On the main exhibition level at the Helmut Newton Foundation in Berlin there’s a quiet rear room reserved for specially invited guests to exhibit. House curator Matthias Harder strives and excels at contriving great constellations of three photographers each for each exhibition cycle of the museum, using elements and personalities of the visiting artists to highlight something new in the effigy of Helmut Newton’s work and legacy. This time around, he’s balanced out the heavyweight Helmut Newton and Fashion photography god Guy Bourdin, by giving this rear exhibition room to the relatively unknown, yet highly relevant French photographer, Angelo Marino. Marino and his works are soft-spoken yet conscious and deliberate in not only drawing strong and interesting correlations between Newton and Bourdin, but also equally consequent in reflecting on our everyday world md the magic to be found (not just in fashion magazines but) all around us.
He later went on to be Helmut Newton’s photographic assistant for seven years and played a key role in the setup of the Helmut ‘Newton Foundation, due to his work with Newton’s archive. The series he is showing at the foundation deal with a photography project he did while living in the south of France, taking one photo a day with his IPhone while commuting to work.
The show is like the master: soft spoken yet consequent in recording and reflecting on the idiosyncrasies and magic of our world. I am quite pleased and honored to have the chance to speak with him at the Hotel Savoy in Berlin…..
I liked hearing you talk about your experiences working with Helmut Newton—all the archival work you did, working really analog and manual. Not being so Instagram friendly….What do you think about that? I worked this way in the 1990s, too, and it definitely touched me. These days everything is so digitally fleeting….
Yeah, I had this old part with Helmut, I was working in his archives as his archivist. It was old-school, we worked the negative and we wrote on the paper the numbers of the negatives because on the contact sheet there is the subject and you would need to cross-reference the information—no computer at all.
I think it’s a good way also to do it. I mean, Imagine if there was some kind of crash and no more electricity or magnetic things and everything would get lost, so this is a safer thing—just with paper and pen. I’m more on that way.
Yeah, but you are also rather active on Instagram…
I started with Instagram because I think it is a good way to show your work and everything, but some people stole some pictures– printed them out and hung them on the wall– this happened with my work with one of my friends! So, I realized that everybody could do it; and I don’t know if it’s a good way to exhibit some pictures after all, because then everybody can afford it and have it from this app….there’s something wrong there.
AM: Also, my work is existing in virtuality, in my opinion. All this ‘digital world’ as I said because we are alive, and we try to create another world where everything is possible. But it’s a tricky one. I don’t think it is really real. It is just a time to share a moment, an instant with people, but for most of them it’s just about their dog and what they’re eating, or a selfie—they’re talking about themselves and that’s it. There are some artists who do it, but in general I think it’s about the direction.
But I think it’s also about people wanting more that what they have, and the difference between ‚wanting more’ (in whatever context) and ‘being happy with what you got’. You know, like, ‘how to get famous on Instagram’.
Yeah, but you can see that it’s completely fake because sometimes you find someone who has 20 thousand or 100 thousand followers. Then, you click to a picture on his account and you find out they don’t have so many likes. Sometimes with my Instagram, though, is I like to be where people don’t expect me. So if you search for my exhibition you won’t find it anywhere. From the press, you’ll find some information but from my profile you come to a different world, also. I also make some pictures with my wife and it’s a game between us. I like this also.
When I saw your show at Helmut Newton, it made me really happy. I think it’s one of the most interesting shows they’ve shown there. Also, you’re someone who’s done a LOT of work but very few exhibitions…The show is so fresh and unpretentious. I feel that there have been a lot of exhibitions in that little back space, which—albeit good shows, they’ve focused more on the ‘fame’ around Helmut Newton; your show focuses on the glory of being. And you were a big part of Newton’s work for a time, not to mention the coming-together of the museum, but you’re not putting your name in the very front, you’re not coming to every single Vernissage, asserting how important you are….
I don’t have a big ego. I don’t care about this. I’m just a channel for something. It’s just my sensitivity that comes from somewhere—I always say, ‚from above.‘ I wanted to be a kind of witness to the beauty of this world. It’s not just about me…but I do like very much to be there showing with (Guy) Bourdin, especially.
And Helmut, of course (I worked with him for so many years). But Bourdin—when I started photography (as I said in the press conference) I used to save photographs from the magazines and Bourdin was my thicker one. For me, he represents so much. It was thirty years ago I was thinking about that, and now I am with him (Smiles) and Helmut at the Foundation, this is great.
It is crazy, right? (Smiles)
Yes it is crazy—especially crazy to show something that has nothing to do with the fashion world, you know? And especially (images made with) the Iphone. I make a point with this, because when I went to Paris Photo, everywhere there’s no pictures to be seen from the Iphone. On the walls. Why? Because it’s not seen as ‘real’ photography. But its like a camera—it’s just a technical thing. Everybody uses it. I mean, Helmut’s camera was exactly the same one as an amateur would have had—same as everybody had. So, It’s not the camera that makes a picture…
It’s the person making the picture.
I think there’s two types of photographers. There’s the type that has the really fancy gear—the big, expensive cameras and stuff. (We saw a lot of these at the press conference). And there’s the other type, who are people who are constantly photographing. I think this is something with the Iphone, too. A few years ago, I decided I wanted to get more ‘serious’ about photography, so I bought a middle format camera and it was so cumbersome to carry it around. Before this, I had been going to Alexanderplatz in the middle of the night and secretly photographing the homeless kids who hang out there and stuff. Like at 3-4 a.m. in the morning. And once I started showing up with this ‘serious’ camera it messed my whole system up. (Both laugh)
Yeah, it’s all process. What I like in photography is that there is no special way to work– you don’t have to be ‘this’ or ‘that’ way. There are some people who have, like, tons of material so when you start to do the picture (I’m talking from when I was an assistant)—this one photographer came in and said, „Ok, we do all the light with the HMI—no, I change my mind, we do daylight. No, I will do that…“ We would be searching for hours just about how to do the light for the picture, but there are other photographers who just come in and do the picture. And all the people who are talking about photography, they are always talking about technical things, „Oh, did you see the new lens? Do you have the new camera?“ They are stuck just one the technical part. (laughs)
You know, there is a different type of personality. I think technique and the technical part of photography are just tools—that’s it. I mean, it’s not such a big deal. Of course, you can talk about the sharpness or the lens, or the quality, o.k. What’s done is done. You don’t have to talk for hours about just material. For me, it’s more important what you see on the wall.
I agree. I think it’s about creating magic. You said before about these people wanting to create this fantasy world but there are sort of things I saw in you images that were simply magic. Like, the one picture with the sign that says ‘Mars’. It’s a road sign. Something like ‘Quai two Mars’.
Oh yeah, ‘Direction Mars’. It’s like going to the planet Mars, but in fact it was on the tracks, le quai. It was written ‘Direction Marseille’, so I cropped it to say Mars when I saw it, because I thought it was great. Then, it comes to these five pictures, where I start to put things like some blood in the sky…then you have a strong guy—you can feel kind of something going on. Then, there is a picture of a bulldozer looking like a tank during the war, because I made some effect so it’s like an old picture, and then for me it’s like, „Oh, something bad is going on, on earth, and you have to leave so you go direct to Mars.“ There are also little stories in the stories. It could also be just little stories. Each week has their own story.
But I like that, too. I mean, when I look at the photography panels in your show, I wonder about how the images correspond and belong to each other. I mean, do they really belong together and if so, how? I mean, How random is it?
When I started to do it, the point was just to do one picture a day, so each image has to work alone, because I didn’t know what I would do with it. For me, it was just a challenge. Also for a long time, I didn’t do any pictures because I was busy working with Helmut and June, and then I only had time to do images at night, which I also did for a while. And I didn’t do many exhibitions because you really need the time and energy to put into it and to create images to put on the walls.
So, I started with one picture and then I thought about what I would do with this and suddenly I think because I did also a portrait of the week– I was putting each week a portrait plus all the different daily pictures, then I thought maybe I would present everything by week. It was all about finding ways to present multiple pictures at one time. There was always more than one picture. I think in the world of today there is this name in German called Bilderflut (flood of pictures) that we are constantly in the flow of the image. Everywhere we are bombarded by images. Everywhere. With publicity, and now with all the websites (and apps), there are images to see everywhere. I’ve evaluated all of this ‘modernity’, you can read more pictures than just one at one time; more information, in fact, and to train in this way to see more and one time. I wanted to present (my works in the exhibition) this way, but I didn’t have a real agenda—I didn’t put the pictures chronologically. At first I did it, but it didn’t make sense, because it’s just one picture and then another. There is no link, no reaction.
So, I said o.k. and I took all of the 262 images as a palette—like a painter. It’s just color, or subject, or form. I make my frame of the five pictures and then I play. I put one picture, and another one, and another one, and I played around. For six or seven months, I did it. It wasn’t about just putting pictures (randomly)—no, no. Because you need different layers of reading, understanding. As I’ve said, photography for me is in a way like a painting. You have the expressions, the colors, the composition: it’s an image. So even if it’s just on paper or on a canvas, for me the way it’s constructed, has to be a craft in any case. There are many ways to be richer and to create something aesthetically nice. There’s a kind of vocabulary also in painting and in colors. There’s something going on that I have to create: my own stories.
With the images in the exhibition, I put these sort of labels (many people didn’t see it)– this sort of label like, ‘Week 1 to 4’, or a different title. For instance, the first one was called Only the Photo Tells the Truth and you see, like, this image of Pinocchio. Little things to help the viewer see the story. Another one, there’s an image of a woman in burka on the left side (the first image of the week). On the other side, there’s this guy from Texas, with a cowboy hat; and in between you have a woman with a tattoo in the back saying, ‘Smile now, cry later.’ So for me, it’s like East and West, and in between there’s this sky with now trace of pain. That’s what I mean about smile now and cry later, because you really should have no conscious about this. I mean, there is always something going on, but you have to take time. It’s like with my photos I take time…to look at things, and to find another dimension to the routine of every day. And it’s time you really need to look at my pictures. To understand and to go deep inside. It’s not just color and that’s it, you know?
But that’s a good thing about this show, too. This room is special and quiet and you can sit and be really intimate with the pictures. The seating perspective is pretty equally good on all sides. You can turn around and spend time in there. Your pictures are pictures that people enjoy spending time with. I like Helmut Newton and his work, I like how his pictures affected, I like going there and seeing new constellations of his work, and all the different people they’ve invited and how they’ve worked into things….but your show is really different. And it’s really cool because your work is this perfect mixture of ‘Guy’ and ‘Helmut’(not just ‘Bourdin’ and ‘Newton’)… Like with the Bourdin in it, there’s this underlying theme of this sort of whimsical fairy tale world….
Yeah—for me, it’s a dream. A dream– a fantasy, maybe, but really for me, it’s like a dream. With Helmut, its really about the unconscious, the subconscious, all this exhibition and the tricky things, but Bourdin is more on the reverie, more on the…I don’t know how to word it.
I think Bourdin’s work really floats on air. I feel like his images will float away if you’re not careful. With Newton, I feel like he is photographing the same stuff but his images are somehow a lot grittier.
I would say more linked to reality. It was like he was just taking a picture of what he saw and was existing. In this kind of world—the rich girl, I mean, in a rich world you have these kind of things happen, and he’s just testifying what is really existing. For Bourdin it’s just something else. Exactly: just like I had maybe dreamt something. I would not dream about a girl being on high heels– but I can dream of a plug with blood coming from it. There is this little thing. I think it’s that he’s more like a painter, too, in a way.
SHOW CLOSES 13 MAY 2018.
Angelo Marino – ANOTHER STORY
Helmut Newton Foundation / Jebenstrasse 2 / 10623 Berlin / Tu, We, Fr, Sa, Su 11 – 19h / Th 11 – 20h
Entrance 10 € / 5 €
Guided Tours: Sundays 16 h
Images: Courtesy of Angelo Marino