Can you quickly introduce yourself?
My Name is Thomas Hauser, born in 1961. I´m an artist living in Berlin. I studied painting from 1982 to 1987. In 1988 I moved to Berlin worked as a painter and carried out some site specific art projects. In 2004 I switched to photography and I´m stuck with it since then.
Can you talk about your painting , and how it has evolved to the point where you are now focused in photography?
From the beginning I worked as a representational painter. My work was very much influenced by American post war artists like Warhol, Lichtenstein but also abstract painters like Frank Stella, Ad Reinhardt, Elsworth Kelly.
On the European side I got inspired by painters like Max Beckmann, Balthus, Ernst Wilhelm Nay.
It was pretty tough for me to get these influences together and find my own thing. When I discovered the influence of photography on painting (Richter, Polke, US-American photorealism) I started using magazine pages, ripped out of fashion magazines as a starting point for my own works. In 1995 I used a computer to make sketches for paintings for the first time. I scanned the found materials from magazines and created templates for big canvases in the kind of “painting by numbers games” for kids or hobby-painters. The next step was to use downloaded images from websites (mostly nude pictures from amateur sex- and pornsites). In 2003 I really felt uncomfortable to use other peoples images. Also the whole appropriation art movement became suspicious to me. My idea was to photograph my own images and use them for my paintings. To make it short: I took my first own images of a girl and from the beginning I didn´t feel the need to transform them into paintings anymore. It looked totally alright to me. I also got rid of the whole “influenced by, inspired by, looks like – discussion”. I used a medium I didn´t know much about – historical wise as well as technical wise. I even didn´t feel like an artist anymore. I felt really free.
Your photography is oragnised throughout series, how do you consider the concept of a series?
I actually don´t see my work divided in series. It implies a beginning and an end. In the case of my portraits I have to give the whole project a structure (because there are already so many). In the first place this structure results from the chronological order of the photos. In the second place it results in the formal difference to the photos I did before. I like to see my portrait work as an archive. Each series is similar to a folder (or a shelf) in a big archive. And over the years it becomes bigger and bigger. I don´t have the feeling at the moment I will get tired to continue with it. The imagination of shooting portraits of girls (or flower still lives) for the rest of my life seems pretty attractive to me.
Even “Rauch/Smoke” is not finished, even if I haven´t worked on it for the last 4 years. Its all ongoing.
Can you tell us a little about how you went from a regular digital compact camera to a view camera?
Technically speaking, I have developed backwards. My first camera was a Nikon coolpix 5000. For vacations I bought my first 35mm filmcamera ( a tiny Ricoh GR). I was impressed of the quality of the scans that came out of the negatives. But I even like more the idea to have a real object where the information is stored in. I can´t explain that very well. I also like the fact that I have the possibility to work completely analog but also can digitalize it. I jumped up to medium film format and since 2008 I almost only use a 4×5 inch view camera. Now I am seriously thinking to purchase a 8×10. I love contact prints. Since 2 years I share a b/w-lab with 3 other artist and print everything on gelatin silver papers. I think for b/w it’s the only way. I can´t stand to convert digital color files into b/w.
But who knows – lately I started again with some experiments using a digital camera and a smart phone. I haven´t found the real tool so far. Cameras are truly something special. They seem to have their own life and speak to you.
You have done works with women, what is your relationship with your models, and what is the link between “November 2pm” and “Kuenstlerinnen” ?
Strictly speaking both “series” are one and the same thing (see above what I wrote about series). November 2 PM is the result of photographing girls over a period of 2 years. Kuenstlerinnen followed 1.5 years later. But I was photographing portraits all the time. The more interesting point would be to ask for the differences.
I find my models through announcements on a website. I don´t ask for photos or do castings. Everybody who applies gets a shooting which usually lasts 2 hours – that’s it. Sometimes I ask for a 2nd or 3rd sitting. In one case I photographed a girl for over 2 years. I´m not very interested in the person I photograph. I only want to get a certain image, a certain expression, a certain mood. The mood is the main thing. With some models it works wordless with others it is a real fight. I´m often surprised myself of how much I see the model as an object. Not in a bad way, but as soon as I´m under my darkcloth I don´t see an individual anymore. I see forms and colors and values and my only desire is to put that into one great image – one great moment – one great feel.
What expresses the neutrality of your pictures; grey wall, white wood chair, natural light, and the use of Black and White film?
Well, your question is already the answer – its about neutrality. My setting is simple.
I have 2 different backdrops. A dark grey one and a black one. Maybe 5 different chairs. And the natural daylight that comes through my studio windows. It’s staged but not too much. It’s natural but not too much. It’s somewhere in between all kinds of portrait setting you have ever seen. I also use color, but each time I compare two portraits I go for the b/w image. It’s maybe the neutrality that comes from b/w – the little difference in perception of time?
I don´t know – I like color very much but maybe I´m not yet good enough with it?
You told me you about your early morning walks in the empty streets of Berlin, what do you feel in those particular moments?
My early morning walks are actually Sunday morning walks. On Sundays cities change to a certain degree. The sound is different, there are almost no people on the streets and traffic is low. I can´t force the city to change to the point where I like to have it. I can´t give a city a form – like I can manipulate a model or a still life. But I have to find the moments and places when the city is nearly in a mood where it becomes close to what I´m looking for. It’s pretty much like shooting a portrait or a still life. But it’s much more difficult. I´m learning ….
Conversation with Thomas Hauser, Berlin, July 2012. Photography by Études Studio.