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