Six months ago Thomas Schweigert was offered the opportunity to have a solo exhibition, which would be his first. The exhibition would be part of a long-term display at Weltbühne, a new coffee house and restaurant opening up inside of the Thalia Theater in Hamburg. The plan is for a designated wall in the restaurant to display the work of 20 different photographers for a six month period each, over the course of 10 years. Each photographer would leave behind one image to remain as part of the wall. Thomas signed on and began the long process of sorting through his archive.

The work of sorting through his previous portraits ended abruptly six weeks ago when the project took a turn in a completely different direction. In late June, Thomas had the opportunity shoot a portrait of Gregory Crewdson, a highly revered photographer who he admires. It was during the shoot with Gregory Crewdson that Thomas determined the name and theme of his upcoming exhibition. A few days later, Thomas paid a visit to C/O Berlin to see the exhibition of Gregory Crewdson and another of Sibylle Bergemann, who was his teacher for a while. These two photographers are equally revered, but they have very different styles. The work of Gregory Crewdson is renowned for being perfectly staged, while the reportage work of Sibylle Bergemann is concentrated on issues of circumstance and transience. Thomas decided then and there to create something new for the exhibition, a series of portraits, that would exist somewhere in the middle of that spectrum, between staged and pure coincidence.

Now this is where the hard work began. Thomas was left with just a few short weeks to complete his project and set up the exhibition in time for the opening at Weltbühne on August 18. Thomas and his team immediately began scouting locations, recruiting actors, hiring hair and makeup and producing the shoots, which often took place in the rain. All the while, Thomas was documenting the project on a blog, posting bits of inspiration, updates and peeks behind the scenes. He describes it as such, “It’s a kind of personal work diary of mine, going through places, music and emotions from the past and present to find the melancholy for the future shootings. I really like the idea of commenting throughout the whole six weeks so everybody can follow and have a sneak peek behind the scenes. You really see what happens over those six weeks and what kind of mood you have.

From the initial photo shoot with Gregory Crewdson to every shoot thereafter and even production of the physical exhibition, Thomas and his team captured the entire process on video. These short clips were shot with the D-Lux 5 and posted to the Weile blog. The video clips added another layer to the project, giving a preview and setting a mood for what was to come in the exhibition. The viewer has the opportunity to see the actor as they were in the midst of the shoot. The subject of each portrait is just as much the mood as it is the actor in the photo. His ultimate goal is to use all of these various elements such as music and location to evoke a specific mood from the actor, as well as the viewer and blog reader. Several of the short clips were combined into this final cut of the “Weile” video above, using the soundtrack (“Alive” by Efteklang), the unidentifiable locations and the gaze of the actors to set the mood, a sense of nearly meditative melancholy.

Thomas worked with many different actors and actresses who served as the subjects of his portraits. These included both established actors and newcomers: Pheline Roggan, Stefano Casetti, Andreas Bichler, Mike Hoffmann, Uwe Bohm, Lars Eidinger, Carolina Vera, Volker Bruch, Luise Berndt, Mina Tander, Felicitas Woll Mike Hoffmann, Vadim Glowna, Kairit Krass, Nadja Becker, Karoline Schuch, Nadja Bobyleva, Milton Welch, Catherine Kowalewski, Emre Aksizoglu and Eva Bay. Once Thomas had an actor confirmed he would begin seeking inspiration from music, images and locations from his past to determine the mood he wanted to have for that portrait. Though the shoots took place in locations throughout Berlin and Hamburg it was very important that they be non-nondescript and have no identifying features. Thomas wants to ensure that his portraits look universal and have the ability to evoke the same emotions in 20 years. Despite the significant planning regarding location, mood and production, Thomas spent quite a bit of time working with each actor so they both remained authentic, realistic and sensitive.

Each of the portraits was captured using the Leica S2. This is the third time Thomas has used the S2 for such a large project. “In this case I had to go to the edge of what the camera was capable of,” Thomas explains. “It was really dark and we had to go 800 ISO, which is a lot for a medium format.” The camera was also exposed to the elements with little more than a kerchief to protect it. “It is probably better to have two or three assistants with umbrellas,” he says. “But we went for a walk to find the right mood and location. I was really aware of the camera and made sure it did not get too wet.”

Thomas Schweigert’s exhibition “Weile” opens to the public on Friday 19 August  and runs until 20 February at Weltbühne in the Thalia Theater located at Gerhart-Hauptmann-Platz 70, Hamburg, Germany.

-Leica Internet Team

You can find out more about the project on Thomas’ Facebook page and Weile Documentary blog.