Words by Maurice Pendarvis
Photographs provided by Flo Kohl
I guess we can start with the basics, why did you get into photography?
I had actually started off going to film school but I always liked doing photography back in school, but just as a hobby. But I came to LA just to do film. Things were kind of annoying in the industry because there’s so much politics involved, and I was trying for a way out or something else I could do that I would enjoy. At the same time some friends of mine were starting a new clothing company and wanted me to shoot photos for them. No pay, no nothing. So I did it and they came out well, they were happy with them. Over time I did actor’s headshots, and literally everything, I just kept shooting and shooting. And then I had more friends that were doing clothing and they saw the pictures I had taken for the first company and they asked if I could shoot theirs. Over time I eventually worked my way up to people actually paying me.
So, when did you move from Germany to attend film school?
I moved here in 2001 and I went to the New York Film Academy at Universal. Its funny, when I look back at all my films I did in film school, all the test films, they were all basically shot like how a photographer would shoot a film. They were beautiful images that would tell a story. There were no movement or anything, so it became quite natural just to do photos instead.
Who were some of your influences in film?
I had a lot of old horror films. I’m a big sucker for old horror films, like the Argento’s, and Italian zombie movies. I was obsessed with Peter Jackson’s horror films, like Bad Taste and Dead Alive I loved those movies. It was mainly horror, but I had some weird Japanese things that I used to like.
What caused your decision to move to London?
I moved about a year ago. I had some amazing opportunities out there and a friend of mine had a place in London that was furnished and everything, and much cheaper than what I was paying here. And I had some business opportunities to shoot for a couple of magazines out there. So I put everything in storage and moved out to London. It was only supposed to be for a year, it’s been more than a year, and legitimately, it’s going to be two years before I get back to LA.
So, what have you been doing in London? You mentioned you were shooting for a couple of magazines.
I’ve been doing mostly magazine work but I’ve been looking to get into more advertising, just because it pays a little bit more that magazines. Magazines are so much fun to shoot but they don’t pay that well. You got have to have couple of magazine gigs a month to live ok, and you probably need an ad to live ok for a couple of months.
I’ve noticed in your work that you like to shoot a lot of arty bondage or sexually themed work.
I really like the raunchy kinkyÃ¢â‚¬¦I like the dark stuff. I really want someone to look at a photograph and be a little bit shocked.
I can be amazed by a super beautiful photograph in Vogue but if you show me something that is a little bit twisted, I’d much rather see stuff like that.
I’ve always loved Helmut Newton’s stuff, so it wasn’t like I never looked at photography before; I’m just really in love with Helmut Newton’s work, especially all the black and white stuff, not necessarily S&M, but it has a little bit of power play undertones.
When making the transition from film director to photographer, are you trying to tell the Ã¢â‚¬Å“storyÃ¢â‚¬ in one image, much in the same way that Newton does?
I love when I shoot editorial for magazines; I love the ones when you don’t have to explain what is happening in each photo. Every photo should be good by itself. If it has to be a little series of photos than it’s missing the point. It’s funny because I’ve found myself experimenting with old film types, and by accident came across a way of how people used to process 35mm film, and there is a weird way of processing film now that makes it gets this red shift. I have been completely obsessed with it because I love the vintage stuff.
Ok, so, how often do you shoot film over digital?
Well, for everything commercial I shoot digital because it doesn’t make sense faster turn around and there is less cost involved. I get paid a certain amount of money and if I have to pay for developing, processing and printing, and all that stuff, it takes a huge junk of money out of my pocket. If you scan negatives at a decent lab, one scan can cost you $21.00.
I’m actually working on a project right now that is going to be shot on black and white Polaroids. I still love shooting Polaroids. I have a couple of film cameras that still I use from time to time but if I had to choose one analog medium it would be Polaroid for me.
Do you still keep Polaroid film in your refrigerator?
I have boxes. I actually have one specific film that I love; it’s the Polaroid 667. And when they announced they were stopping the manufacturing I went to Sam’s and literally bought up the rest of them. I think I have two thousand shots of this film left, and I’m not really touching them because I know at some point I want to be able to say to a brand look, I have this dope film that no one can shoot with anymore, and I have the cameras and can shoot your whole thing on this. But it has to be the right project.
Do you spend a lot of time retouching your photographs in Photoshop?
I spend a lot of time in Photoshop but its not spent on making sure the pimples are gone. Its mostly trying to figure out grain structure and aging it without looking I put an iPhone filter on top of it. Most of my time on the computer is spent making it look not so sharp because I think the problem why people don’t like digital is that it shows everything, it has too much information almost. Everybody always talks about more mega-pixels but the thing I think if you look at a digital photo and an analog photoÃ¢â‚¬¦people don’t like digital because it’s so very clear. I think its so clear that it loses some value to it.
What kind of equipment are you using?
I shoot a Hasselblad with a digital back, its one of those super high-end jobs, and a Canon 5D Mark 2, which I think has become the standard for most people because its not ridiculously expensive, it right in the middle. It’s a workhorse. It’s the only camera I bought on this trip and its amazing. I always feel a little funny using it because it looks like Paparazzi, and that’s the last thing I want to look like but it shoots so well, its so versatile, and it does full HD video. The season finale of House last season was shot on the 5D Mark 2. I think they used something like sixteen of them.
What would be your ultimate job that would give you the feeling that you’ve made it as a photographer?
I would love to shoot a Pirelli Calendar at some point. But I will say, and it sounds weird, but I like doing photography enough that I don’t really feel like I want to do photography until I retire but I enjoy doing it so much that I don’t think I would want to ever put down a camera. Its something I enjoy doing and if somebody pays me for it, even better.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I want to be, first of all, back in LA. I don’t have the aspirations of being like Terry Richardson who gets $500,000 as his day rate. I don’t need that,I just want to live comfortably and wake up every morning and say that I actually enjoy the job that I’m doing. And this is where I’m at right now. I’ve been working a lot and getting almost no sleep especially on this trip but I wake up in the morning and say to myself, I get to take pictures for a living and at the end of the day I think its awesome.