Juan Carlos Romero from NAU NUA interviewed me last week, I found his questions to be intriguing. The introduction is tranlasted from Catalan:
Yoram Roth is a German photographer born in Berlin in 1968, where he lives and works. He completed his photography studies at Fordham University in 1990. He moved to USA and founded a company but in 2007 he decided to sell it and move back to Berlin to work in fine art photography. He works photography in his own studio always in sets designed by his team. He works with previous sketches and storyboards but always open to improvisation. However they are not spontaneous snapshots since everything is perfectly planned. For the final execution, he explores different materials such as acrylic, metal, and paper. The result is a completey unique piece because no photograph is used twice. In the last ten years he has been cropping his images but leaving the selected crop in its context. He works with different materials adding physical layers to the pieces.
He is currently presenting the exhibition “Spatial Concepts” which is going to be opened on the 27th of April at the CWC Gallery in Berlin. The selection features works from the series Spatial Concepts (2017 – 2018), Brutalism (2016) and Personal Disclosure (2014-2015), and they are the result of his investigations in fine art nude photography always looking to create spaces beyond the typical flat piece of art.
What is the purpose of art for you?
To give us a break from the quotidian. Everything we do in life is about something, and in that sense art is about nothing. It exists solely because the artist decided to make it. I know that neither art history bares that definition out, nor a lot of politicized contemporary art, but it works as a notional ideal.
How did you start in photography?
I went to an arts-oriented boarding school in New England. It was more fun to spend time in the dark room than down the hill at the pottery studio, especially since everyone I had a crush on was doing photography as well. Later, at Fordham University, I studied under Larry Fink. My work couldn’t be more different from his approach, but he taught me to pay attention to hands.
You always work in studio sets created by yourself. What advantages do you find working this way instead of portraying reality?
I’m a control freak. I’ve tried working on location, but I prefer creating my own environments. It’s also the primary reason I began to shoot nudes. I found relying on stylists and clothes to be a distraction in my creative process. I get a lot of disbelieving smirks when I say this, but fine art nude photography became interesting to me as the logical reduction to the minimum.
When do you consider that you are in front a very good photography?
I know it when I want to look at it, because usually I don’t. Most modern people have become that way. We see so many images nowadays. 200 years ago a person would see very few pictures, maybe a painting at church or in a rich man’s house, but not much else. Now we see thousands of photographs a day, but we have built visual filters that help us to ignore them. We’ve learned not to engage with the pictures intellectually, because they’re simply trying to sell us something. We know buying a certain product is supposed to make us safer, or more attractive, or richer. A very good photograph needs to stop me. It needs to break through my image filter. It can’t just be pretty or clever. We all have different filters though. It’s always interesting how ideals of beauty are mistrusted in our age of advertisement, or how some people see nudity and immediately dismiss it as porn.
Your most recent work is focusing in fine art nude photography, working with frames that allow the viewer to focus in concrete parts. What’s the concept behind this creative play with space, textures and frames always with nudity as the main element?
I call those frames crops, because there was a time when I was planning on simply cropping out those parts, and getting rid of the rest of the image. I was frustrated with some of the pictures I made. There were beautiful parts to them, but as a whole they didn’t work. I would like a shoulder or a pair of hands, but thought the rest of the image was bad. Then I realized I could draw the eye to the crop first, but still leave it in its original context. I began making these images on purpose: shoot an interesting photo, set a framed crop, and follow that with a second composition by embedding crops within obfuscation.
The current exhibition titled “Spatial Concepts” features works from the series Spatial Concepts, Brutalism and Personal Disclosure. What do the works selected have in common?
All my series make use of my crop style, but there’s definitely a development. The earliest work was about the sanctification of the body, and my light was informed by the Chiaroscuro style of Italian and Spanish baroque painters. There were actually two series I shot at the time. Quiet Devotion was still somewhat narrative and attempted to reinterpret, or at least cite, traditional story-telling art. Personal Disclosure was already a reduction and a focus on the human body as the source of divinity. Brutalism was a development. It changed to more complex sets that gave the human body a context. I wanted the curved figure amongst harsh and somewhat oppressive settings, but in a way that presented a juxtaposition. The subjects in my images are free of that oppression. Spatial Concepts goes beyond that. My subjects remain free, but the sets have become so important that they come through the surface. I wanted to go beyond photography. Light and shadow should catch on the edges of the piece I made, not just the sets in my photograph at the decisive moment of photography. Now the crops show a photo, but the rest of the piece changes throughout the day as the light moves.
How do you see the relation with nudity in the western society?
Anglo-Saxon culture has been a leading force in the Western world over the last 60 years, and their discomfort around nudity has affected us all. The extreme fetishization of sex and violence, and the glorification and vilification of both has made it a difficult subject. My work is not sexual in nature, but some people don’t want to see the difference. My gallery was ordered not to show my work at Photofairs San Francisco. It purports to be one of the leading photo art fairs in North America, but won’t show the female nude. In general though I think the art world has become asexualized. But maybe it’s always been that, some kind of bulwark against the fall of civilization. Historians have shown that male Renaissance sculptures always had small genitals because big ones were considered a sign of primitive intellect. I think that tells us all we need to know about the fears of art patrons.
In retrospective, how could you describe your artistic evolution?
The last ten years have definitely been about the crop. There’s a lot of other changes though: I use a very different light style in my images, and the poses have become a lot more focused on showing specific parts rather than the whole figure.
Could you choose one of your photographs and explain us why do you choose it and what is the concept behind?
“Denisa leaning on her Elbow” is a piece I’m very proud of. There’s a lot of new approaches here. Enrico Castellani was an inspiration to me, he was one of the Italian Spatialists and a member of ZERO movement. His work was really about texture that he created with canvas and nails, but I built mine up using a more contemporary process. The set element was designed on a computer and then laser-cut. We shot with it in my studio, and I then used parametric software and CNC-machining to bring those textures to life beyond the crops. The parts of the photo that aren’t in the crops actually extrude from the surface. But there are also two crops here, in various depths and sharpness. Finally, the light is also very different, you can see the vignettes of darkness moving against one another in the two crops.
Could you explain us a dream you had while sleeping or a memory from your childhood?
There is a reoccurring dream that I have about an abandoned palace in the desert, with yellowish sand everywhere, and red fabric hanging from some of the windows. It’s hot, but it’s the afternoon, and the sun has just started to sink toward the horizon. I can smell the place in my dreams, its dry and clean. It always feels safe and like home, even though it is clear no one lives there, and I’m alone. I guess everything is better in red and yella.
Yoram Roth – Spatial Concepts | Exhibition: 28 April – 9 June 2018 | CWC Gallery, Auguststrasse 11 – 13, 10117 Berlin, Germany