Petra Reimann was born and raised on the streets of Hannover, Germany. She has spent recent years working in Berlin capturing backyards, street life and the architectural soul of the city. Constantly, intuitively scanning all around her, Petra spends every spare moment and a few borrowed ones pursuing shadows and reflections as well as being seduced daily by contrast, line and shape. Her latest work will be shown in Lingering Whispers exhibition opening on the 6th of May 2010 in London.
PP. You are obviously in love with Berlin. Why?
PR. Yes, and every day a little bit more. I had my first crush on Berlin about 24 years ago. A friend of mine and I often used to hitchhike to Berlin for some weekend entertainment – we didn’t even know where to sleep but that wasn’t important. Usually the driver would spit us out at Bahnhof Zoo… There at the public toilets we would put our make up on, change clothes, had a bottle of cheap sparkling wine in between all these drug addicts and off we went to the clubs. The fact that there’s a wall around made it even more exciting but also that everyone was living and exposing their own style on the streets – punks, psychos, goths, underground parties in dirty backyards… you could be whoever you wanted to be without getting dissed.
Still, there’s a very special scent in the air, a big mix of architecture, different cultures, dirty backyards, that scent of the turbulences when the subway arrives, open minded people and history. I love it – like a perfume you buy again and again – maybe for a lifetime.
PP. I just checked the weather in Berlin. It is – 13 degrees. How do you keep warm? Thermal underwear?
PR. Well, my cold body parts are not where my underwear is, and the worst of all is the wind. Warm socks, silly earmuffs and gloves are helping but these days I’m feeling a lot like being trapped somewhere in Siberia and want to buy some sledge dogs. Usually, German winters are not so damned cold. Accompanied by lots of hot coffee and Glühwein I’m fine. I love snow and that ice-cold atmosphere. It clears my mind.
PP. Have you always taken photos?
PR. I was never interested much in taking pictures when I was young. I grew up with my mom and I remember she had a simple camera but it was just another object in the lower drawer. Also the fact that I hate TO BE photographed must be a reason for that. About 7 years ago I bought my first simple digital camera and played around here and there but still very little. That changed when I moved to Berlin five years ago.
Discovering Berlin was so full of new impressions, memories, beauty, reality… a big beauty and a beast overload I just couldn’t resist to capture it, to conserve my impressions for my friends, myself and all those who are interested. Meanwhile I’m addicted, I have my camera always with me, although I’m not shooting the whole day long. It is very intuitive still and usually quick. I don’t use a tripod or stage things for photographs because I’m obsessed with natural beauty and everyday life, no matter if this is a bin or a lovely shop window.
PP. What is a good photograph for you?
PR. For me personally a good photograph pushes a button, awakens curiosity, inspires, makes me think, gives me a wow, a smile – is PRESENT – despite techniques, lights or camera! If a photo has an effect on you or not depends on a million things, experiences, personal taste, even sub consciousness. I think you can’t explain this in just one or two sentences. Some rate pictures technically. I prefer to do it by heart. I remember my friend’s little boy 7 years old, taking a picture of a garbage truck, totally cropped and a bit blurred but he had such a bright smile on his face, shining eyes and was extremely happy for the rest of the day. Now that’s what I call a good photograph.
PP. You are a master of reflection, which gives your images that special multi-layered mysterious gaze. You do it so beautifully. How? Why? Are you searching for your own reflection as Narcissus in a lake?
PR. Thank you Predrag. I should try lake reflections indeed but I’m not really a fan of trees and meadows and not even in Berlin where we have water right next to buildings. The first picture of reflection I remember happened by chance, when I edited my images on the computer. I was really surprised and so fascinated. I often hold my camera from the bottom up into shop windows or mirrors without focusing on a special angle. I love the result where one photo contains many others and the reflection transforms the image into a noble, softer, flawless one. For me it’s like watching life through a dream lens. Luckily, I live in a big city with lots of shop windows, glass parts on architecture, cars and reflecting materials; such an immense playground and I’m a very happy curious child in it.
PP. You also use more often black and white finish than colour. Why?
PR. I take all pictures in colour but I’m more attracted by the deepness and elegance of black and white. Today’s colours on the streets are too wishy-washy. I love strong colours when they are rich, luscious as we know them from Andy Warhol or Lichtenstein’s work, comics… even Polaroids look great in it but it’s impossible to find those colours packed on the streets. Black and white is enough colour for the kind of urban pictures I do. Shadows, contrast and barbarism do the rest. Sometimes black and white can even erase the date of a picture. In the end it depends all on how you edit your images to give them the final charisma and that always includes your personality somehow. I use just simple software programme for that. A little bit more of contrast and feeling is all I need. I don’t know if I would try more effects… if only Photoshop was my boyfriend?
PP. Your sense for style is exquisite. How important is fashion to you?
PR. I love, love, love to browse foreign fashion and design magazines, especially the variety at airports, photography books (museum shops are my favourites) and blogs to be up to date on what’s going on. The creativity of designers and photographers is always inspiring. Nowadays it’s more important than ever to raise one’s spirits, impress and convince people not only with the fashion photograph itself but with a whole concept and I just love to discover this. I keep some magazines and it always surprises me how special images still impress me after years – not to mention many photo books from Avedon, Weber, Lindbergh and Co. It’s a pleasure, again and again.
Personally I like it comfortable, jeans, T-Shirt, blazer, boots or sneakers is what I like. I’ve never been that type of a ‘girlie’, posh or lady with 200 pairs of shoes who’s life is a never ending hunting session on designer fashion, sales or make up, spending hours in beauty salons or the hair stylist. You should see me walking – no – rather stumbling on high heels – ridiculous, so I leave that to the girls who can and want to. I am fine with classic T-Shirts, muted colours mixed with one ‘jazzy’ or designer part, an interesting coat, a belt, colourful sneakers or a cool neck chain. I don’t have a favourite designer; there are so many local unknown designers and little shops. I think you can find affordable interesting stuff everywhere to pimp yourself and not to go with the flow.
PP. What do you prefer, beer or wine?
PR. First beer. Then beer followed by ice-cold dry white wine. Not sure where that comes from but I guess its because I was always hanging around more with the boys. But I really like the taste of beer. I prefer it in a bottle and it’s funny how restaurants often have problem to serve beer in a bottle. Hey, I don’t slurp or burp out loud, but ok, I am in to cultivate good manners.
Extra dry white wine is perfect and a must along with Italian food. Red wine? Hangover, each time I tried.
PP. How does it make you feel to see your work on gallery walls?
PR. Relief + release. Maybe it sounds a little harsh but at that point you put your work on THAT ONE wall, you and your photo have been through a dozen processes before. The first time you see your image on the camera screen, later on your computer screen – the birth, this is when I am most happy. Then you start edit the image, one time or hundreds of times, test print, now you can touch it, feel it, sometimes with a completely different charisma on paper (hello new image), re-edit the image, thinking about sizes, paper, materials, ordering the final prints, sweet anticipation on a very high and most enjoyable level now, collect the final work, unroll it s l o w l y… and there it is. PROUD, shining eyes and yay! Take it to the gallery, put it on the wall and say goodbye. It’s fantastic to put it and just right at that moment it becomes independent and you have to allow it to go. Such a great feeling! Now is time for new challenges.
PP. Why is Andy Warhol important to you?
PR. I love the colours, the simplicity and that he turns everyday life things into icons. Soup cans, dollar signs, the Brillo boxes, a cow… it’s spectacular because usually people don’t even take notice of all those things around us anymore. So many artists have to explain the meaning of their works with a lot of bloomy words and why and how – not Andy, it’s clear, it’s there, you’re welcome. I like that. The factory, bringing people together to inspire each other, films and illustrations… he was so beautiful in his very own way. I always feel like a child watching his works, persistent colours, often cheeky but never tedious.
PP. Are your excited about Lingering Whispers?
PR. Oh yes, a lot! And what a gorgeous location! Mostly I’m curious to see all the other artists’ works. That’s what I love about group exhibitions when completely different mediums and artworks are melting together. Something for everyone, just superb. I hope all the people in London can come.
PP. Have I forgotten to ask you anything else?
You mean something like my favourite kamasutra position, plastic surgery lessons learned or how much a camel is in Cairo? Nah, nobody is interested in that.
Text: © Predrag Pajdic, 29 January 2010
Images: © Petra Reimann. Courtesy of the Petra Reimann.