This year, Christiane Bördner and her partner, photographer Marcus Gaab, will celebrate the 20th anniversary of their creative agency, THE GAABS. Together they develop campaigns, catalogs and corporate identities for internationally renowned design and fashion clients (including Nike, Vitra, Stone Island, Joop!, Hugo Boss and Nymphenburg). She is also the creative director of I LOVE YOU magazine, founder and creative director of ENDLESS and the art director for NOAH magazine. We’re delighted to have this Berliner as a guest curator for BLACK IRIS.
You co-curated photographers for BLACK IRIS, including Mirka Laura Severa among them. Why?
I’ve known Mirka for a long time because she was my intern. Her work is humorous, but also has an aesthetic quality – I really like that. In principle, she works mainly with classical still lifes, but she brings components of humor and the artificial together. It almost has an idealized artificiality, which I find very refreshing.
Artifice, or rather staging, and reality are two dialectical associations that have accompanied photography since its invention. What’s happening in photography now, what do you find exciting, how has photography developed over the last two decades?
I often deal with perception and how it has changed. Of course, I see all the influences: I’ve observed how photography has transformed through new media, new techniques, new tools and through Photoshop.
When I look at old photos that we’ve produce, I see how badly some of them were touched up in post-production 20 years ago. But at the time, it was totally okay. Today, not a single image can be printed or sent out without post-production. How artificial perception has become because of this! I recently read a great article by Elfie Semotan about this. As a fashion photographer she writes that in the past it was possible to simply take beautiful photographs. Today, that’s not possible: Every image must fulfill a purpose; it has to sell a product. I work similarly these days as an art director.
But what I find really interesting is the question of how perception affects reality: for example, in the 80s models were a bit thicker and now they’re thinner, their faces are always wrinkle-free and their eyes are getting bigger and bigger. In advertising and photography, someone visibly retouches the image. But what happens when people internalize these images and accept them as reality? The result is that suddenly people are having operations and hyper-realizing themselves to approximate this figure found in photography. The more I see these kinds of images, the more I begin to believe that it’s how we’re supposed to look these days. Even though I surely know better.
Likewise, I think it’s really exciting how this language of images and our perception changes through technology. We also discussed this with other photographers – whether it’s still photography. I find it intriguing that in English you “take a picture” and in German you “make a picture.” You could also ask if you take something from reality. There are cultures in which people do not want to be photographed, because they are afraid that something will be taken away from them through the photograph. Does it become something that you can take out of reality and alienate? We finally agreed on this in a discussion: some part of it must be a picture or a photograph. That would then mean that, yes, it’s something that I’ve taken out of the world, regardless of the technique or device.
"Of course, I see all the influences: I’ve observed how photography has transformed through new media, new techniques, new tools and through Photoshop."
In your opinion, how do new techniques or equipment affect photography, as well as artists and viewers in general?
Every era has its own channels and possibilities – and that’s great. For example, my son wants to study art and is quite creative. Right now, he’s discovering art on Instagram, above all, young artists that publish their illustrations on their own Instagram accounts with thousands of followers. Young artists who are already on a entirely different level. They have completely different opportunities to publish their work, starting from the playroom or university.
I think it’s incredible that you no longer have to find a gallery first, to get some kind of stamp of approval that shows that you’re capable of being an artist. It’s just like in the world of magazine-making, the internet is much faster, suddenly you can reach the entire world. Perhaps these things are driven by consumers, by viewers, rather than gallerists or so-called experts.
Does the internet influence everything, where avant-garde rapidly becomes the trend and then the general style?
How can I be elite or special or ahead of my time and only address a small target audience and, at the same time, want to appeal to everyone? It’s a problem that I’m seeing with my clients right now and I’m asking myself: how can something be niche if it’s supposed to reach everyone? It’s a contradiction. Avant-garde verses likes or clicks.
Your magazine, I LOVE YOU, has not only published unusual fashion photographs and editorials, but it has also reacted conceptually to the changes in communication you’ve described above.
I LOVE YOU has a very unique concept: I’ve attempted to bring this blogger world, or this consumer view, back to the print somehow, and to build on this concept – with a certain naivety, humor, with fun, but also with intellect and a bit of a spiritual or esoteric approach. My idea was not to tell the reader that they absolutely need these things to be happy, rather: “You’re just right as you are.”
I’ve done a lot of coaching and I wanted to combine these experiences with the fashion and product worlds, but to do it with the type of communication we have in our present, fast-paced times, in which everyone has an opinion that can be put out there because it reaches countless people without much effort. It’s clearly broken classical journalism. I also attempted to create this with the magazine – to focus on a different, very specific topic. Every issue, from the “Ego Issue” to the “Pink Issue” was a reaction to communication, perception and the current lifestyle of our world. It was our attempt to choose a theme as an artist might, to work it through and to examine it from all angles. When the issue is finished, the theme usually is as well.
It’s like a study for me. I can be more thorough. When you receive a work order, there’s always some kind of compromise, because it’s not your own product, there are other opinions and there are clients, who might want to do something differently. I believe it’s always very important to have your own project, your own lighthouse.
See her work at WWW.THEGAABS.COM