
Felix: Only some of them.
Peter: So you take screenshots of pre-existing commercial net imagery – do you think that’s very original?
Felix: I don’t care if my work is called derivative because I take pictures of pictures. I don’t care about the question of originality. It doesn’t make sense to me. I’m an analog entity. I perceive things. I perceive, therefore I am.
Peter: But what do you want?
Felix: I want transformation! I feel that nowadays the process of perception and subsequent transformation of mediated content is just as significant and as paradigmatic of the human condition as any original act of invention. You know, you don’t have to be my invention to appear on one of my pictures – if I wanted to take a picture of you, that is. Or, let’s say, of your tee shirt. I needn’t have designed your tee shirt to take a proper picture of it. Let me see your tee shirt! Okay. Now. Give me your camera! There. You see? All I want is transformation. On a cognitive level, there is no difference between the sensory data I’m receiving from the net – and the sensory data I’m receiving from the analog world, the physical world. I can transform digital reality just as I can transform analog reality. Take my Polarisiert series, for example (http://www.artdoxa.com/users/felix/artworks/272).
Peter: I can’t quite put my finger on it, Felix – but I feel there’s a logical flaw somewhere in your reasoning… but never mind… So how do you select your pictures? How do you know what to choose?
Felix: First of all, I take my time to watch a video sequence I want to choose from. I take mental notes. I keep an eye on the counter. Technically, I have to take into account the rather unsophisticated automatic exposure of the SX-70. The SX-70 comes with an inbuilt automatic photometer. It recognizes light and darkness – but not much in between. I have to allow for that. So I have to adjust the brightness of the video monitor, which is, in fact, the display of my notebook. I know from experience how my SX-70 reacts to the monitor output, and if I make sure that there is no other light source around, I can more or less predict the outcome. This is how I control exposure. This is how I get the delicate blur. It’s the slow, analog SX-70 in combination with a state-of-the-art LCD display. I’ve tried the same with a TV screen, with terrible results. It just doesn’t work with a tube monitor. All you get is a kind of grainy bitmap. That’s not exactly what I want, not the kind of result I’m looking for. You know, I’m always trying to empathize with my base material…
Peter: Speaking of empathy… at this point I should probably make a few pertinent remarks about the media… about double-coding… Baudrillard and referentiality… about Lacan and the object of desire… the canonization of the remote… you know… the works… but I’ll just take a picture of this here studio table… so I have something interesting to show after this paragraph… instead of just another load of boring analytical claptrap… see?
Atmospheric studio still life… SLR with beverage containers. The Nikon is fitted with a polaroid adapter.
Felix: While you’re at it you might as well show another picture of my vintage SX-70. So everyone knows what we’re talking about.
Left: SX-70 with macro lens!
Peter: Done. Now, before this whole interview turns into a a totally fictitious meta-interview, let me ask you another nerdy question. Is that a macro lens there?
Felix: It is. It is a cheap little plastic thing of rather poor quality. Very primitive. You can attach it to the hot shoe, instead of a flash bar. I don’t use it very often. I have always admired how very close to your object you can get already with the standard lens of the SX-70.
Peter: How did you become a photographer in the first place?
Felix: You mean, before I discovered polaroids? My mother was friend with a professional photographer. Bertram. He turned me on to photography. At first, I was pretty much indifferent to it. But then one day he gave me a camera, and a fine piece of machinery at that, and maybe I’d like to check it out? My first task was to make a photo calendar for my mom… can you believe it? Bertram showed me the ropes. One – make up your mind what exactly you want to show. Two – when taking a picture all you have to keep in mind is the Fluchtpunkt – the vanishing point. Three – make sure all your horizontal and vertical lines are parallels. And as far as portraits are concerned – four, don’t place a face in the middle… place it more at the top! That’s how you get an interesting portrait. Well… that’s about the amount of my formal education as photographer. That’s how it all begun. The rest was trial and error. Shortly thereafter I got myself a Nikon F4, and I took a lot of nice pictures with it. I used the macro lens a lot. Every once in a while I’d use the SX-70, too, just for the fun of it. And I made color copies of the polaroids, with a copy machine… I was a student back then, and I did small jobs, coverage and stuff, to make a little extra money. Very little extra money. When I was twenty-two, I realized that actually all of my works were just – well, nice pictures. And I knew they wouldn’t get any better. They were average, mediocre. I mean, they weren’t bad – but they were nothing special. I knew there was a load of professionals out there who were much better than I would ever get to be. But my polaroids… which I kept in a big drawer… which I had never published so far… that was something else… I had taken these pictures without much asking myself why and what for… just for kicks… but it was different with the SX-70… as soon as I take a look through the viewfinder, I become a better photographer and I come up with better results. So finally, one day I just put the Nikon back in its case and forgot all about it. I guess I’m going to sell it at eBay. I’ll keep my old Leica III, though…
Peter: Leni Riefenstahl’s choice! Triumph of the Will! How fitting…
Felix: Genau! It’s from 1937… However, there seemed to be no sense in producing more and more run-of-the-mill 35mm stuff when I could have much better results with the SX-70. So from then on , it was polaroids only! It was expensive, though. But – that was an important factor! That was ever so helpful! At the time a polaroid cost two deutschmarks – per piece! Today you have to invest even more, and the supply is drying up… being a student I was chronically short of cash. So, under these circumstances I had to think twice before I’d spend 2.- DM for a photo. It was a matter of economics – and it was an excellent training. It was the exact opposite of taking pictures with a motor camera. Not to mention digital cameras, where you don’t have to think at all about expenses any more. But when every single picture comes at 2.- DM and you’re practically broke all the time… you just have to make up your mind what you want to have on film. For two years, I took the SX-70 wherever I went. It’s rather bulky, but when it’s folded you can stuff it in your coat pocket. Well, barely. All of my sets of four date back to that time. When I had the camera on me whenever and wherever I went… This was my art school. You know how it is with analog cameras… I can assess a motif best by looking through a viewfinder. I’m old school.
“I’m old school.”
Felix Adelmann, Installation Shot 7 – Polaroid, Lambda Print, Diasec/ 2008 – © All rights reserved
Peter: Felix – I’m with you there… Many of your photos strike me as particularly painterly. They often remind me of French informel paintings – dense, emotive blobs of intense color… Have you ever painted?
Felix: I always wanted to paint, but I can’t. I can’t draw either. I’ve tried, but I haven’t got the talent. I figured that out when I was sixteen. But I wouldn’t go so far and regard my photographic work as a kind of compensation for my incompetence as a painter. But I’m free to choose a painterly mode if I want to and I have my tools to do even non-representative work. I wouldn’t trade photography for anything else now.
Free to choose a painterly mode… (http://www.artdoxa.com/users/felix/artworks/12266)
Peter: Our conversation is taking place here at your studio. It’s a sound studio, where you work as musician and producer. How do you divide your time? What’s more important to you? Music or photography?
Felix: Lately, both music and art have reached an hitherto unknown level of intensity in my life. Up to now, my photography didn’t take up too much of my time, naturally, because I’m working with polaroids. But with my big prints this has changed. You know, I measure my time in artist days and artist weeks. An artist day has little in common with a regular nine-to-five work day, as a matter of course. So, what with negotiations with the lab, the proofing and all that, it takes about a whole artist week to acquire a single print from the chosen polaroid. A print that will meet my quality standards. I reserve the nights for my studio work, mostly… sound sculptures… aural landscapes…Die Mars-Schickung… When I come home late at night I’m usually in the mood to take some more polaroids. Hey – wait a minute! I’m becoming a stereotype… but nowadays my lifestyle allows for this kind of attitude, as a matter of fact… I know how it is the other way around…. when I was working as a management consultant… I wouldn’t take any pictures and I wouldn’t touch my guitar after hours… all I wanted was beer…fortunately I could escape before the imminent onset of a severe burn-out… Just as my images capture something deeply personal that I want to project into time, I want to… I have… lost the plot here… well… for the time being I enjoy the privilege of my music, my art and my life being luxuriously one. One thing just leads to another and I feel there is a roter Faden in everything I do, a leitmotif, a chorus, a recurrent theme.
Peter: And that’s a nice summary, dude. Thank you!
Remixing Die Mars-Schickung…
Peter Bies © All rights reserved