How a portrait turned into a detailed one-frame-tale – featuring Martin Neubauer.
The irony of portraiture: truth vs. illusion
There is no 100% objective truth. Perception is always fluctuous, subjective, intimate and uncontrollable by others. Working as a photorgapher – or merely a staging, conceptual artist – has it‘s perks and flaws. You are not, ever, objective but an observer of a world you don‘t fully understand.
Dangerously enough, the viewer has his own real of personal perception – and as a photographer you can chose between translating what you call “the truth“ – or changing it into a phantastic story-tale to entertain the viewer (and hide ‘boring‘ truth).
The viewer tends to overlook the involuntary power of the portraying artist. It is easy to trust your optical sense (because you are obligated to in order to survive) and ‘believe‘ the optical facts. The reflection progress afterwards is necessary – but occasionally not critical enough.
In this case: I knew Martin for a long time, but not too well. He is an actor, literature worshipper and a wonderful, kind, loving soul. Sometimes it felt like life must have played too rough with him and yet he managed to stay a warm, greater good seeking heart.
As to say: this is, what I saw.
Wit and humor – like Carl Spitzweg’s paintings
Spitzwegs attitude was something I worshipped – and I felt like Martin has the same, sharp sense of humor in the way he acts, attents lectures and serves his audience on stage.
Carl Spitzweg (1808-1885) was a not-so-famous German painter of the Biedermeier era; he painted a lot of humoresque portraits of ordinary people in his time. He was exceptional, painting with wit and hidden meanings many odd attributes of them – and dares us to associate with their character traits.
His art is strongly narrative and yet intimate – in a very cinematic, detailed way. I grew up with cheap art prints hanging around many people’s homes in my child hood – even those kind of staid, conservative households the paintings tease.
I cannot else explain – but for me those two felt like the same kind of artists.
A glorious experience: Working with an actor
I have had only few chances of collaborating with actors before that day. I was used to directing unexperienced people, telling them a story before-hand and encourage them throughout the shoot.
With him, no help was necessary. I was amazed by the improvised stage play on a lonely, dusty attic. If you cannot distinguish someone’s acting from real actions – it has be good. And I think I am quite trained to see ‘fake‘ acting in front of the lens.
He sneezed, scribbled, run fingers through his hair, talked to a skull like noone was listening, nearly burned a feather while playing with the candles – and looked just like any artist must feel like while struggeling to achieve something great.
It’s needless to say: it is a photographers heaven to get everything served on a silver tablet: emotions, expressions – and character.
It truly speaks for his profressional attitude to take a photographer as serious as an audience. He never slipped out of his role while shooting.
Back then, this was my first seriously professional experience with actors: and I am so greatful for this experience.
The set: creating a painting-inspired, historical composition
In my home town city Bamberg (Bavaria), some town houses remained for longer than a century. Old attics, alleys full of nooks and crannies, crooked and rusty: it is a very romantic town.
I found an old attic, big and sooty – the local theater and a few friends lent me a lot of props. Back then, this was my first staged project.
Of course, not all items are historically correct, but were chosen intentionally to create a humorous, pseudo-serious feeling to honor Spitzweg.
Also more than 7 flashes were hidden in the set to light all objects in the dark attic.
It took a while to arrange objects in ways that look authentic. The objects had to be arranged too perfectly to keep the painting-like, composed, constructed character. Also, to compsensate the distortion of the lens (I used a tele lens and stitched 27 images to a final shot for high resolution)
It was a lot of dragging and pulling, shoving boxes full of stuff up a latter and many hours of preparation. My lungs must have been black with soot after that day, but it was all worth it. Always will be.
Working with ‘space’ and distance in one-frame-stories
As result I chose one carefully retouched frame. It felt wrong to handle the project like shoots before: the story was aught to honor the idealism of paintings – of one painting. Even if it was painful to chose.
To me, the frame includes also a lot of space – around the subject and a distance to the viewer. It might be superficial, but I believe people subconcious feel that space. They are obviously – outside. Far away from the subject, even if they are ‘in’ the room. The probs give hints on the poets life – and create the story. In this case it is the ‘bigger picture’ – which strives to have as much impact as a close up.
This idea keeps me going since then – because it offers much to toy with.
The truth behind the illusion
After the experience with Martin it was difficult to determine illusion from truth. Since I am not bound to know the man behind the actor, I must stay in the position of an clueless audience: heaving only an illusion in my head.
It’s dangerous but a heightening obsession to create worlds with my own rules. I must remember that there are a lot of truths I am digging in.
And everybody has their own.
thank you, Martin!