Romanian-born photographer Loredana Nemes, famous for her collections of subway photos, now explores the lives of men in the German capital. She can only digest Berlin in small doses, she says.
Loredana Nemes says she was welcomed into the world of men
Loredana Nemes' photography exhibitions explore boundaries, the "other," isolation and communication. She was born in Sibiu, Romania, in 1972 and moved to Germany at the age of 13. Her interest for photography developed more or less as a coincidence, when she fell in love with a photographer a number of years ago. Partners may come and go, but her passion for photography has remained steadfast.
Deutsche Welle: Your most recent exhibition is now showing at Museum Neukoelln in Berlin - a wonderful collection that explores world of men in the German capital. What's special about men in this city - or did you focus on the hotly discussed issue of integration?
Loredana Nemes: I started working on this project two years ago and didn't focus on the integration issue at all, which is indeed the center of attention in Germany. My work has neither a political, nor a sociological aim. I always try to find the right aesthetics for a theme that I've chosen. This theme was interesting for two reasons: First of all, I could generate intensive and powerful photographs and, on the other hand, these places, these cafes are all in my neighborhood. I see them daily on my way to the studio and back. I've always asked myself what was going on inside, because the rooms are closed, the windows are veiled.
We live in a world in which people like to be more and more transparent. Through the internet, for example, they show so much of their intimacy. These rooms though, do not satisfy our curiosity at all. Any peep into these unknown spaces is blocked by the closed milky windows. And this was a challenge for me, as a photographer. The photographs offer little information, but enough space for the beholder to fill with their own imagination.
Nemes took a series of wedding photos with strangers
This project deals largely with immigrants. Can we still speak about parallel societies of immigrants in Europe? My impression is that you didn't necessarily intend to show characters, but rather create an atmosphere.
Through my pictures I'm showing the glimpse of the outsider, of the "other" Berliner. My photographs are not a project about Turkish, Lebanese or Azerbaijani people, but rather an expression of our thinking and of our feelings, the fear of the unknown, the uneasy feeling of observing these mysterious, closed spaces. The windows behind which I portrayed these men are in the true sense of the word a pattern, according to which we classify strangers in our minds. Strangeness dominates my exhibition and this is the very center of my work. It shows borders and walls, which in my opinion are in place there, among cultures. Why do we fear them?
One of your past exhibitions was called "About Love." You had a very interesting idea of taking pictures of yourself wearing a wedding gown, together with unknown men, whom you had met on the street. Is the world of European men more open?
"About Love," as well as other projects, wasn't done in order to offer some sort of a general conclusion. "What are European men like?" is not a question of interest for me.
I wanted to look at individuals. How does someone react when asked to talk about his love for his wife or girlfriend - in the middle of the street? What are their answers, what would it look like, if I took a picture of me and these guys, as if we were a couple? I mean, standing on the streets of Madrid, Leipzig, Oslo, Ghent, New York, or somewhere else in a wedding gown was a very private experiment for me.
Being the bride and trying to feel something for a stranger, being able to take a "wedding photograph" with him was definitely a new experience. It was interesting to see how close I could get to a stranger through a concept and how it felt. The fact that unknown men stopped on the street, spoke to me about intimate things, about their feelings, and accepted being photographed together with me was always like a present and touched me a lot.
The exhibition of yours which impressed me the most was "Under Ground." You took fantastic pictures of the people in the underground of New York, Washington, Berlin, Moscow, Paris, London and Bucharest. You told me something very special about a couple that contacted you afterwards.
A scene from New York in Nemes' "Under Ground" project
For "Under Ground" I portrayed unknown passengers who traveled with me in the same metro car, in these six capitals. I never knew anything about these people, but I liked them: the way they were sitting, or looking, the way they were trying to communicate with one another, or on the contrary, isolate themselves. I knew that I wouldn't see them again, but I had captured their beauty and brought it home, like a little note in a diary.
One day I received an e-mail from San Francisco. The lady wrote me that she and her husband are part of my museum show, which was running then in Berlin and that she loved the photograph. She asked for a copy and told me that she wanted to give it to her husband for their 10-year anniversary. So I sent them the exhibition book and a handmade print to San Francisco. Isn't the world such a small place? Photographing them in London, exhibiting them in Berlin, while they live in San Francisco.
You mostly work in black-and-white. Why is that?
The pragmatic reason is that I can work on my own during the whole process. I develop the film, make the silver gelatin prints and by keeping the whole process in my hands I can satisfy my idea of quality. Another reason is the concentration of form and content, which is easier to create in black-and-white. Working with color means controlling it and that's too much for me. So far I don't miss color in my work, but I don't want to exclude it for future projects.
How does Berlin inspire you? Why is this city such a beloved place for artists?
Berlin is inexpensive. So many interesting and creative persons who inspire me live in Berlin. The continuous dialogue with other artists is as important for me as the energy of this city. Berlin makes me tired and at the same time gives me so much. But I have to take it in small doses, so I can digest it.
Loredana Nemes's exhibition, "Beyond: Behind imposed windows: Berlin's men," runs through February 20, 2011, at Museum Neukoelln in Berlin. Click on the gallery below for some examples from the exhibition.
Interview: Lavinia Pitu
Editor: Kate Bowen