Interview with Christian Reister
interview by Giulia Thinnes
“Capturing the life stories of ordinary people and the environments that bear silent witness to those tales”
Christian Reister, *1972, lives and works in Berlin, Germany. He started photography in 2001 and has been working mainly on urban streets and city life ever since. After taking his pictures in colour for the first 10 years he switched to black and white in 2011. His main focus today is on Berlin’s night life which he documents in a very subjective diary-like way: dark, grainy and often blurry. read more…
– Hello Christian, first of all, on behalf of Street photography Luxembourg, thank you for responding to our questions. Could you describe briefly how you came to photography?
By accident. I saw a plastic “toy” camera from the lomographic society in a museum shop and bought it because I thought it might be fun. And it was fun. So, a lomo action sampler camera was the entry drug. That was around the year 2000.
– What is street photography for you, it’s purpose, according to your understanding? And what role does it play in your life?
Street photography for me means basically, to have a camera with me when I leave the house. To catch candid unstaged moments in public life and to transform them into a photograph. It is part of my life, it just happens day after day.
– What is the role of photography in general?
I have found my way of artistic expression in photography. This goes beyond the act of taking pictures. The process of developing, editing, putting a series together, making books, exhibitions etc. are as important to me as taking photographs.
– Are there any other photographic genres that you are interested in and that you also shoot (and maybe didn’t publish yet)?
Of course. Portraits, documentary, urban landscapes are important parts of my work, as well. I’m not a purist street photographer. But it’s where I come from.
– Would you say you are influenced by other photographers? Do you look at other people’s work to inspire you? If so, could you name a few and why?
I look a lot at other peoples works, especially at books. Some of the big names: Martin Parr (esp. in my beginnings), Winogrand, William Klein, Daido Moriyama… and I think there’s of course influence from photographer friends. We have a lively photo scene in Berlin and I like the broad mix of styles here.
– In your earlier projects like ‘Alex’, you are showing colour photographs with quite some intense colours. In your more recent works like ‘Driftwood’ you quite changed your style. They are exclusively in black and white. How did this evolution happen and why?
I have been taking my photos in colour for the first ten years. I think at that time I had the idea that contemporary photography should be taken in colour, while b/w appeared always a little bit old fashioned to me.
Later I wanted to get rid of old habits that made my photography too predictable for me. I wanted my photos to get more low-tech and more abstract – so in 2011 I photographed my first serious black and white film photographs. The new technique allowed me to get rid of a lot of boundaries that I had set to myself before. For instance, I started to mix my street photography with portraits of close friends. I would have never done things like that with my rather pure street photography approach that I had before.
– Your recent projects also have a very distinct look, quite grainy and gritty, and most of them take place at night. What attracts you about the night? And is this gritty style bound to the night?
I think that my photographic style in my night photographs comes quite close to my feelings about Berlin, Berlin nightlife, long nights out and melancholic night walks. I have always enjoyed night time and like to go out ‘til late.
– Are there any other specific lighting conditions you prefer to photograph in? Do you still shoot during the day?
Any light. The worse the light the better the film grain!
Yes, I still take pictures during the day but what I have published in the last couple of years was mostly my night work.
– Do you have other projects, like commissioned ones? Do you make any difference in approach between personal projects and non-personal ones?
I do commissions, yes, and it’s completely different. As a commissioned photographer I feel as a service provider. There is a clear task and I try to get the strongest result possible that the customers and me both like. In my personal work there is no clear task. It just doesn’t matter. Nobody has to like it. And I mean that in a very positive sense.
– How do you choose your themes for your projects? Do you set yourself a theme and then realize the corresponding photographs or do you shoot without big plans and realize after a while that there is a recurring theme in your work, which you then concentrate on? Or a still different approach?
The latter. I don’t think much about projects while photographing. When I do think in projects, it is when I work with my photos to make a book, a photo film, an exhibition or whatever.
– Are you an intuitive shooter or more like someone who plans his shootings ahead?
My photos are by-products of my life. They happen or they don’t happen. Sometimes I plan to go to an event where I would not go without the aim of taking pictures, but I think that’s it with plans.
– How do you approach people? Are they aware of you taking pictures of them?
It depends. Most of the times not. From time to time I have good conversations and brief personal encounters that lead to wonderful pictures. Sometimes those images can be highlights in a series among other, more impersonal scenes.
– What is your favourite camera to shoot with?
At the time I use a Fuji X100T and a Ricoh GR II for my night work. My favourite camera doesn’t exist. It would be a Lomo LC-A in digital.
– What do you want to express with your photographs, do you have any messages you want to convey to the viewers with them?
I hope I can create some kind of atmosphere with my work and I hope it appeals more to the heart than to the mind. I feel as a tiny part of a very long tradition of social documentary photography, even if mine has a very subjective approach. I hope I can sometimes show the viewers things and viewpoints that they didn’t have seen that way before. I don’t want to judge, I want to show viewpoints.
– Do you have a favourite photo that you took? Do you have sth. like an all-time iconic favourite picture from another photographer?
location: Rotondes- Platforme (Rotonde1) (map)