A conversation with Bettina Lockemann

Bettina Lockemann on the Upper West Side, New York City © 2015 by Chrysanne Stathacos

Bettina Lockemann on the Upper West Side, New York City © 2015 by Chrysanne Stathacos

SUSAN:

I thought a good place to begin might be to explain how we found one another, or really, how you found me, because we share an interest in subject matter and went about representing it in related ways. I am thinking specifically of your work Plan, published in 1999, a collaborative work made with Elisabeth Neudoerfl in 1996. And in fact, we were working on these related projects at roughly the same time, I began research for Helmbrechts walk in 1995, made the work in 1998 and published it in 2002.

BETTINA:

When I started doing photography, I was interested in the question of place and what a photograph could show about a certain idea of place. I had been discussing this with my friend Elisabeth Neudoerfl. In the early 90s, there was a discussion going on about the Holocaust memorial that was supposed to be built in Berlin, which, as you know, has since been done by Peter Eisenman. And there were different ideas about how we, in Germany, as Germans, should commemorate the Holocaust, not only in the specific locations where acts of violence took place, but also in the newly rebuilt capital of Berlin. One notion was to create a major memorial in the center of Berlin. We took part in the discussion but we were not in favor of this kind of memorial, because we thought that this would end up being a tourist destination, a place where politicians would go on certain dates and give memorial speeches, a place whose real meaning would be easily forgotten.

There was a competition for this major memorial and artists sent in their ideas and those ideas were discussed. But so many places in Berlin were important to the conception of what eventually became the Holocaust.  Why couldn’t we go to those places and have memory implemented into the fabric of the city and not just in one spot? How would we be able to commemorate the Holocaust in a different way?

We thought about a photographic project. There are so many locations relevant to the Holocaust from the viewpoint of the perpetrators. We were discussing how to render visible the locations of the perpetrators and not of their victims. We started doing a lot of research on government agencies and ministries that were involved, on places where Jewish people were forced to move, of the Wannsee Conference, where the idea was born to kill the entire Jewish population of Europe, and we decided to take one month to go and photograph these locations. Of course, some locations we knew before and some were unfamiliar. For us it was important not to have specific symbolic visuality—like the train tracks going to the Auschwitz gate, or commemorative plaques and sculptures. We thought that it would be important to show the mundaneness of these locations; if you don’t know, you don’t see anything and you won’t notice that you are walking through an environment where all these ideas were generated or carried out.

Güterbahnhof Grunewald, Deportationsbahnhof from the series Plan, Bettina Lockemann and Elisabeth Neudoerfl 1999

Güterbahnhof Grunewald, Deportationsbahnhof, from the series Plan, Bettina Lockemann and Elisabeth Neudoerfl 1999

When we looked at the pictures we were really amazed that in some locations we took the same picture. When thinking about how to present these pictures we immediately thought of a book. In the book it was really important not to have captions—just to show the images and state the addresses. When you have captions naming particular places people will always say: “Oh yes, I can see something has happened there; I can see that in that picture.” People will start to use that picture as a piece of information. We didn’t want that. There is a page in the back of the book listing the addresses and what happened at each location. For example, a Synagogue where the stolen material objects were kept or a place where people were gathered before they were put on the train to Auschwitz.

SUSAN:

One thing that occurs to me now in listening to you, is that as a German looking at this subject, you explore the locus of ideas, documenting the places where the ideas were formulated. I, as a child of survivors from Eastern Europe, did a very similar thing, but used my body to index the space, choosing to document the places where the body suffered. And that mind/body divide is paralleled by the city/countryside divide in our works because your documentation is of the urban landscape and mine is of the landscape of the countryside. And these places are equally mundane and unrecognized as places of atrocity—equally non-monumental.

Reichssicherheitshauptamt, Referat IV B-4 (Eichmann), Kurfürstenstraße 115-116 from the series Plan, Bettina Lockemann and Elisabeth Neudoerfl 1999

Reichssicherheitshauptamt, Referat IV B-4 (Eichmann), Kurfürstenstraße 115-116, from the series Plan, Bettina Lockemann and Elisabeth Neudoerfl 1999

BETTINA:

This is what brought me to your work. I felt that there was something both works had in common. There are a lot of German photographers who have photographed in the camps. You know, showing a dark sky and the barbed wire with the guard towers. This is very monumental and symbolic and we just wanted to push all of that out. My grandmother was in Berlin during the war and she just didn’t look. When asked: “What did you do when all the Jewish people were just shopping between four and five because that was the only hour that they were allowed to go shopping?” And she answered, “I went shopping at another time.” It never occurred to her that her behavior was a means to avoid seeing what was going on. For her, caring for her small children was the main focus. She didn’t really want to see. This idea of not seeing or not wanting to see what is going on is reflected in our work.

CHRYSANNE:

There are ideas, going back to Walter Benjamin, about what the photograph is. You are very interested in theory. It is unusual for a photographer to get a PH.D. and then do both as a serious practice. What is the reaction of the people who view your work, who look at the images of those places?

BETTINA:

Once a year at the Academy of Fine Arts in Leipzig there was a competition for students to realize a book and amazingly, we won. In the beginning, a lot of people did not understand what we were doing. I guess the problem was this very conceptual approach, as many people thought it should have an educational value deliberately naming certain practices or locations. And I think people had a hard time because they are so used to seeing images with captions which help them to understand what they see. People tend to leaf through the book and then they come to the last page, which tells them what they have been looking at and then they are: “Oh my god, I missed something.” And they go back and leaf through again, but they won’t find what they are looking for because we intentionally left out all of those symbolic messages. People try to see something they expect, because other photographers charge things like a crack in the wall with meaning. Because we choose not to serve these expectations, it is hard for people to understand what we are doing. But, a few years later, students from my art school came to me and told me this was a great book. That’s how I learned that my professors were using the book in their classes to show what documentary photography, in this conceptual way, can do or how you can work with it.

CHRYSANNE:

What made you become interested in photography? For instance, in New York, many people are familiar with the work of the Bernd and Hilla Becher, of the industrial images we saw in the eighties. Were there certain photographic influences that made you want to explore photography as an art practice?

BETTINA:

I could never draw but I was always interested in visuality and pictures. I was given my first camera when I was five or six years old. So I snapped pictures on holidays, at birthdays and whenever. As a teenager I spent one year in the U.S. in Portland, Maine and there I met a lot of students who were into the arts and theater. I saw a lot of exhibitions and I started to become really interested.


video ©2015 by MOMMY

CHRYSANNE:

How old were you?

BETTINA:

Sixteen. I always liked photographing and people would give me good feedback. Back in Germany I got a good camera, I wanted to be in control. I started photographing more seriously, doing black and white photography. I went to a course in the adult education center in Berlin-Kreuzberg, where I learned darkroom work. There I saw the work of Berlin based artist Michael Schmidt, who unfortunately died this year. One of the first pictures I remember seeing of his work, was a pile of dog poop on the street.  “Why is this guy taking pictures of something like this?” Why would you look at such a picture? He also took portraits in the everyday surroundings of Kreuzberg that I knew very well. That really got me going. I thought that his work was really interesting and it moved me in a way. I could look at National Geographic magazines and I’d be envious of those photographers but that really wasn’t the thing that was interesting to me. And my teachers at the adult education center had been students of his. He founded the Kreuzberger Werkstatt fuer Fotografie in 1976 (a photography study program that ran from 1976 through 1986) and they were influenced by his work. I saw that I could work with the every day environment. You don’t have to travel to exotic places to do interesting work, you just find it on your front doorstep.

SUSAN:

I think, when looking at your work, that the city has become your subject matter. Many of the pieces, even when they have other conceptual underpinnings, are focused on the city. I wonder how that evolved, because even in places like Japan, where you shot Contact Zone, or in Turkey, where you did Underdetermined Terrain, you seem to engage with urban environments. So I am curious how the city becomes a consistent subject, even when it becomes politically inflected, as in the piece you made in Cairo, for example?

from the series: Undetermined Terrain, 2009

from the series: Undetermined Terrain, 2009

BETTINA:

Well, I grew up in West Berlin and when I was eighteen, the city I was living in suddenly doubled. It had all of this unknown territory. I’d only been to East Berlin a few times as a tourist. So now I was eighteen years old and every weekend I would go to East Berlin. I would hop on a subway and look around. “Wow, this is amazing, people are living here as we are. It looks a little bit different but…” So I guess growing up in a city where I was confined to the city, because there was nowhere to go, made me interested in cities.

SUSAN:

Yes, of course, because outside the city you were in another country; in East Germany.

BETTINA:

I grew up in this walled in place.

CHRYSANNE:

Do you miss that at all?

BETTINA:

The wall? No.

But as a kid I always wondered when we would go to other places, “How do they know where their city ends?” Where was their wall? Medieval cities had walls. I was so used to being in a walled in city.  And after high school and after having my vocational training as a photographer in Berlin, in 1994 I moved to Leipzig, which was another city that had been in former East Germany. I guess this whole German situation got me set up—that cities are changing constantly, and that there are things happening. At first it kind of scared me that the city I knew was suddenly not the city I knew anymore because it was becoming something else and you had to get used to it. Also, being interested in politics of the urban space and thinking about that made the city much more interesting than the countryside.

from the series: Undetermined Terrain, 2009

from the series: Undetermined Terrain, 2009

CHRYSANNE:

How did you find living in Leipzig? You are familiar with the group of painters that came out of there. Their work seems to me to be very intense, gestural and figurative. Yours is the opposite.

BETTINA:

While I studied there was this great separation between the painting department and the photography department. At the beginning, I knew some students studying painting but when I saw their exhibitions, I wasn’t really interested. But then it changed, because Neo Rauch became a teacher there and suddenly, even though I was never really into painting—there were really interesting things happening. On the other hand, that was painting and so that practice had nothing to do with mine. I studied with Joachim Brohm, who was a German photographer and early practitioner of the new German color photography in the eighties.

CHRYSANNE:

Were any of your professors women?

BETTINA:

No. There were two female professors. One was Tina Bara, who did a lot of portraiture—which was not really what I was interested in. Astrid Klein was teaching too. She was working in a painterly, conceptual way which was never really my cup of tea. I was interested in the documentary, so I didn’t study with them. I was sad about it, because I always wanted to study with female professors.

CHRYSANNE:

And now you are one.

BETTINA:

Well, now I am.

SUSAN:

And do you have more female students than male students? Because we often notice in the States that there are many more female students in the art schools than males, and it is my feeling that the women are, in part, subsidizing the careers of the men, because when they all graduate, the women don’t have the same opportunities as the men. And even though they were in much higher numbers, the men dominate the field after graduation.

BETTINA:

I am in the communication design department and we have a hard time finding enough male students. When we receive the applications we try to accept some male students because none of us wants to teach all female classes. But it is really hard because in communication design there have been fewer and fewer applications by men. I don’t know why this happens. And I think in the fine arts, there are also a lot of female students, but there the ratio is maybe 60/40. In communication design it is 75/25 or maybe even 80/20.

SUSAN:

So given that, do the women do better getting out of school in that department than say the fine art department?

BETTINA

In communication design, in a practical way, our students do a pretty good job, I would say females as well as males. Of the students I have taught in the past four years, everybody got out fine. They went to masters programs or found jobs.

SUSAN:

Can you tell us about going to Egypt and describe for us the piece you made there? The one called Traffic.

BETTINA:

When the revolution in Egypt happened in January 2011, I was totally excited about what was happening, about all the imagery of people photographing and having social media and I was thinking, “Okay, I have to go.” And then I talked to Florian Ebner, who was the director of the very small Museum of Photography in Braunschweig and he said, “I am going to do a project on Egypt.” So we started discussing whether we could do a collaboration between the Museum of Photography and the art school. Eventually three colleagues, all of us specializing in photography worked with the Museum of Photography, which got a grant to go to Egypt. To involve our students we cooperated with the Townhouse Gallery in Cairo. They hosted a workshop with young Egyptian artists and our students. This is how I got to go to Egypt. It was just for two weeks, actually.

It was just one year after the revolution. We were supposed to be there on the anniversary, on the 25th of January, but then the German embassy wouldn’t let us go then. They were afraid because the political uprising wasn’t really over yet. My flight was on the 26th of January so I had two days without students. I was able to walk around and have a look at the city and I was staying at a hotel right across the street from a major courthouse. When I arrived, I took a picture of the parking lot and then I photographed it in the morning. The next afternoon I noticed that there were police buses standing there so I started working, taking pictures of it whenever I was in my hotel room. I would take one when I was there in the morning, I’d take one during the day and at night and I saw how the cars shifted and how the police cars shifted. And I started talking to people asking about these police cars. Egyptians told me that the police were parking their vans there so it would be easier for them to be right on the spot if something was happening. Otherwise the police vans were in the military zones outside of the center. I found out that if there were no police vans in the lot then there was probably something going on downtown at Tahrir Square. I showed the images to an Egyptian artist and she said: “You know, you are documenting something really interesting there.” And I wasn’t even aware of it at first. So I thought that maybe this is a way of indirectly referring to what was happening. Because I, as a Westerner, can’t really assess what is going on. I was looking for a way to show certain ideas of urban situations in Cairo that were related to the protests and the revolution but weren’t really showing them.

from the series: Traffic—Parking Lot, 2012

from the series: Traffic—Parking Lot, 2012

There had been so many incidents with Western females on Tahrir Square everybody said, “You are not allowed to go in.” Still, there were these tents and there were lots of people bustling. I was just circling around on the other side of the street looking to the center of Tahrir Square and taking pictures, with the cars and people moving back and forth doing everyday things, but in the background of my pictures you would see the cardboard posters with writing on it, which of course I can’t read.

from the series: Traffic—Roundabout, 2012

from the series: Traffic—Roundabout, 2012

While we were there the Port Said incident happened. There was a soccer match between one of the Cairo clubs and the Port Said club and people came into the stadium and killed eighty to ninety fans from the Cairo soccer club. That caused huge protests and eventually there was the threat of a general strike, so the Goethe Institute suggested that we leave before the planned trip was over, and we were not supposed to be near Tahrir Square anymore. We really couldn’t pursue our workshop in the way we might have if everything had been peaceful. Being a professor who had to take care of twelve students, I didn’t have time to photograph anymore. Parents were calling wanting us to rebook our flights. Looking at the material I had taken in those few days that I had been working there—there was the notion of traffic. Tahrir Square is a major roundabout, when it is blocked, the whole city is clogged. I did those two tableaux, one of the parking lot, where I had 24 pictures with day and night, and then the other tableau was 30 pictures with the traffic circling around Tahrir Square.

CHRYSANNE:

Have you shown them?

BETTINA:

Traffic—Parking Lot was shown in the bigger exhibition in Braunschweig, that was curated by the Museum of Photography. And I showed the Tahrir Square piece Traffic—Roundabout, in Berlin.

SUSAN:

I had seen these two works in my mind as a diptych. They go together for me.

BETTINA:

They definitely do for me as well but I haven’t had the space to show them together.

SUSAN:

The other piece I was interested in having you talk about was the work made in Japan.

BETTINA:

One is a video work, it’s about Yamanote, a circular train line in the center of Tokyo—it has a kind of heart shaped route and it takes one hour to go the full circle. My piece is called Yamanote the Heart of the City. I just filmed out of the train looking to the outside of the circle. And as you probably know, the center of Tokyo is the Royal Palace and no one except for the Royal family is allowed to go there, so it’s like this blank space in the center of the city, this territory where nobody really goes. What inspired me to make this work is that the narration of Tokyo is always one of being a city that is really different. Compared to the West it is supposed to be the complete other. But being there for a while it felt like any other city: there are streets, there are subways, there are elevated trains. I can find my way around even though the signage is in Japanese. When you are used to cities you can easily find your way around. In the train, as in New York and in Berlin they announce the next station. They do that in English and in Japanese. It feels very familiar even if you haven’t been in Tokyo before.

When I was working in Japan, I was always trying to find a relationship between Japan and the West and not represent Japan as the complete other. I came to Japan because I was writing my PH.D. thesis on European photographers who had worked in Japan. I had done a lot of research on the Western influence in Japan after the opening, starting in the 1850s. For me it was really interesting to look at Japanese cities not as othered and exotic but to show that there are a lot of relationships.

from the series: Contact Zone, 2008

from the series: Contact Zone, 2008

CHRYSANNE:

How long were you there?

BETTINA:

For three months.

CHRYSANNE:

I lived there for six. The thing I remember about the Japanese subway system is the escalators. I’ve never seen anything like that anywhere else. And the number of people. Did you travel around Japan to other cities or were you based mostly in Tokyo?

BETTINA:

I was based in Tokyo but I traveled. I went to Nagasaki and then worked my way back: Kobe, Osaka, Kyoto, but most of the photography I had done for Contact Zone was done in the greater Tokyo area. I did photograph in Nagasaki as well because I was really trying to show the European/Japanese relationship. Nagasaki was a very important place for cultivating European-Japanese relationships even before Japan’s opening. Japan was closed off for 250 years to foreigners because the Japanese were afraid of being colonized. Then in the early 1850s the Americans came and said: “Open your ports, we want to trade with you.”

I went to Nagasaki to see the areas where Western people were allowed to settle and I went to Kobe to see these settlements. Some houses still remain; they are museums nowadays. I found it interesting to photograph in areas of the city where you can’t really say, this is surely influenced by the West, or this is surely Japanese, but rather something that is a hybrid. Many photographs from Tokyo show Shibuya crossing, which is different from Western cities.

I started out researching places that were built by European architects or influenced by European architecture. I had an architecture guide but I soon put it away because just going through the city, I found so many places that just looked familiar. For example, the Yamanote line is elevated, and it has these arches housing restaurants. In Berlin, the S-Bahn has these arches as well. I found out that James Hobrecht, who did a lot of work on infrastructure projects in 19th century Berlin, (on the sewer system and the S-Bahn), traveled to Japan three or four times and advised the Japanese government on building a modern city. I am sure that these elevated arches of the Yamanote line are basically the same arches as in Berlin’s S-Bahn.

CHRYSANNE:

Did you see the men in trucks and vans blaring World War II songs going around Tokyo?

BETTINA:

I never saw that but I saw some rallying by right wing nationalist party members. And I went to Yasukuni Shrine where all of the war criminals are worshiped and I was really depressed by it. Being German, that was really interesting. The Tokyo-Goethe Institute hosted an event where German writer Bernhard Schlink, who had written a novel on the Holocaust (The Reader), and a historian who curated an exhibition on the White Rose resistance against the Nazis came to speak. In the discussion many Japanese said they envied the Germans for finding a way to deal with their debt toward their neighbors because the Japanese have never done this. And at present the government in Japan is even worse than it was in 2006, when I was there. Middle class intellectuals are depressed that the government will not speak about the things that the Japanese did during the war. They long to make peace with their neighbors and they can’t.

from the series: Contact Zone, 2008

from the series: Contact Zone, 2008

I met a photographer, Tsuneo Enari, who did a work in Manchuria; he photographed Japanese who were left behind in Manchuria and who adopted Chinese culture. He published a book of this work and the Ministry of Culture wanted to award him with a big photography prize. But in the book he used a term that implied that Japan had lost the war. The Japanese officially describe it as the end of the war and don’t call it a surrender. They just erased his name from the list and he didn’t get the prize. You cannot speak up about what happened during the war; it’s quite muted. It was funny, suddenly, as a German, to be a hero in this way; because the Germans have dealt with their history after the war. That was a new experience.

SUSAN:

Germany has been somewhat singular in that way. I don’t think that Poland has dealt with that past, I don’t think that Austria has, and I don’t think that Hungary has, and it shows very acutely in Eastern Europe at the moment with the rise of neo-fascist political groups and right wing governments. Hungary has a neo-fascist government and 20% of the Parliament is part of an outright Nazi party. Despite the many shortcomings we can criticize, what transpired in Germany is still remarkable.

BETTINA:

In Turkey too, with the Armenians, even now, with the perpetrators dead, they are still not able to say, “This genocide happened before our time.”

I am glad that somehow we (Germans) managed to do that. I grew up with stories about the Holocaust. I read children’s books on the Holocaust when I was little. So for me, this was always part of my culture and part of my history and I knew that my grandfather, whatever he did, was a Nazi. One of them was and the other was not.  And that is part of my family history. And my mother and her sisters and brothers would always confront that. They were always reflecting upon what their father may have done, even though they really didn’t know what exactly he did.

SUSAN:

I am thinking that your parents generation didn’t grow up with that same experience because there was period after the war, probably up to the 60s, when the Holocaust wasn’t talked about in Germany; time for former Nazis to blend back into the general population.

BETTINA:

My parents were born in 1935, so they were 10 years old when the war ended. My mother has some memory of Berlin during the war. She told me a story: She and her sister were supposed to collect some money for the Winterhilfswerk (Winter Relief of the German Peoples) when she was about six years old and she went to the neighbors upstairs. They were sitting on their suitcases and they said to her, “You aren’t supposed to collect from us.” And she said she was supposed to collect from everyone. So they paid. When she was grown, looking back, she wondered if they were waiting to be transported to Auschwitz. But she was a little kid, not knowing what was going on.

My parents were of that generation who remembered the war and who kept asking questions. They were of a generation still involved, still connected to it in a different way than the generation that was born in 1945.

CHRYSANNE:

Do you think your parents’ questioning has influenced your artistic practice?

BETTINA:

Definitely. I was raised with the idea of asking questions. And I was raised with an idea of humanity in which every person is the same and not with the idea that some people are better or worse than others. Everybody is equal.

CHRYSANNE:

Susan told me that you are doing a project in New Orleans.

BETTINA:

Working with cities, I am always looking for interesting places. Last year I was in New Orleans for the first time as a tourist and I had the impression that this place is quite amazing. Not only because it is a very un-American city but also because of its rich cultural history, having French, Spanish, U.S. and Caribbean roots and having musical, cultural, and culinary traditions and then, of course, having this really huge Katrina crisis. I remember the imagery because it really shocked me in Germany back when Katrina happened in 2005. I kept asking, “How could this happen?”

I decided to come back and figure out what this whole urban revitalization is based upon. New Orleans had this shrinking problem with white flight to the suburbs and African American people living in the center in slum-like conditions. The Katrina crisis had a more severe impact on African Americans than on the white population. Now all these people are moving to the city, people from all over the U.S., artists and musicians — due to Katrina it became an option for a lot of people who never thought about New Orleans before. I found out that there are organizations that are going there and trying to make the city a better place. For example, urban farming cooperatives are trying to feed good food to poor people, housing initiatives that try to make poor people home owners which is very important because research shows that home owners tend to do much better over the generations than renters. And I was amazed to be in this very segregated city with a lot of conflict that stems from poverty and racial divisions.

What I am currently trying to find out is how I can relate to that photographically. I have been talking to a lot of people and I don’t really know what it is going to be but right now I feel that it is not going to be a work about documenting city streets and housing, but rather involving myself more in the social dimension of what’s happening and trying to work with that.

SUSAN:

Can you talk just briefly about the piece with the cruise ship. That work deals with space and time in such a different way than your other projects.

BETTINA:

The work is called Position I & II and I made it in 2001. It’s not my own photography but it’s footage from a cruise ship that takes four months to travel around the globe. I came to this cruise ship because my then boyfriend was working on this cruise ship as a doctor and he invited me to join him for three weeks. And while he was on the ship and I wasn’t I followed his route by looking at webcam imagery that was put online every single day. They didn’t have a live feed but once a day they had a map with a GPS position of the ship, which was always in the center, and they had a picture that was taken from the ship’s bridge. I had been working with webcam photography during my studies and what I found really interesting was that now I had this relationship between a map showing the ship’s position with a purple dot in the center and the world was shifting around it. I had been thinking that photography as well as maps are supposed to give you some idea of where you are, give you information. But if you eliminate captions from the photograph, you have a hard time saying what is shown in a photograph. And when you eliminate text from a map and you have just a tiny cutout, you don’t really know where you are. There were days when the ship was in the middle of the ocean and you wouldn’t see any land on the map, you’d just have this blue space, the purple dot and a yellow line showing  which direction the ship was moving in.

side by side images from the series: Position I & II, 2002

side by side images from the series: Position I & II, 2002

In the editing process, I used the material showing the ship out on the open sea and only the first and the last picture shows a port. I eliminated the other ports. You always have the horizon, the sea, and the sky in the photographic image. Sometimes it’s stormy and you see water running down the window or it’s foggy and you don’t really see the differentiation between sea and sky. I have done different presentations of the work. In one gallery, we built a corridor and you had the maps on one side and the matching bridge photographs on the other side. You could walk through the corridor and look left and right. Another time I made a slide show with the corresponding images on two sides. And I made two books, the page numbers correspond, you can look at them parallel to one another or go through them individually.

CHRYSANNE:

You produce beautiful books. For many American artists it is unusual to have such books. Do you want to talk just briefly about how you use books in your art practice?

BETTINA:

For the type of photography that I do, conceptual photography, the book is the perfect presentation. Often spaces are not big enough to show all the pictures in a piece and the book form enables me to put all the pictures in one work together. Working on books I can also think conceptually about sequencing and how the layout can present the work in the best possible way. Books are here to stay and you can carry them around and show them to people. I can’t do that with an exhibition. Given a choice between making and framing prints or making a book, I would always go for the book.

SUSAN:

Maybe before we close, you could talk a little about being a woman artist in Germany.

BETTINA:

I am not sure if it has to do with being a female artist, or an artist working on documentary photography, but my experience is that it is really hard to find people who support my work. I think that the art market is really tough, and it is even tougher for female artists. My impression is that my work is often not seen as a female art practice. If I did emotionally involved work, that might be perceived as more female in a way. Researching on topographic photography in the U.S., I don’t know if there are any women making work like this. All the artists that were in the New Topographic exhibition and who were teaching at universities must have had female students. But are there any female photographers working in this topographical style? I don’t know them. So my impression is that my art practice is really informed by a male art practice.

Just recently I talked to my colleague Elisabeth Neudoerfl, who is also working in the field of documentary. There is one student who studied with her and he is doing conceptual documentary work and now he is getting all the grants and gets a lot of attention, even though he just graduated. Maybe this kind of art practice is more interesting for gallery owners or curators when it is performed by male artists. I am not sure, I don’t know. But this is something that I have been thinking about recently.

Bettina Lockemann in New York City in February 2015 © 2015 by Susan Silas

Bettina Lockemann in New York City, 25 January 2015 © 2015 by Susan Silas

 

 

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