Everything has the right to be put in the picture: well-known faces, deserted landscapes, objects, animals and urban spaces. The retrospective book, Everything so democratic and cool, by photographer Christian Werner, is an associative collage of the present, a captivating feeling of the now. The diversity of the motifs is nothing less than a summary of the great whole: the world.
The title of your book refers to a line from the song Random Rules by Silver Jews. Would you describe your pictures as “random”?
I often listened to the song in my car when I was on a trip to Los Angeles. Lines and quotes from pop songs have always been very important companions in my life. The best ones are kept extremely open and yet still condense a precise feeling of something that cannot be expressed in any other way. Everything so democratic and cool is a sentence I’ve been carrying around for years, and now it helped me put together a picture cycle. However, the title also has another level, namely a cross-reference to William Eggleston’s great photographic work. With The Democratic Forest, Eggleston established the famous democratic vision that says that everything has the right to be put in the picture.
14 years of photographic creativity are consolidated in your book, and it doesn’t only cover the breadth of your oeuvre. In addition to still-lifes, scenarios, snapshots and portraits, it brings together places, landscapes, animals and people from different countries. What does travelling mean to you?
Journeys are important for photography. When you’re in a foreign place you pay more attention than when you’re in familiar surroundings. I also like the metaphor of travelling in all directions. I think travelling is good. And coming home.
The photo book presents over 100 pictures, how did you go about choosing them?
This time it went relatively quickly. My exhibition of the same title was planned for April at the Kunstraum Blake & Vargas in Berlin. Together with Sarah Bernauer and Matthias Last, I quickly agreed that a small publication should accompany the exhibition. Matthias is a great Art Director (Studio Last), and he was really keen to work with my pictures.
You photograph predominantly in colour – it defines the style of your pictures. Furthermore, the geometric arrangement of the motifs plays a decisive role…
I experiment with black and white film from time to time, and I can appreciate the reduction; but the world that I see and that I want to describe is in colour. How things relate to each other and influence moods, is decisive for me in my picture composition. Significantly more important than geometry. I don’t always value exact proportions or straight verticals. The frame must fit, and I compose that through the viewfinder. Virtually none of my pictures get trimmed or straightened.
The foreword to your books speaks about the “fleetingness of the moment” that you capture, the “moments between past and future”. Would the present be a lost space without photography?
The present is a big concept. It’s a challenge for everyone to live right in it. Photography can help with this. But the more beautiful pictures are mostly from the past.
Some of your pictures arose intuitively and spontaneously, yet on the other hand some are also staged. What does your decision depend on?
The decision between staged or not is very undefined for me. I rarely work in a studio, and mostly with compact equipment. That’s why my pictures are generally somewhat freer. But basically every picture is staged.
You’ve worked with various Leica cameras. How has your experience been?
I’ve been working with Leica equipment for a very long time. My last photo book, Los Angeles, was photographed exclusively with Leica. Mostly with the M, where the design and rangefinder technology is absolutely unique. You photograph “differently” with this camera. Sometimes I also work with the S, where the depth of colour and the resolution are of the highest quality. Leica cameras are also very beautiful objects, and that’s important to me. I want the tools I work with to look good.
What does your editing process look like?
I try to get as natural a colour reproduction as possible, which primarily means tonal value corrections, adjustments of skin tones and such things. A large portion of the pictures in the book here are, in fact, photographed on film, where the choice of negative material already decides the look, and often makes the creation process of the picture significantly easier.
Your pictures speak of life in this world, from small and large, bizarre and cool incidents. Is there a story that brings all the pictures together?
As a photographer you tend to collect a few anecdotes throughout the years. There are certainly interesting stories to tell about many picture. About encounters, chance happenings and your own memories. Some pictures came about en passant, and only reveal their story when they interact with others.
When looking at the more than 100 pictures taken in the most diverse countries, with the most diverse motifs, it appears in the end as though it is all just one place that we’re seeing. Is that the way you see the world?
I’m really happy if that’s the impression. That means it works. As a photographer, I’ve always wanted to develop an imagery that allows me, on the one hand, to not be tied down by motifs and, on the other hand, to develop a certain recognizability within different contexts. If some kind of coherence is visible between my different works, then I’ve achieved a lot already.
The photographer Christian Werner lives and works in Berlin. In addition to his work for many national and international magazines, the focus of his work is on long-term projects, which have already resulted in a number of books. Christian Werner’s previous works include the disappearance of the “old” Federal Republic (Stillleben BRD, Kerber Verlag 2016) and urban flora (Die Blüten der Stadt, Suhrkamp 2018). In 2019 Korbinian Verlag published his book, Los Angeles, with text by Tom Kummer. Everything so democratic and cool has been published by Blake & Vargas Verlag.