Landscape Stories: Could you describe your earliest experiences with photography, both as a viewer and an artist? What were your early interests as a photographer?
Reiner Riedler: I am a very curious person. I always liked to observe my surroundings. When I was 12 years old I got a camera at Christmas. I photographed our cats and dogs and did started some naive photographic experiments. My approach to photography was not trained at the very beginning. I just followed my instincts as a child concerning the things I photographed. I used to photograph for a local newspaper when I was 17 years old, but I still wish that I would have had an artistic mentor on my side at that time. My photographic education started quite late, so that I still feel that I miss something from that time.
Landscape Stories: What artists influenced the most your beginnings? Where can the roots of your work be found?
Reiner Riedler: As a photographer with an ethnological background I was always interested in travelling. Actually my career started as a photojournalist. I used to publish my stories, mostly self produced reportages in magazines. This knowledge about the way how media think and work is still essential also for my artistic projects. My first deep impact influences where the Magnum Photographers of that time like Sebastiao Salgado and of course Henry Cartier Bresson, later on Martin Parr. I also felt a closeness to Expressionism and Surrealism artists, later Romanticism painters like Caspar David Friedrich. Francisco de Goya was also important for me.
Landscape Stories: You started out studying ethnology. What was it that drew you towards photography in particular?
Reiner Riedler: As I mentioned, I was always very curious. To travel, observe, research and discover phenomena was always my main interest. Therefore I studied ethnology which I broke up, when I found out that this studies could not fulfill my wishes like going on adventures. At that time this discipline was still characterized by an imperialistic view towards other cultures. But I was always quite open as a person and didn´t want to subordinate my work to a scientific corset. I felt that I really needed to express myself in a personal approach to the themes I have been working with.
Landscape Stories: How would you describe your photographic language and creative process? How important is your preparatory work? Do you have a method of working which you follow for each series, or does it vary for each different project?
Reiner Riedler: Social or political phenomena are affecting me as a person. Observations of these processes occupy me a lot. Sometimes my toughts result in a body of work. I still do trust a lot my instincts. So if my belly talks to me I listen carefully. On the other hand the incubation phases of these creative processes lasts very long. Sometimes I keep decisions within the process open for a very long time, which means that there is more work to do, but I can change directions at any time. One of my artistic methods is organizing and collecting images. Sometimes I start a project by not knowing which direction it will take, but I feel that there is something to do, so I start shooting without any concept. Developing the concept by the growing number of images helps me a lot to understand and make things tangible. I love to shoot and put pictures on a table to understand what I am actually doing.
Landscape Stories: "Let heaven exist, though my own place may be in hell. Let me be tortured and battered and annihilated, but let there be one instant, one creature, where in thy enormous Library may find its justification". Jorge Luis Borges, "The Library of Babel", 1941
The theme of Paradise is a topic, that was already part of some of your series like "Out of Paradise", "Fake Holidays" or "Pleasure Gardens". Are you commenting on society, contemporary culture, or consumer culture? To what extent does your work represent and reflect the present?
Reiner Riedler: You are right, that theme of paradise is something that can be found in some of my projects. Besides sociocultural aspects, the reason of my interest might be based on my personality. I am a very restless person. This is maybe one of my main motivations for work. My own restlessness is based on a deep yearning. There is this wonderful German term "Sehnsucht". It describes the search and desire for a state or a person, that we love in a sometimes painful way. Me as a person, I am full of "Sehnsucht". The idea of Paradise is linked to "Sehnsucht", especially concerned to the expulsion from paradise. Similar to the myth by Plato where he describes "Sehnsucht" as the search for the other half part of the body.
I think that my works (with very few exception) are always based on a social context. So, yes, my works mainly deel with people, their behavior, dreams and desires.
Landscape Stories: How did your collaboration with Ulrich Seidl start? His movie trilogy "Paradise", "Love", "Faith and Hope" and several of his films often blend fiction and nonfiction. I notice that you also cross the border between narrative and documentary. Is it important for a good picture to have these definitions?
Reiner Riedler: This was really funny. I asked him if he would like to meet me because I felt a closeness between our works. After we met, he asked me to accompany him for his "Paradise" project. This great coincidence happened shortly after I have published my book "Fake Holidays".
I have been calling myself a documentary photographers for a long time. I always tried to find a personal approach to the themes I have been working with. I like to tell stories, so beyond my documentary approach there is always a narrative. But my work is never only fictional. My pictures are always based on reality, sometimes hidden between the different layers.
Landscape Stories: Do you share the details of Ulrich Seidl thought and lesson? What memory do you have of your human and professional relationship? As for his personal and professional influence, has it been important for your path?
Reiner Riedler: I deeply believe that, as a photographer, I have to be honest dealing with other people. This helps me a lot, because it doesn't make a difference, if my approach is personal or professional. When we work with underprivileged people we have a huge responsibility. One of my first projects was about homeless people in Vienna. I worked for a few years on that project. It was very close to be published as a book. Now I am very happy that it was never published. It is good work, but I am still not sure, if a work like this needs to become a book. When I worked on "Pleasure Gardens" at a certain stage I stopped working, because I felt I needed to do a step further to enter this society, if You know what I mean...
Landscape Stories: Could you describe your experience of photographing a place you have never been before? What were the reactions of the people you were photographing to you when you were in a foreign country? How did you get those subjects posed? How did you meet them?
Reiner Riedler: Besides basic travel preparations, I do quite intense researches and contact people in advance, who live in the country or have experience travelling there. I normally know quite well, what expects me if I travel to a certain country. If it is a country with from my point of view rather exotic language, I prefer using interpreters. This helps to address people while shooting and also to organize a trip. And it helps connecting different mentalities.
Landscape Stories: In "Fake Holidays" you seem to be interested in a particular species of human geography, in other words the anthropological landscape and its influence upon its inhabitants. The human beings and their environment are changing very fast in the last decades. Our value system is collapsing in the incessant and continuous research of its desires and depths satisfaction. Please could you comment?
Reiner Riedler: The places I chose for "Fake Holidays" are normally based on commercial interest. Sometimes there are huge companies running these venues. Especially if you think about leisure parks or places like Las Vegas. To organize Your shoots, You have to deal with authorities on the one side. When You start observing these venues, You meet a lot of people, who are the main "actors" in my pictures. But, to be honest, I didn't have much real contact to these people, they were more passing by my pictures. I think, that we are getting less and less close contact to nature. Thats the reason why these simulations work, because there is no danger going there, but it feels like real adventure sometimes.
Landscape Stories: Referring to your work "Fake Holidays"... The misrepresentation of the tourism industry, with its mass-produced stereotypes and its fake authenticity strongly emerge in this work. How do you choose the places you photograph? Which is the travel still possible today?
Reiner Riedler: At the very beginning I did researches myself. My curiosity brought me to the first places. After around 2 years of work I already started to show my work around, so that people started to give me advices and ideas about other places.
Landscape Stories: "In a state of insecurity, mechanized control instruments gain particular significance. The surveillance and inspection of data is fully automated and emits alarm signals, upon which the human being has to make a decision. Everybody is happy when the device fulfills its purpose and sends warning signals when the need arises. The belief in the machine and its logical gearing mechanism stems from the idea that the human being itself is a machine". Fritz Franz Vogel
Referring to your work "WILL - The Lifesaving Machines", your biography and the concept follow a thin line... How has each influenced the other side? how does the project evolve since you start shooting?
Reiner Riedler: I always felt a strong connection between my works "Fake Holidays" and "WILL - The Lifesaving Machines". I am questioning our being and our behavior in certain situations - and there is also the theme of nature and simulation. A heart lung machine for example simulates the function of our real heart and lung. Lascaux 2 simulates the original cave.
Landscape Stories: Teaching Photography: to what extent is it possible to teach photography?
Reiner Riedler: I always felt, I would be a bad teacher, but I found out that I have quite good sensors understanding the work of others. I am not regularly teacher, but giving workshops for a certain and limited time. The most important question I like to ask students is: "Why are You doing this?"
Landscape Stories: What books about photography would you recommend?
Reiner Riedler: We are living in a time of mass production of books. Not all books remain in the history of photobooks. I still love the book "Afronauts" by Christina de Middel. It's such a small book, but it's perfect in any meanings‚Ä¶ The approach to storytelling, the way how it's manufactured etc. But for me, the photo book is the result of a body of work. Therefore the most important thing is the photography. The mannerist way of bookmaking sometimes subjugats the power of photography.
Landscape Stories: What's your plans for the near future?
Reiner Riedler: Last year I founded the photo book label "Reflektor" with friends from the photographic scene. There is some really good energy and we are growing by members. We have some plans for the future, like going to fairs and festivals. Concerning my work, I'm finally going to publish my "Sweat" series. A very recent project, that already lasts for about 15 years is titled "Volksfest". I have been working quite intensively the last years. "Volksfest" might be the continuation of "Fake Holidays". But the most important project right now is my family.
Interview curated by Gianpaolo Arena
Translation curated by Christian Tognela