vonFridey Mickel 16.03.2017

Context is Half the Work

Seeing comes before words, and culture can be defined at any given moment.

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The OUKAN Concept Store is located in the Kronenstrasse—a side street from the Französiche Strasse area of Berlin’s super-long Friedrichstrasse, just south of Unter den Linden. Kind of like Berlin’s own mini-version of New York’s Fifth Avenue– Galeries Lafayette, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, etc.—all great, but when you turn onto the Kronenstrasse from this boulevard, you really don’t expect what you’re going to find at number 71. OUKAN, roughly explained, is an initiative of really ‘awe-some’ fashion designers from Japan; super intellectual and minimalistic yet somehow still super poetic. The space works like a complete package: in through this really crazy door to this super-conceptual space and clothing. Awes-some. You might not be sure where to go first, but if you go up the stairs you’ll find what feels like a conceptual VIP lounge, with portraits from German photographer Anatol Kotte that are really intimate; it’s a mixture of both German and International ‘Promis’ all around you; and when you look at them and into the frames around them it kind of feels for a minute like you’re looking through the lense and taking the ’shot‘ yourself. Familiar. Each and every one is familiar.

There are very few people who’ve had the access that Anatol Kotte has and it’s fascinating to consider the stuff he’s seen. It’s also fascinating when you look at the pictures and realize that you’ve seen them somewhere before. Each and every one of them, one-by-one. Wow. 🙂

What I like about Anatol Kotte’s work is that he somehow manages to drop the veil between ‚the icon‘ and ‚the people‘, and he does it in this really effortless way. (Again, wow.) I spoke to him on the phone last week and this is what was said…



Jeff Goldblum, Berlin 2016. copyright Anatol Kotte


When we looked at your show together, you mentioned working at Tempo Zeitschrift für Zeitgeist, and I wanted to ask you more about that. How long did you work there? Where were you with your photography when you started there? I mean, you were pretty young then, right?

I was about 24 when I started working on my own (before that I was working as an assistant) and Tempo was basically the first magazine—or let’s say the start of the whole thing. They had been founded I think one or two years earlier, so I was pretty much from the beginning working for them. There’s a magazine in Austria that’s still around called Wiener, and this was basically the mother of the German Wiener and Tempo. In the beginning, they were looking to make a German version of Wiener only, then they sent all these Austrian—you know—Editors and Art Directors like Lo Breier and later Walter Schönauer and Judith Grubinger. The Editor in Chief was Markus Peichl—he’s still in the magazine, he’s doing the Lead Award. And so anyways, all Austrian people, and they got into a fight I think with a printing house (I can’t remember the exact story—you have to read it) but they ended up then making two versions of the magazine—the German Wiener and then they found another name, Tempo, for the basically (laughs) the zeitgeist magazine itself. (smiles) And it was totally different than anything magazine-wise so far.

How was it different?

The style of writing, the layout, the photography. It was really an honor to work for them and to be a part of it. There’s a Facebook site dedicated to Tempo—it’s run by a former writer from Tempo, and he puts up all the articles. You can look it up on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/groups/tempozeitschriftfuerzeitgeist/)


Helen Schneider, Berlin 2016. copyright Anatol Kotte


You know, when I was looking at your exhibition and talking to you, I was thinking a lot about this fascination I have with German Pop Culture from the 1990s, like Die Fantastischen Vier, and Verona Feldbusch, and like this whole German MTV Generation-thing. I was looking at your pictures and I thought it was really interesting how much the aesthetic of German Pop Culture changed around 2000 and how your photos definitely played a role in that somehow. I was surprised how many of your images I knew and had seen in magazines before I met you. And further, how these images had formed the picture in my head about the aesthetic of Germany while I was there in the early 2000s. Crazy.

Well, let’s say, Verona Feldbusch was the total enemy of Tempo (laughs)—they were really totally different groups of people. The Tempo writers writing back then were very intellectual and are now working for Spiegel or Zeit, or other big time newspapers or magazines. Like Jochen Siemens— he’s with Stern. So all these people are writing books now and are famous. Maxim Biller, for example– he was one of the writers there from Tempo.

They were also really fun. The had a lot of clever, clever smart fun. (smiles) Fun ways to look at things. Wiener was much more average—Bavarian, a bit trashy. I mean, they paid better- I worked for them as well. I think I was one of the few who were allowed to work for both magazines at the same time. (laughs) Normally, they didn’t like it so much.

Did you ever hear about the scoop they made with Neues Deutschland?


Kermit, Berlin 2012. copyright Anatol Kotte


No. (smiles)

Well, Neues Deutschland (‚New Germany‘) was the newspaper for East Germany. So what Tempo did was they made a fake edition of Neues Deutschland—a fake issue—and then they transported it into East Berlin, hidden like in the doors of cars, they smuggled it into the eastern part of Berlin, and dropped it, put it all over– like in the entrances of houses and near newspaper stands and so. It ended up in the news—in the West German News and the East German News that Tempo had put this fake newspaper in East Germany. It was hilarious! Hilarious articles in this fake issue, which funny enough came true later. For example, they wrote ‚Katarina Witt is now in the new Playboy’ (both laugh) and about testing the Trabant S with some kind of made up car testing. It was hilarious! It was really something. I also worked for that issue– I did the photos for a fashion special. They were so much fun—they had so many ideas.

That’s so cool. I really appreciate having that kind of experience when you are young and starting out because even when you go into this mainstream stuff you are doing now. Looking at it superficially, it seems ‘mainstream’; but I feel that it’s actually so subliminal because it can have an effect on the perception of the masses. It’s not just like a certain percentage of people like you have with more ‘cultural’ periodicals. I think that’s really cool and I totally see that in your photos.

Yeah yeah. And have in mind there was no Internet and that made a HUGE difference, of course. A magazine has a totally different standing now and it was an expression of life, like how you say Lebensgefühl (‚feeling of being alive‘). Tempo was really great, because they were smart politically, but not like versteinert (‚petrified‘). Very Dada or Punk. Nonsense humor. It was really cool.


Ewan McGregor, Hamburg 2016. copyright Anatol Kotte


I have this one question about Juergen Vogel, because you said you directed him…

Juergen Vogel or Til Schweiger?

Mmmmmm. Tell me something about Til Schweiger.

It was fun. I just shot him again after ten years two days ago. For an advertising campaign and everyone here in my studio was super nervous and I was way too late—I had another job and was double-booked and he was really upset. Everybody was upset when I came into my studio at 4 o’clock to start the shoot. (laughs) But in the end, it was really fun (smiles) we had a really great time and the photos came out really nice. And the shot that you see on the wall in the exhibition, we re-did it, tens years later. (smiles and laughs)

Wow. That’s really cool!

Anyway, we went to dinner and he told me a little bit about the stuff he’s doing—he’s like a maniac. Really. I mean, he’s doing such a lot of different things at the same time, and at any minute someone shows up who wants to do a selfie or a quick shot or to talk to him, it’s crazy.


Til Schweiger, Köln 2007. copyright Anatol Kotte


With these German icons—photographing them really early in their careers and then photographing them later on? It’s interesting how the ‘charisma’ or ‘anima’ changes over time…

Yeah, like the ‘glow’, the magic. Um, I don’t know—it’s difficult to say. In this case, it’s not just the ten years, he’s more or less my age, I guess (I’m 53) but it’s interesting to see how his ‘capital’ has changed. I mean, ten years ago, he was only acting—and now he’s more on the production side, with acting. Maybe now, ‚looking good‘ isn’t as important because he makes his money behind the camera—not in front.


But I think it’s also…it’s interesting for me because I come from the Art World, and after working in this field for over twenty years now, I’ve somehow held myself together and I look a lot younger than a lot of people, but I’ve changed a lot in other ways. And it’s fascinating to see how other people I know in this field have come through, after having a long career in it– good or bad. It’s interesting to see how people change with it because they are investing their lives into it, not like working a normal job. You put a lot into this type of career in the hopes of this big pay out at the end. I’m not talking ‘money’; I’m talking ‘fame’ and ‘glory’.



Natalia Wörner, Berlin 2016. copyright Anatol Kotte


I mean, it’s not for nothing, you know?

Yeah. And also stuff like divorce and this and that. Like, personal failures or stuff that changes the way you look at stuff. Sometimes people sense that I see it and I know I need to make a little effort not to make it show (in the photos). It’s funny, because in the beginning of the career, they maybe want you to make sure you show that they have a lot of great hair. (laughs) For me personally, I think I get more and more relaxed about my shape or whatever. (smiles)


Do you think you have a personal signature in your work? Something that makes the photo unequivocally from you?

I leave this to the critics. I mean, if you look at the book, I think you can’t really tell which photo is a new one and which is an old shot, and the shots in the book span 30 years. I think this is sort of my handwriting—my pictures are not…let’s say, they don’t change basically I feel. They don’t change a lot. I mean, they change in a way that I feel I think I’m getting better, more like what I want to do, and the result is much quicker (it’s not like trial and error)—it’s more that I am following the vision I have in my mind and I fulfill it—you know, I accomplish the target or the mission or however you say. (laughs) And this happens more and more. I’m getting more and more professional but it doesn’t really change. The look and the style—even when I use other lenses or other cameras or light or whatever, it still looks like a picture from me. I mean, I always leave a bit of room for spontaneity—it’s the way I’m working that hasn’t changed.

Right now, I’m doing a big job, like a ten-day shoot for a bank. And I’m shooting all the board members—you know, the chairmen of the board and all the top notch people there. And I’m not going in there and building up a set—they’re not sitting like I have them do usually..they just come and I take the camera and follow them. I go into the building, to their office and I kind of push them into the corner and I only have maybe one reflector and one lens (maybe if it gets boring I add a bit of lighting or whatever) but it’s totally a different working situation than I’m used to. And after eight days of shooting and being in this strange working situation, they still somehow look like pictures from me.


Moritz Bleibtreu, Hamburg 2009. copyright Anatol Kotte


I understand. I’m asking this question—maybe it’s silly, but it fascinates me. I mean, I’m personally really into writing and I like to do editing work for other people because I’m interested in how other people write—its almost like a fingerprint and it’s so subtle, someone’s writing, it’s so personal—how and when they use a comma, whether they use ‘which’ or ‘that’, even someone using semicolons says something about them. It’s something I’m starting to notice in photography—sometimes it’s something clear, like whether they photograph inside or outside or how they use light. But sometimes it’s something subtler than that.

Do you think there’s a difference between German celebrities and international ones? I mean, I’m from America, and our celebrities are a tiny bit like gods because they are famous everywhere. I don’t worship them or whatever, but it’s like Tom Cruise is known all over the world. Til Schweiger and Moritz Bleibtreu are sort of like gods in Germany in a way, but no one in America has really heard of them.

I don’t know, I guess maybe in a way it depends on what market you serve. And people, depending on which level of society, they see the people always being in the cinema and on TV and others are saying that they make shitty films, but they know how to make money with it and how to do the bestselling movies in Germany in the last 20 years. They make a success with it and this is what I respect. I think maybe it’s a bit like with Tom Cruise, he’s also producing at the same time, and he’s successful. But you don’t necessarily have to like the films. And maybe the people who do like the movies don’t understand what one should really be proud of. The part they can be proud of I think is more the complicated part—the producing, to have a nose for the right script, and so on. Even if you don’t like the film, you have to accept that they did something right and great and were successful. I think it’s different here a little bit.


Juergen Vogel. copyright Anatol Kotte


Yeah, but I think we are sort of examining it on this rather intellectual level for some reason, this mass media stuff. I mean, intellectual people do read Stern, but I guess I relate it to some of the coworkers at a job I had a few years ago for a big electronics company. My coworkers were all sort of business administration types—really interesting people but totally different ‘types’ than me. This one girl I worked with really loved Juergen Vogel—she loved his movies, loved him. He made her so happy. I love Juergen Vogel because I saw how happy he made her. The majority of people in Germany really do love these celebrities and their movies. I think it’s a great way to relax after working a job all day. All celebrities have a major pull with people—that’s the thing.

And your position is really fascinating because you stand on this border between the celebrity and the public. You have a really unique view than most other people do; I also have access, so I have it, too. It’s extraordinary to have this access—these celebrities become sort of normal to you—you eat dinner with them after a shoot– but there are people out there who would travel a great distance to see them, should the chance be given.

This hype– it was always there and will always be, and I don’t know if it makes a difference or if a person is worth it, if you look at the stars and starlets on tv today, they come up and go down—only a few do stay. But what I have to say about real celebrities is that they are constantly working on their careers—often from both sides of the camera—and they have other businesses as well.

It’s dumb for people to think celebrities are idiots—people like to make fun of them and stuff, maybe because they are jealous of them because of their success—but celebrities do hustle, no doubt about it.

Show closes 31. March 2017.

Anatol Kotte: Actors

8. Februar – 31. März 2017

OUKAN Concept Store / Kronenstrasse 71 / 10117 Berlin / Mo – Sa 12 – 19h

www.anatol.de (really awesome website.)

Images: © + Courtesy Anatol Kotte

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