Landscape Stories: Which are the photographers who have influenced you the most?
Hans-Christian Schink: Just to name a few: In the very beginning it was–and in a way it still is–the work of Josef Sudek which I really loved. As for almost all who did b/w street photography, Cartier-Bresson was also one of my heroes. Sometimes I think the work of Josef Koudelka is of deeper empathy. As is the work of Robert Frank. Later the Bechers and their use of light were crucial. Their students like Gursky, Ruff and Struth were important too. Some years ago I discovered the work of Carleton Watkins who for me is one of the greatest photographers of the 19th century. But the photographer I truly admire is Robert Adams.
Landscape Stories: How much have the “New Topographics” movement and Land Art been a source of inspiration for you when you started to search for your photographic style?
Hans-Christian Schink: When I began studying at the Academy of Visual Arts in Leipzig in 1986, little was known in East Germany about “New Topographics”. Land Art as well was not very popular. It took quite a while to realize the importance of that movement. From a certain point it was more an affirmation than an inspiration.
Landscape Stories: You have some ideas you want realize. How do you develop your project?
Hans-Christian Schink: I usually don’t have an elaborate concept. There are some basic ideas and a general point of view. But in most cases the inspiration comes from exploring a place. I need to find–and feel–something that connects me with it. The 1h series is an exception. Here the concept was crucial but it evolved over a period of five or six years.
Landscape Stories: Referring to “Traffic Projects”, what attracted you towards landscape, urban spaces and architecture?
Hans-Christian Schink: It was the combination of all of this and the fact that the landscape where all these changes happened was the one I grew up living there. It had the inevitable ambiguity of gain and loss. I saw something disappear that was home for me after all, but I also took advantage from this situation.
Landscape Stories: What’s the piece of work that best represents your research and in which you see yourself in, the most?
Hans-Christian Schink: It’s hard to tell and it also has changed over time. Of course some of the images from the Traffic Projects series are among my favored. Don’t ask for a particular one. The undoubtedly highlight of the 1h series is “1/05/2010, 5:46 pm – 6:46 pm, S 06°26.486‘ E 039°27.776‘”, in it’s very abstract appearance.
Landscape Stories: Your portfolio contains portraits of places like Niigata, Vietnam or Peru. What drew you to those places? How do you find projects that you consider interesting?
Hans-Christian Schink: It’s always different. The Niigata series is a result of an invitation to participate in the long term photo project “European Eyes on Japan” for which every year three photographers from Europe are invited to work in one of the Japanese prefectures. See http://eu-japanfest.org/english/program/photo_project.html.
Peru was a place I was longing to go to from when I was a teenager and very much interested in pre-columbian culture. But after the wall came down all the things that happened in Germany were much more of interest to me than traveling to far away places. Eventually I decided to go there only if I had the feeling it could be more than a touristic trip for me. Millions of pictures have been taken in places like Machu Picchu but after an extensive research on existing images of this and other places I thought I should be able to do something that’s truly my own there.
The trip to Vietnam is a good example for what I said before. In the beginning of 2005 I noticed that it was the 30th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War. The question for me was if the landscape would still show something recognizable of the massive destruction of that time. I’m not talking about crashed US helicopters, though. But it turned out that somebody specialized in botanics might have been able to tell a difference between the original jungle, areas of reforestation or places where nature simply has recovered. Nothing to draw convincing images from. So I dropped the whole idea and just traveled around, curios about what might come along my way.
Landscape Stories: The project “1h” presents different places of the northern and the southern hemisphere depicting the “movement” of the sun during an exposure time of exactly one hour (solarization). Could you tell us something more about the creation of this project/book?
Hans-Christian Schink: The first time I used true solarization for one of my own works was in 1999. I had been invited to participate in a competition for a work of art for the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Jena. My concept, which was later realized, consisted of two multipart works. One is made up of three panels featuring abstract color gradations of a sky during the day, a sky at night, and the course of the sun, which appears as a solarized, black line on a white background. The idea for this came from a photograph taken by Hermann Krone in 1888. Unlike Krone, however, I pointed my camera straight at the sky in order to get a clean, linear image of the sun. But after that I didn’t continue working on the theme, since at the time I was concentrating entirely on my series Verkehrsprojekte Deutsche Einheit (Traffic Projects German Unity). It wasn’t until 2002 that I had an opportunity to think once more about using this phenomenon for a visual concept. I received a grant to spend three months at the Villa Aurora in Los Angeles. On a trip to the Mojave Desert in California, I was so fascinated by the landscape and the blazing light everywhere that all I wanted to do was to make something that could reproduce this almost unreal impression. I remembered Minor White’s photo Black Sun, which shows a winter landscape and the sun as a solarized, black dot—an accidental effect created when the camera shutter briefly frozen I wanted to try to use this effect, but with a longer exposure time as I did for the piece in Jena—but I wasn’t sure if any of the landscape would be recognizable at all. After I returned from Los Angeles, I started making the first test photos for the project in spring 2003. It turned out that the film I had used until then produced the degree of blackness that I wanted for the line of the sun, but just barely captured the impression of the landscape. And none of the other kinds of film using modern technology could even get close to the result I wanted. At the time, though, I was not working very persistently on realizing this idea for several reasons. For one, I was very busy working on other projects, and for another, I doubted whether it was possible to construct a solid concept from what was, for me, a rather atypical approach. Various technical and contextual issues, such as the exposure time or the use of different lenses, had still not been cleared up. Above all, though, I wondered if it would be possible for this kind of project to become something more than just a technical game. Nevertheless, I was still interested, and so I finally settled on an exposure time of one hour, since it’s the most commonly used unit of time. Also, I decided to work with only one lens because it seemed to be the best one for balancing out the length of the sun line in relation to the whole image. Bit by bit, I also became aware of this project’s hidden potential, since it deals with two of the most essential aspects of photography: light and time. And it does so in a very unusual, almost abstract way. I could reproduce the light of the sun without it being recognizable as such at first glance. I could depict the passage of time without it being immediately apparent in the photo. These pictures show a completely different reality of their own that is only perceivable through classic photographic means, and this, in turn, touches upon one of the key issues of the medium, namely, the ability to depict reality.
Landscape Stories: What excites me about some projects like 1h, L.A. Night and Walls is your desire to explore new directions and to think in a very conceptual way. Will be seeing more conceptual works in the future?
Hans-Christian Schink: I hope so. Looking back to the first steps of both the Traffic Projects and the 1h project, I couldn’t imagine to work on these projects for eight years each. And I think that’s the way I like it.
All works Courtesy of Rothamel Gallery Erfurt/Frankfurt, Kicken Gallery Berlin and De Zaal Gallery Delft
Interview curated by Gianpaolo Arena