Interview – ArtBerlin.de

YORAM ROTH – A BEHIND-THE-SCENES VIEW

As of September 19th, CWC Gallery presents sixty new works by Yoram Roth in an exhibition entitled “Personal Disclosure”. Before the exhibition’s opening, the artist invited ARTberlin into his studio.

There are still a few pieces of stage scenery standing around the attic space of an old weapons factory in Berlin’s Moabit district. The props are the last witnesses to a labor of many months. The result will be presented September 19th at the CWC Galerie of Camera Work, the contemporary art branch of the renowned photo art gallery. The man about to exhibit sixty new works is astonishingly relaxed. A newcomer? Far from it. The artist has worked within his medium for many years. But not until Yoram Roth is at peace with his work is he willing to present it to others. The man is a perfectionist, and it comes as little surprise that he is held as one of the gallery’s ‘shooting stars’. Regardless of whether in Paris or Shanghai, his aesthetic resonates across diverse cultural contexts. He makes use of references enabling the viewer to experience the apparently familiar anew, particularly in the photo series “Personal Disclosure” on display. The subjects — some drawn partly from antiquity, others with reference to classical mythology — guide the observer’s view.

One aspect that is difficult to convey through an on-screen presentation is Yoram Roth’s analog implementation of multi-layered photography. His large-scale formats are lent depth by zograscopes which direct the observer’s view. In the depths there is detail, made more prominent through color. Thus we find two works in a single frame. The entire composition, taken as a whole, and the crops that lead the viewer into the image. The artist has little trepidation stepping into areas which have been in the domain of painting over centuries. Baroque lighting provides the foundation. Yoram Roth avails himself of the opportunity, and successfully treads the dangerously narrow line between simple homage and modern reinterpretation. His works demonstrate that photography, including Instagram et al., remains far from being a predictable medium.

Yoram, how did you first get started with photography?

In 10th grade we were allowed to elect photography in lieu of art class – that was great. Being unsupervised, no teacher, spending the whole afternoon in the darkroom, a group of teenage boys and girls — with The Cure or Gary Numan playing on tape. 1984.

What attracts you to photography?

We are confronted every day by hundreds of images. We live in a visual world, and one giving rise to an unbelievable sensory overload. I want to create a kind of respite. A moment in which to immerse yourself, to take time for yourself. I’m quite satisfied if people go for a simple visual stroll through my works.

This is the fourth photo series that you’ve produced. What has changed in your perception?

The narrative has become less important. Originally, my images aimed to create a little cinema of the mind; I wanted the viewer to think about what might have just happened, or what the person in the picture is feeling. That emphasis has lessened in my work; now I aim to address the feelings of the viewer directly. I want to use the naked body as a conduit to something essential.

The subject you’ve currently selected makes countless points of reference. Which of them are particularly important to you? 

Just like any first-year art undergraduate I had to get to grips with the Baroque, starting with Caravaggio and Artemisia Gentileschi. All of the work on display deals with this period and its use of chiaroscuro to abstract away from the figures.

For you, nudes have nothing to do with eroticism – why not?

For me, the naked body is something unprotected, something vulnerable. I have nothing against sex or eroticism, but in this project I wanted to use the naked body as an emotional vehicle, as a way into the essential. Motifs in photography have to deal with the filter which we people of the modern age have had to construct. Were we to catapult a time traveller two hundred years forwards into our present day, he would be an absolute wreck within days. We have learned to apply a filter, and it was eroticism that was first subjected to this filtering process. In this context I find little creative opportunity in the visual language of photography. To be honest, I find contemporary erotic photography boring, and true eroticism is a personal thing.

How did you come to “invent” multi-layered photography?

Hah, I like “inventing”. I see it somewhat differently, but will have to digress briefly to explain. My last big project was “Hanjo”, a hand-crafted book with a very small print-run of 25 editions. It was based visually on early Japanese collodion wet plate photographs, which in their time were hand-colored by artists. I also studied the works of Peter Beard, who painted onto his prints, thereby creating unique pieces. An artist who inspires me very much is Tina Berning, who slices apart motifs from Michelangelo di Battista, recombines them using fabric, thread, nails and paperclips, before painting over the work. The physical post-processing gave rise to the possibility of leading the viewer into the image, either directly toward the key element or past it, offering a secondary discovery. I wanted to go beyond the simple print to something more hand-crafted, and I rely on manufacturing techniques to create the different physical layers.

The physicality of the images is also to be found across two levels. What criteria guide your choice of crops? 

At first it was frustration. The project didn’t want to take flight, creatively. I was dissatisfied but liked various elements of the motifs. I had an awful lot to do in the meantime and didn’t get a chance to make new pictures. So I sat at the computer and edited existing images, zooming to and fro. At some point I came back from fetching a coffee in the kitchen and saw a detail which filled the entire screen. I had found something very aesthetic and mysterious. It wasn’t enough for me though, as the motif without a context made no sense. I wanted to show more, and so I started thinking about various materials.

Does the image structure arise during the shoot, or do you have the finished picture in mind beforehand?

At this point I do, yes. Once I had mastered the visual language it was easy for me to conceive the motifs from the outset. But in the very beginning it would come as a surprise, discovering the most interesting elements only after the shoot.

Staged photography is the newest form of high visual art. Photography plays the poor sister to painting… What’s your view?

Well, that way of thinking doesn’t bother me, but I see staged photography more as a daughter than a poor sister. There has been painting since humanity began expressing itself creatively. Staged photography is the newest form of high visual art. Yes, there are photographers who run around with their cameras and have their own style. But at the end of the day that’s just a form of photo journalism. To stage a complete motif, to place every element, to invent it completely – that’s got something of painting about it.

What photographers inspire you? 

Gregory Crewdson is the great master of modern staged photography. Erwin Olaf has a very distinct palette of colors. Artists like Christian Tagliavini or Paulo Ventura make fantastic sets and costumes. Izima Kaoru was one of the first to break out of fashion’s visual filter, as was Miles Aldridge. And then of course there’s David LaChapelle, who is absolutely fearless when it comes to new visual interpretations of stories.

Why are your works generally one-off pieces?

I refuse to engage in the insanity of editions. Doing so has nothing to do with art, it’s just a cursed business model left over from the origins of photographic art. Photography had been discovered as an art form, yet there was the problem that technology made it possible to produce multiple prints. At the time the idea of reproduction was an inherent form driving the art. So that led to limited print runs. But there’s no real reason for it anymore, other than that it’s possible. Some sculpture is based on cast copies, but it’s actually an exception as far as the art world goes. I find it thrilling to make an image that I will probably never see again.

There are several craftspeople involved in the process. How do you keep control?

It’s like construction management on some level. My retoucher edits the final production files, and that involves a huge effort, including a series of full-scale test prints. After that, Recom Art takes over the production. They print the pieces using their own procedure for waxed, ditone paper. Meanwhile, the matt acrylic diasecs arrive from Grieger in Dusseldorf so that Thein & Rios, the fine art metalworkers, can prepare the internal and external frames. The different elements are then assembled into the final piece of art. In the early stages of the project I tried welding the steel myself but that didn’t work at all.

What makes you happy?

Spending time with my three sons.

Exhibition: Yoram Roth “Personal Disclosure”

19th September – 14th November 2015
CWC GALLERY // Auguststraße 11–13 // 10117 Berlin
Opening times: Tuesday – Saturday 11.00–19.00 // Free admission

 

Interview – Open Journal

Open Journal’s Cathy Marshall interviewed me recently, here it is:

German fine art photographer Yoram Roth is a man of many talents. From set construction and garment creation to floral arranging, Yoram is involved with almost every detail involved in the production of his highly considered images. By utilising techniques generally used within commercial imagery, Yoram sells narrative over product. He plays with the familiar language of fashion photography to lure the viewer into an open state, ready to receive a narrative.

His most recent project, Hanjo, speaks of the courage of committing to true love. A step in a fresh direction given that many of his previous images are highly sexualised. In Roth’s words, Hanjo is “like living sculpture”. The story is based upon a 15th Century Nôh Play (Japanese opera) and has come together in photo book form, which Roth explains is the ideal medium for photography.

On the eve of his visit to Tokyo Photo and the release of Hanjo, Yoram talks to Cathy Marshall about Hanjo, how to perfect a project, and recently being picked up by Camera Work in Berlin.

Your work is incredibly controlled and meticulously executed; do you have a background in commercial photography?  

I have never shot anything commercially. I really went to great lengths to acquire the skills and style to shoot this way, but it was clear to me that I did not want to pursue an actual career in commercial photography. I believe a lot of people really underestimate the effort it takes to become a fashion photographer.

I think it is “easy” to create pretty pictures in nearly any fashion style. It will take some accumulated experience and some high-end tools, but anyone can learn to shoot well. Not to sound snarky, but there are thousands of fashion photographers on PhotoVogue right now, with some great images. That doesn’t make them accomplished fashion photographer, just shooters who know how to shoot in that style.

I studied with certain photographers. Melissa Rodwell was one of my teachers, and she is now actually part of the team that is launching Breed, an online school for high-end commercial and fashion photography. That’s a stellar group of masters to learn from. What people misunderstand is the entire universe beyond image creation. As a commercial photographer you really need to run a business. You have to be able to execute consistently, on time, and on budget. Conversely as an artist, you need to be very deliberate about the creative choices you make. Sure, plenty of people are willing to buy a nice-looking print and hang it on their wall; that’s not art, that’s decoration. Art requires more. And as an artist, you need to communicate your creative intent. You also need to get out there and show it to galleries, at fairs, and to collectors.

A large number of young photographers get very mad when I say this, but I really don’t believe it’s possible to start two careers simultaneously. Either be a commercial photographer, or a photographic artist. You can’t do both, they’re very distinct lives, and it takes years to get any traction. Yes, you create strong images, but that’s pretty much all the two careers have in common. I can think of a number of names who sort of do both, but that’s not how they started. Whether it is Erwin Olaf, David LaChapelle, or Izima Kauro, they each come from a specific creative place. Also… things are different now. Not to sound my age, but when we were still shooting film there was a LOT fewer photographers out there.

Not to mention that each industry is wary of the other. The art world wants to work with committed artists when dealing with photographers who are emerging, not someone who is dabbling on the side. There are plenty of talented creative people, but talent is not enough. The galleries want to know that an artist is fully committed if they in turn commit their limited resources. The same holds true for a commercial agency. The photographer should not be a neophyte with a unique vision; the agent needs to rely on this person to execute an important part of someone’s campaign. A good agency will expend substantial time and energy building up a commercial career.

How does the stylistic reference to fashion photography enhance the stories within your work?

Modern people see thousands of images every day. On websites, in magazines, and selling us products and services from every conceivable surface… walls, buses, high-rises, billboards. There are marvellously beautiful, perfectly cast people smiling down at us. The images let us know that if we buy these products – if we use these services – if we take that trip – we will be better. Not quite as good as those incredible people in the advertisement, but better. They promise us that others will find us more attractive, or that we will be safer, or more respected by the community.

That wasn’t always the case. Until very recently, people only saw images occasionally. Go back four or five long generations, and people saw maybe one or two images a day… and before that, it would be a painting at a rich man’s house, or something dramatic in church. Those paintings served the same purpose… though they were selling a slightly different product. They would illustrate stories from the bible for the illiterate public, but the images also did something beyond being narrative. They let the beholder know that if they were pious, it would make them better. Not quite as good as the saints, but it would make them more attractive in the eyes of God, it would make them safer, it would make them respectable.

People have developed image filters. We had to over the last forty years. When dealing with so many images every day, we have learned to look and promptly dismiss what we’re being shown. We look, and instantly understand we’re supposed to use a certain body spray, buy a car, go on an adventure, or simply smell like we might. We filter them out of our conscience.

But it is exactly at this point where I find creative opportunity. By using the language of commercial and fashion photography… Showing beautiful models, well-cast character actors, agile dancers, all placed inside narrative images, I breach the viewer’s image filter. The viewer recognises the familiar language… but nothing is being sold; the filter breaks down. It is unclear what is being pitched, what the product is… and that is where I try to tell stories, to engage the mind that back-fills the missing narrative.

Hanjo was conceptualised as a printed publication.  How important is the book as an object to you?  

Extremely. I consider the photo book to be the ideal medium for photography. The viewing distance is perfect, as is the way it fills the field-of-view. But more importantly, you can spend as much or as little time with an image as you like. In a gallery you’re often forced to move along, or worse – expected to stand there when you really want to walk away.

You are very interested in the notion of the story. Your work references German children’s stories, Edward Hopper paintings and Japanese plays. Does this make creating a series of work important, in which to take the viewer on an equivalent journey?

I prefer images that invite a narrative, and I work in series. Sometimes I tell a story, and other times I leave room for the viewer to figure things out. However I have done work that relies simply on visual context. I shot an homage to Christo & Jean-Claude’s early work, and that was simply image-driven.

The sets for your most recent body of work ‘Hanjo’ are even more elaborate then those constructed for your older series. They include not only the backgrounds and set itself, but traditional clothing, paintings, tapestries, floral arrangements etc. How much time goes into pre-production, compared to shooting and post?

Hanjo was 80% pre-production. I created an eighty page document with endless mood boards, sketches, quotes, ideas, etc. I spent about nine months going into deep geek-out mode on all things Floating World. I went into this total obsession with all things Japanese. I even went there, and bought all kinds of fans, fabrics, and other little props.

Ultimately I shot it in three days, with a team of eight people. Hanjo was more like a movie production in that I had a complete shot list of about seventy images in ten distinct scenes that I needed to capture. It’s the last time I shoot like that. I made it work, but it really leaves no room for creative experimentation. There’s one scene that I wanted to play with some more… but I couldn’t make the light work the way I wanted, and I was running out of time. So I had to skip my idea. But it’s a really efficient use of resources, there’s a reason films get shot with a script and a shooting schedule.

‘Hanjo’ is an homage to Yukio Mishima’s version of the 15th Century Nôh play, (think opera).   Were your images based directly from stills from the play or were they from your mind, inspired by the play?

They are completely new. A traditional Nôh performance is actually more like living sculpture. There are very specific poses with masks that the performer needs to hold while reciting the lines. Hanjo is really a bunch of ideas all tossed together. I really love those hand-colored images from Japan that were created in the 1860s right up to the turn of that century. They’re beautiful. But I also went through this phase of reading every graphic novel I could find, spending all my time at Forbidden Planet in New York or Golden Apple down on Melrose in LA. I still think this is an incredibly powerful medium for telling a story, and I am surprised more photographers aren’t creating hybrid forms like this. My Hanjo isn’t a photographic comic book, it’s really more of a dream sequence – but that fits in this case, so much of Nôh is otherworldly anyway.

Your images are often highly sexualized, such as the Hopper’s Americans: Stories From Sun-Lit Rooms series. Is this something you adhere to for a particular reason?

Good heavens, wait till you see what I am currently working on… I expect to be banned from certain countries. Yeah, sexuality matters. But I’m still formulating my take on that, so it will have to wait another year until I explain it further.

You have recently been picked up by Camera Work in Berlin who also represents the likes of Stephen Klein and Nadav Kander. Do you feel this representation has solidified you as a contemporary photographer in Germany?

Very much. Working with CAMERA WORK means I have time. Everything changed. For several years I was shooting various projects as quickly as possible in an effort to realise my visions, because I wanted to create a body of work that I could point to. Now suddenly the mission is the opposite. Go slow. Focus on perfecting a project. It’s become a very different creative process. I’ve been shooting a single project for over a year now, and it affords me considerable creative luxury. My gallery has told me repeatedly that they’re happy to put on a show, with one caveat: I need to feel that it’s ready. They are very committed to building their emerging artists, and they realise it takes many years. CAMERA WORK has an incredible roster of artists, and living up to my place amongst them really means not showing new work until it’s ready.

Interview – Yellowtrace

An interview with me was published by Yellowtrace today. I talk about Hanjo, and how the pictures were created.

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Berlin based fine art photographer, Yoram Roth, takes a strong conceptual approach with his multilayered and visually arresting work. His style extends beyond the fleeting nature of spontaneous snapshots – his images require conscious planning, conceptual development and careful orchestration of a number of elements that play a significant role in his image making. Recently picked up by the respected GALERIE CAMERA WORK in Berlin, Roth will soon be exhibiting his work at several upcoming art fairs throughout Europe and Australasia, including Tokyo Photo (27th – 30th September) where he will present his highly exclusive limited edition photo book. And you’ve seen it here first.

Featured Project // Hanjo series – a modern day interpretation of a Japanese Nôh Opera. Amazing!

Why Yoram Rocks // His fine arts images rely on an intricate production process, elaborate film sets, props, decorative elements, make up and hairstyling. Any man that manages to unite elements of design, fashion, photography and narrative is a bit of a legend if you ask me.

Below is a little Q&A with the artist. Oh and by the way, I believe this is our first international interview. Can we please have a round a HOORAYS for that? Thanks, you guys are awesome.

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+ Hello Yoram! Welcome to Yellowtrace. Could you please give us a quick introduction on yourself.

I’m born and raised in Berlin, but as an adult I lived in London, New York, and Los Angeles for an aggregated 24 years. I recently moved back to Berlin, because I want my three sons to grow up there. I am a photographic artist, and I create images in the studio. I build the sets, choose or design the clothes, and work collaboratively with a small team of stylists, hair & make-up people, assistants and fellow artists. I use the language and tools of fashion photography to create narrative images.

+ What are you seeking to portray in your work? What is fundamental to your practice – your philosophy and your process?

Every project of mine has a different feel, a distinct reason why I embark on it. I don’t approach my work in terms of single images, but rather as overall series. Of course each image must be representative, an integral part of a project. My Hopper’s American Series reflects that moment just before or after something happened, and it is unclear whether that is a good or a bad thing. It’s how I was feeling at the time, and it is clearly visible in that series. The Forest was about my quest for the Feminine in its pure form, freed from bourgouis constraints. Hanjo was about people who lack either the opportunity or the courage to commit to real love.

+ There is a very strong narrative behind the Hanjo series. How did this project came about and what was the story you set out to capture?

The story isn’t mine, it’s a 15th Century Nôh play that was one of several adapted by Yukio Mishima in the 1950s. But I fell in love with the characters, and wanted to retell it as a photographic novel. Everything other than the story was conceived by me. I was really into Japanese culture for a while, not so much the modern Anime stuff, but the whole concept of the Floating World. I was fascinated by hand-colored photography, and looking at the Meiji era reveals that transition between feudal, traditional Japan and the modern world. I wanted to capture that in Hanjo. They live traditional lives: Hanako is a geisha and Jitsuko is a painter. but modern elements such as the train station or a newspaper drive the story. I like the idea that media can interrupt a perfectly arranged life. It becomes the Deus ex Machina.

+ The images in the Hanjo series are absolutely exquisite and almost surreal. Could you reveal some of the things that go into creating these photographs, from building sets to post production?

I designed the sets to incorporate all these traditional elements like furniture, translucent windows, or floral arrangements. But I shot it digitally, and then went through a very specific layering of the images to create the feel of albumen colors on collotypes. If you look carefully, there’s even motion blur… but not where you expect it. My stylist and I also made most of the clothing. One of the great advantages of living in a creative city like Berlin is that I can tap into the large prop shops that cater to theatre and the film industry. I can get everything from whole rooms, uniforms and instruments all the way down to jewelery for any narrative project, regardless how outlandish the idea.

+ Any interesting/ funny/ quirky facts you could share with us about this project?

My mother really loves Asian furniture, and owns some authentic and rather expensive pieces, so most of what you see was actually raided from her place.

+ Best piece of advice I’ve been given…

“If you don’t know, ask.” That sounds sort of stupid and really obvious, but it wasn’t. When I was a young man I thought I better not admit weakness, better not show ignorance, and pretend I know everything. But of course people see through that, and the learning process is super-slow. At some point I just had this “A-ha” moment that if I ask someone, they will gladly tell me. I realised people love to share information, and most people will even teach or mentor. I still do this all the time… It’s probably the greatest tool I have, because pretty much anything can be learned, and there is no limit to that scale. Go ahead… try it. Ask people what they do. Keep asking, they’re usually quite proud of what they do, pleased that someone is actually interested, and happy to teach you.

+ My most treasured belonging is…

Nothing. I’m pretty unsentimental when it comes to objects. I had a watch that I treasured but it was lost. If anything, I’m like a child because I really like new things, especially gadgets and camera gear. Beyond that I prefer my memories, and the people in my life. That isn’t supposed to sound greeting-card corny, I’m just really happy with the people around me. I have great friends, and it’s the time with them that matters most. I really love endless wine-fueled dinners with people willing to talk about art, life, or those endless spiralling conversations that happen with people who are intelligent and aware. I put substantial effort into maintaining friendships made throughout life, in all the places I’ve lived, and am quite proud of this extended family I’ve been able to build.

+ It’s not very cool, but I really like…

Motion-activated light switches. I have them in my basement, and it still makes me feel very futuristic… but then I’ll be working on something, and the on-cycle is too short, so suddenly I’m sitting in the dark, waving my arms around, assuming that I’m surrounded by monsters…

+ Most people don’t know that I…

… am a pretty decent cook.

Interview – Tabacchi

Last week I conducted an online interview with Enrico Tabacchi, a fellow photographer as well as blogger based out of Milan.

You can read the whole interview at his site including some of the images that he selected from my Color Room Series as well as my Hopper’s Americans Series.

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Yoram Roth is a Berlin-based photographer. I love his work and for this reason I wanted to interview him. His photography is a constant reference to classical art but with the addition of a modern aesthetic.

Three Adjectives to Describe Yoram.

Focused, concept-driven, gregarious.

How would you describe your photography?

Pensive, deliberate, beautiful.

What is photography for you?

An opportunity to tell little visual poems, and to create a launching point for stories that unfold in the viewer’s imagination.

What would you do, and who would you be if photography wasn’t part of your life?

I would be a Guy in a Suit, probably doing real estate deals, with some minor creative outlets on the side… and a small combination of pain, anger and shame for lacking the courage to do what I really want to do.

Your hard disk fails. You can save 3 photos. Which ones to do you hope to preserve, and why?

This is not a fun answer… but that would never happen to me. I am so crazy about back-ups and data storage that it will never happen… because I have already twice lost image files. Once shooting with a good friend who was not a photographer but wanted to explore it with me, and once after a week-long trip to Tokyo in preparation for “Hanjo.”

You win the lottery. You have enough money to buy three paintings of your choice, by any artist, which ones would you choose?

Jeff Wall, “Siphoning Gas”, 2008

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I would have never thought so, but when I stood in front of Jeff Wall’s “Siphoning Gas” I was moved to tears. The story that unfolded in my mind connected with every single part of my life, and I actually cried a little. I hope to own this piece some day, even though it is not beautiful in a conventional way.

Artemisia Gentileschi, “Judith slaying Holofernes”, 1618

judith

I would love to own Artemisa Gentileschi’s second version of “Judith slaying Holofernes” which I saw at the Uffizi recently. I consider her the greatest of the Caravaggisti, and this painting is technically spectacular. I love the attention to detail, such as the beautiful bracelet. When you stand in front of it, you realise that there is blood spray sprinkled across the canvas, and you can imagine her finishing the painting by flicking red paint from her fingers on to the face of a painted man who in her mind deserved to die.

David LaChapelle, “Flaccid Passion”, 2010

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I plan on owning a large print of David LaChapelle’s “Flaccid Passion” from his Earth Laughs in Flowers series. It is extremely erotic, beautiful and elegant all at the same time. One thing all of these pieces have in common is that you don’t realise how powerful they are until you are in front of them. On a web site, or in a book, they don’t work, you need to see the real thing.

Reading your blog I’ve noticed that you like poetry. Do you think that there is a link between photography and poetry?

There is for me. The poems which I like capture a mood or a feeling without describing it directly, and that defines a great image as well. I actually once created a photo workshop that took a poem and asked the photographers to capture that feeling photographically.

I love your Color Project, how did this idea come to you?

I actually tell that story on my blog. My work over the last couple of years has often been inspired by artists that have gone before me. About two years ago I developed a school-boy crush on a Danish artist named Vilhelm Hammershøi, a contemporary of the Skågen School of painting. He worked around 1880 ­- 1920, and used a wonderful soft light. The rooms he depicted were almost always his own house.

I had just finished my Hopper’s Americans but still loved the creative process of building set-rooms and telling stories within them. I decided to create a set that looked a lot like Hammershøi’s house, and to shoot a project that used his soft light, different than I had been in my previous work. The project failed almost immediately. I had a good model, but the clothes made it virtually impossible to tell the kind of stories I like. She was drowning in heavy fabrics, and they give little opportunity for
physical nuance. Instead the images came out looking like something from the cover of a fancy candy box, something that Sarotti or Quality would put on their biscuit tins. Worse, I had given my stylist very little guidance, and we ended up with looks that were way to exaggerated for the subdued images I wanted to create.

I got so mad at myself that I went to my studio at some point on a Saturday night, got out a very large bucket of grey/blue paint, and blasted Joy Division while repainting the whole set a solid color. I used a big fat bushy brush to slather the entire set, covering the walls, the decorative sconces, the chairs and tables all in a dark tone that reflected my mood. I was embarrassed, because the new project I had hoped for evaporated in front of me. I knew I should have focused on quieter images, more pensive poses.

Now I realize that it is not where I wanted to go creatively. I love the light. But I am so intrigued by the visual language of motion, which is utterly out of place in such a project. I admire Desiree Dolron’s most recent work, but it is not the kind of images I wanted to create at that moment. They are too static. I wanted something with heavy motion.

You’ve worked on several projects, which one do you think is the most important and why?

I know this sounds like every parent in the world, but I love all my “children” equally. Of course I am the most proud of the one getting attention at the moment, and right now that is my first series. I shot “Hopper’s Americans” almost four years ago – before a lot of other photographers began copying Hopper, I would like to point out. At the time it meant a real life change for me, and it is reflected in the images I created. I didn’t know what was coming next, whether it was a good or bad thing, and I felt like I was suspended. Those ended up being the strongest images, and they define that series. I am also extremely proud of “Hanjo” which I will get to introduce at Tokyo Photo in Japan between September 27 – 30, 2013.

I know you are working on a new project called “The Sacred & The Profane.” Do you want to show us something? What are your plans for the future?

Right now I am showing very little about that project. I am not really sure where it is going. It started as something very different, but its meaning to me has changed. For some time I was very focused on traditional Judeo-Christian religions, but I am less interested in that now. It has become more about the Feminine, and I’m not afraid to use the language of Beauty while pushing into topics that are not easy.

Interview – Drome

Drome Magazine, Italy’s foremost art magazine, did a big feature on my Hopper’s American series. The magazine and website gets published in English as well as Italian, and having an Italian-language interview describing my work helped greatly during my art fair show in Milan last week.

Here is the Interview in English, though the opener must have been written in Italian first:

Deliberate, timeless, reduced to essentials. That’s how the German photographer Yoram Roth describes his style. On May 9th, he will exhibit his work at MIA – Milan Image Art Fair in Milan. He is one of the few artists able to use the language of fashion photography as a raw material. The glamorous aesthetic is just an element mixed with a narrative approach, aiming to create a story condensed in one shot and new interpretation of pictures. A method that is influenced by paintings, and that’s why the Hopper’s Americans project (2009) is an homage to Edward Hopper. Probably, what makes Yoram Roth’s style so peculiar is the skill in portraying a model without being focused only on her beauty or pose, putting in that way the concept on the back burner. On the contrary, he always succeeds in curbing the fancy nuances, paying all the attention to the feelings created. It happens in Struwwelpeter, the photographic recreation of a children story from 1846, as well as in Hanjo, the adaption of Yukio Mishima’s version of the 15th Century Noh play.

DROME: You live and work in Berlin, a city that influenced a lot of artists, musicians, directors and so on. Can you tell me how Berlin affected your work?
Yoram Roth: My images are staged and constructed, and they happen collaboratively. Berlin has a huge creative community, which makes it possible to create my images. There is a deep talent pool of people to draw from. The large movie industry here means there is a lot of set builders, stylists, and other creative contributors to work with. There are also endless actors and models who are willing to take chances. This is in part driven by the large artistic community. In a city where everyone is trying to achieve something new, something unique, something that has creative impact, the people in front of the camera are less likely to be governed by fear as they might be in New York or Paris these days. In the fashion and television centers around the world, a nude picture might ruin a lucrative contract, or a political statement is considered too risquée. The contrary is true in Berlin – the people want to create something provocative.

D: Could you tell me which aspects of fashion photography you find more interesting?
YR: I use both the mundane aspects of fashion photography, and the more ethereal. On the production side, I find myself working with models, hair & make-up teams, and lighting gear. That’s all pretty straight forward. But I love to play with the ethereal nature of fashion imagery. We have come to accept fashion models as the ideals of beauty of our time. Usually those images are created to help sell a product, to make the viewer believe that wearing these glasses, that suit, those shoes will take us that closer to heavenly perfection. It’s not unlike the depiction of saints in baroque painting. But when I use elements of fashion photography my goal is to draw the viewer in… but there is no product, no service that is being sold. It’s confusing at first. We have learned to develop a visual filter in our time. No generation in human history has been visually confronted with as much imagery as we have. So the mind must dismiss it as quickly as possible. Coffee machine, got it. Buy a car. Go on holiday somewhere exotic. We do this all day long. But when you come across my images, you stop. And you’re in the image. And you’re not sure why… and then you need to understand the feelings I’m depicting. And that’s where the image filter breaks down, which is why I use elements of fashion photography.

D: Who are the photographers you admire the most?
YR: My great role model is Gregory Crewdson, but I also admire the work of Izima Kauro.

D: You paid a homage to the painter Edward Hopper. Besides the narrative approach, what do you think you have in common with him?
YR: When I saw the Hopper retrospective at the Whitney two years ago (after finishing my homage) it struck me that Hopper didn’t really care so much about the subjects in his image, their purpose was really to embody an emotion. Most of his characters are emotionless. The drama is suggested, not told. In photography the expressionless image is less successful, in part because of our different relationship to imagery from a world filled with product images. Nonetheless I placed as little emphasis on expression as purpose, and focused on the body rather than the face. I believe I share Hopper’s desire for the image to be a catalyst to the story, rather than the story itself. On a simpler note, I am an adherent of color theory, and limited myself to a very specific palette of subdued colors in the series.

D: How can a photo become a narrative one? How could you tell a story through the images?
YR: It’s not impossible to tell a story with one image, but it’s ultimately not that interesting. I have studied a lot of art history, and much of the religious paintings coming out of the Renaissance right up to Neo-Classicism told simple stories. And although many of them are absolutely beautiful, they leave little room for personal interpretation. But that’s exactly the point where an image becomes interesting. If you can study a picture, and piece together your own story, then an image becomes narrative beyond telling a story. The world is filled with beautiful decorative pictures, but they don’t give you room to think for yourself.

D: Your images are laden with details. So, what’s the relationship between a picture and its details?
YR: I try to place elements that serve the narrative that gets constructed by the viewer. In my Hopper’s Americans series, I put media devices such as telephones and radios into almost every image, but also books. These provide the viewer with a context for the subject’s experience. Is she waiting for a phone call? Did he just hear something important on the news? What was she reading? But these elements also provides a way out of the image that isn’t physical. There’s always a window or a door, but a radio goes elsewhere. As a narrative photographer, the elements must serve several purposes, much like a painter places objects in his frame. They have to have symbolic value, they have to contribute aesthetically, and they have to be contextual.

D: On 9th May, you will exhibit at MIA – Milan Image Art Fair. Can you tell me your expectations and your fears about the show?
YR: Milan is known for good taste, so of course I hope to be particularly well received and successful. I’m worried about getting lost between so many of the big names that are represented there, but I take pride in being a part of it.

text by Gabriele Girolamini

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Originally published by Drome Magazine on May 8th, 2013

Interview – Stilbruch – German TV

One of Germany’s better cultural round-up programs is Berlin’s Stilbruch, an excellent weekly show that reports on cultural events going on in town and around the city. I was invited to provide context and offer differentiation between pornography vis-a-vis fine art nude imagery as part of Berlin’s Museum für Fotografie‘s new exhibition Die Nackte Wahrheit / The Naked Truth.
Be warned. It’s about nude photography in the early days. And it’s in German. And they used a funny walking sequence of me for some reason at the very end.

Here’s the museum’s blurb on the show:

At the dawn of the last century, photographs of nudes could be found everywhere. The exhibition ‘The Naked Truth and More Besides’ presents the astonishing diversity of photographic depictions of the disrobed human body that existed around this time. It was an age in which the foundations were laid for the development in the public domain of an extremely varied type of image, which, more than any other, continues to inform the world in which we live today.

Most striking of all, the photographic nude appeared as a reproducible medium – on postcards, cigarette cards, posters, in magazines and in advertising, as inspiration for artists and an incentive for sportsmen, as instructional material, and as collector’s items. From the vast array of material, it is possible to identify several distinct groups that fall under such headings as: the mass produced, visual pleasures (arcadias, eroticism, and pornography), the body in the eye of science (ethnography, motion-study photography, medicine), the cult of the body (reform movements – especially in German-speaking countries – naturism, ‘Free Body Culture’, and staged nudes from the world of sport and variety shows), and, of course, the nude in the artistic context (art academies and the Pictorialist tradition of fine-art prints). The most important characteristic of the image of naked people during this time is the inseparability of nude photographic production and reproduction.

The trade or exchange in nude photographs was widespread across the whole of Europe. This is reflected in today’s exhibition, which not only features many treasures and rare finds from the Kunstbibliothek’s own Collection of Photography, but also includes important loans from several European institutions, ranging from the Bibliothèque nationale de France to the Police Museum of Lower Saxony.

Interview – Creative Motion Design

Some months ago Creative Motion Design conducted an interview with me about my Hopper’s Americans series:

{CMD}

This body of work speaks for itself…Yoram Roth, talented visionary is telling a story and capturing more than just an image…It’s narrative art. Avant-garde, Seductive…worth a second look for sure.

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Yoram Roth was born and raised in Berlin, Germany, but lived in London, New York and then Los Angeles for over 25 years. Although he studied photography in New York in the late 1980s, he ultimately pursued a business career in the entertainment industry. After 20+ years of success he decided to pursue his life-long dream of creating photographic art.

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{Why and when did you become a photographer?}

I’ve been shooting since my university days, but I got really back into it with the advent of digital photography. I have no romantic longings for spending days in a dark room breathing chemicals, so when new technology allowed me to work with my images while sitting at a desk, I got re-engaged. I learned Photoshop a long time ago, and was a very active member of the early photoblogging community. I was still very involved in business, and I tried a number of styles to accommodate that lifestyle… I was doing a LOT of traveling, so I was doing a sort of Street Photography shooting. For a while I was working on a series named “Arrivals and Departures” in which I was shooting my life in airports… and Yes, that title is a nod to Garry Winogrand.

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It was frustrating though because the truly great images were really tied to luck, you had to have something going on to capture something really compelling. I was also trying to shoot Architecture, or at least some Urban Landscapes, and I learned to respect that craft… it takes a LOT of preparation and timing to shoot certain cityscapes – the sun has to be right, the light… I can see why Ansel Adams scouted his locations for years before nailing the timing, and then he still switched out the skies in the dark room to get the perfect image.

Ultimately I found my images boring, I always felt they needed something human in them. And as weird as it sounds, I never really felt they were my images… A good street image is a bit of luck, a good architecture shot is ultimately derivative because it is based on someone else’s building… and so on. I really like to control every conceivable element, so over the last few years I have become very focused on telling stories. Sometimes I do little snippets like Hopper’s Americans where every image is a little question, or longer narrative pieces like Hanjo which is a photographic retelling of a Yukio Mishima play. I build the sets, I control the lights, I determine the models, the hair and make-up, and even make some of the clothes. I don’t want to take too much credit here though. These are my images, but such a production requires a team, almost like a little film production. I have a good team that knows what I want, so we communicate with a good short-hand at this point.

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{How would you describe your style of photography?}

I create narrative images using the language of fashion photography.

{What is your most difficult challenge in the business?}

It is very hard to find a community of other photographers with whom to discuss some of the more conceptual aspects of this art form. There’s plenty of people on the internet talking about gear or technique, but it’s hard to get a dialog going about why a certain decision was made creatively, or where a choice may have failed.

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{Where would you like to see your talents take you?}

I want to find a serious gallerist who will guide me in my creative endeavors, and help me get my books published.

{Who or what is your biggest source of inspiration?}

Gregory Crewdson is a role model for me, as is Izima Kauro. But ultimately I come back to literature and especially music as a source of inspiration.

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{Tell us little about your studio}

Ah, my new playground. I just rented a ridiculously large space in an old weapons factory in Berlin. 1,100 square meters (that’s over 12,000 square feet) in which I can build my sets and keep them up for weeks at a time. The last few years always created pressure cookers – elaborate sets were designed and then built, but then had to be shot and struck within a few days… so that left little room for experimentation beyond the initial shot list and certain preconceived lighting set-ups. Now I can spend hours alone in the studio, shoving lamps around my space, playing with various flags, cutters , gobos and lightshapers, and just having fun in general. I’ve also got a small gallery space in which I hang my work so I can see what it feels like – none of this counts as long as it just sits on the website. It needs to get printed and hung.

But for most photography, the perfect medium is the photo book, and I am pleased to announce my newest publication, The Americans. Please contact me directly for sales.

Other than that I am extremely active on Facebook, so please follow me on Facebook where I post mainly maudlin quotes from poets who do with words what I try to accomplish with images.

Thanks, I hope to meet you all online, or at one of my events.

Creative Motion Design is a fabulous company, I have recommended their service to a number of photographers and painters. They provide a full service solution, because they have really cool templates for art and images, they do the hosting, but most importantly: the back-end makes a ton of sense. As an artist I want to show, hide or rearrange images from my series. I want that to be easy and intuitive, and I have no interest in learning any sort of code. CMD does exactly that. Check ’em out if you need a straight-forward solution.