Dancing Souls at Canal Grande

For centuries, day by day, as darkness falls, the same ceremony takes place at Canal Grande. The souls of the founders of Venice meet and start dancing and celebrating the beauty of what they have created with their hands and minds. Out of the muddy waters they built a dream-like city, stone by stone, on millions of wooden piles, which they hit into the swamps.

The dance lasts only a few minutes and one must hurry to catch the delicate moments, when Venice shows his magical essence: Water, light and stones. All of a sudden, here and there, the souls show up as flickering lights, flashing and disappearing.

 

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The Terrorist

On July 22, 2011, the 32-year-old Norwegian Anders Breivik carried out terrorist attacks in the centre of Oslo and on the nearby Island Utøya – which left 77 murdered, mostly young people. The fury of the terrorist was especially aimed against members of the Social Democratic Party, who asked for more tolerance towards Muslims.

Three days after the attack, I arrived in Oslo and the Norwegians were still in a state of shock. All over the city centre one saw the vast damages of the bombs. To my great astonishment I learnt, that the reigning Norwegian King Harald V. and Crown Prince Haakan had attended the same public elementary school as the terrorist Anders Breivik – the “Smestad Skole” in Oslo. In Norway democratic tradition requires that the upper classes, even the royal family, don´t separate from ordinary people.

In the days after my arrival I took pictures of the “Smestad Skole” and also of the nearby building and surrounding affluent area, where Anders Breivik lived. The terrorist was arrested shortly after the attack and on 24 August 2012, a Norwegian court convicted him to 21 years in prison.

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Death of Venice

 

These pictures show an apocalyptic vision. Venice is falling apart, set on fire and flooded. Even the people seem to stem from another place and another age. In the end monstrous pigeons and bizarre human creatures are ruling. In art there is a famous tradition of such visions, best known by the scenarios of the Renaissance artists Hieronymus Bosch or Peter Bruegel the Elder.

I took these pictures after heavy rainfall or acqua alta – they are reflections of the cityscape in puddles: Windows to another world. The eerie colors and shapes are caused by debris, mud, leaves, undercoating, dirt and wind. To show them in the gallery, I turn them upside down. With this tiny trick you see them not as reflections, but as bizarre realities. Fourteen of them will be on show at “Soho Photo Gallery” in New York in December 2017.

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Thinking of

In spring 2015 I was browsing through my pictures and discovered, that over the years I had taken several portraits of people not face-to-face, but from behind – in very intimate or life-changing moments, joyous and sad ones. It was only after I realized that, I started actively looking for such situations.

In one picture, a mother remembers her daughter’s suicide ten years before. In another, a woman for the first time revisited the cloister where Catholic nuns had tortured and raped her during childhood. One portrait shows my ex-wife after she was diagnosed with Parkinson´s disease at age 49.

There are also good moments: My stepdaughter´s first day of high school in a foreign country; my mother after she fell in love when she was 94; my son celebrating his 13th birthday at the harbor of Rotterdam/Netherlands, very meaningful for him; my naked wife gazing at a sunny lake during our honeymoon. I almost always took the pictures on the very day when these things happened.

This series is all about life and reflection about it. When you look at the portraits they also make you think as a viewer – about your own life, your own special, intimate moments, good and bad. How was it? How would I feel or react in such a situation?

 

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Success

In 1996 I shot a series of New York as a world in black and white. There is almost nothing in between. Everybody is out for winning or losing. High-rise buildings, high-rise dreams, high-rise stakes. Every morning men and women rush out of the subway and hurry to work. They look like predators: ambitious, concentrated, determined, tense, hungry for success.

They rise as high as the surrounding skyscrapers of Midtown Manhattan. I put my camera on the asphalt aimed upwards, and took shots without looking through the viewfinder. Looked at the predators and pushed the trigger, when they approached me. At the end of the day, when they went back home, I did not check: Who was a winner, who was a loser.

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My childhood dream

I grew up in a very remote and backward area in Austria. When I turned five years old, my parents gave me a card game, which showed famous buildings all over the world. There was the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Pantheon in Rome, St. Stephen´s Dome in Vienna and the most precious card of all: The Empire State Building in New York. This Building was so unimaginably high and so unimaginably far away for a country boy like me!

In 2014/15 I lived in New York. My workplace was on the tenth floor of the NY University Library at Washington Square. There I sat and had the privilege of looking at the majestic NY skyline with the Empire State Building, day by day. The dream of my childhood had come true.

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Fifty New Immigrants

This project is a combination of two very different approaches: Current photography and historical data.

On the one hand there are fifty people I´d photographed at the Easter Parade 2015 on Fifth Avenue, between 49th and 57th Street. About two thirds of the portraits show people who attended the parade. The remaining portraits are passers-by, onlookers or street vendors. There are equal numbers of women and men. Typical of New York is the great cultural, national and ethnic diversity. With few exceptions I neither know the names of these people nor where they come from.

On the other hand I read the data of all persons who had arrived exactly 100 years earlier, on Easter 1915, at Ellis Island – the central point for immigration in the US. All in all I searched through more than 4.500 passenger files of 13 incoming ships between April 3rd (Good Friday) and April 6th (Easter Monday). About 1.500 of them were immigrants from 41 different nations.

For this project I combine every one of the fifty portraits, taken at Easter 2015, with the information I took from a passenger file from Easter 1915. Here is an example of one of these files:

Margarete Müller 2nd Cabin Passenger
Single female.
Occupation: Circuit Performer.
Is in possession of 50 $.
Born 1883 in Berlin/Germany (32 years old at time of arrival).
Nationality: Germany.
Race or People: German.
Height:  5 feet, 5 inches.
Fair complexion, brown hair, brown eyes. She has no marks of identification.
She is neither an anarchist nor a polygamist.
She has been in New York in 1907.
She is in good health and is able to read and write.
Her last residence was Friedrichshain, Berlin/Germany.
On March 25th 1915 she boarded the ship Kristianiafjord in Bergen/Norway and arrived at Ellis Island on April 3rd 1915.
She has paid the passage by herself.
Her final destination will be Orpheum Circuit (Off Broadway Theatre) on 2nd Avenue near St. Mark´s Place, East Village, New York City.

 

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East coast dreaming

In May 2015 I took a bus ride from New York to Niagara Falls, to Washington DC and Philadelphia. My assigned seat was beside a damaged window. Inside it was trapped with condensed water. Initially I was annoyed, because nobody on the bus wanted to swap seats with me. But then I decided to use this disadvantage to my photographic benefit.

It was a very special, exclusive window to another world, formed by the speed of the bus, the distorting and blurring qualities of the wet window and the reflections in the glass.

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Apocalypse

The first time I moved to New York, in the 1990s, the skyscrapers fascinated me. As symbols of power and money they force you to look upwards and to feel small. But at rainy days they fall down into street puddles. I took a few pictures of these reflections, in black and white.

When I moved to New York a second time, in 2014, I again started taking puddle pictures, this time in color – which adds an apocalyptic dimension.

If you take a close look at the pictures, they are like windows into another world, with eerie colors, shapes and distortions, caused by debris, mud, leaves, undercoating, dirt and wind. Even the reflected persons seem to stem from some other place and some other age. In these pictures New York is set on fire, with buildings and trees in flames, distorted, falling apart or being flooded. Memories of hurricane Sandy or 9/11 come to mind, when I walked downtown Manhattan, with my three year old son in the buggy. This experience was an important inspiration for the pictures.

In the future all types of disasters are possible: a renewed cold war with atomic threats, terror attacks or various environmental debacles.

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Stolen moments

Every camera has a powerful presence. When there is no camera around, people look free. When you point on someone with a camera, most people look tense, embarrassed, restrained and mannered.

In this project I was interested in catching moments when my photographic subjects didn´t feel the presence of the camera.

Nobody knew that I was taking a picture. My photographic subjects were on the street – a public space – and they didn´t recognize me as a photographer. I was an invisible “thieve”. To catch the moment, I held the camera at thigh level and did not look at the screen or through the viewfinder.

I tried to capture a solitary moment of focused introspection. All photographic subjects looked like they were heading for a certain destination. Which one? I didn´t know! It is up to the viewer to speculate about that.

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