Alexander Binder: A Halloween special

This Halloween we present to you the work of Alexander Binder - a self-taught photographer who for the past few years has been producing photographs of things that go bump in the night. 

Zak Dimitrov: Your images are incredibly atmospheric, perhaphs even mystical. Tell us more about yourself and how you became involved with photography?

Alexander Binder: The mystical and eerie character of my images probably has to  do with the place where I grew up. I was born in the Black Forest, a rural area in South-west Germany. Fairytales, fables and old traditions play an important role in the local culture. These stories about giants, demons and witches caught my attention when I was a child and they are still my favorite source of inspiration.

My introduction to photography was rather unspectacular. Like a lot of young teenagers in the late 80s, I got a cheap plastic camera as a birthday present. I started to document the – at that time – fascinating phenomena around my parent’s house. Spiders eating small insects, strange-looking mushrooms, rotten car tyres in the woods, gnarly branches and all those kind of things. 

As I got older, I added more and more fantastic creatures from my own imagination into the scenes. Family members and close friends had to wear masks and odd costumes. So I felt like the crazy director of an otherworldly movie. And that’s also the way I like to see myself today.

ZD: Today – Halloween – happens to be your birthday. Do you think this partly influenced your artistic vision?

AB: No, not really. Actually the Halloween hype is quite new in Germany so it didn’t have a strong influence on my artistic ideas. 

But Halloween’s growing popularity made it much easier for me to buy all the props that I need for my photo shoots. Now there are many shops that offer a wide range of artificial blood, capes and spooky party supplies.

ZD: As a self-taught photographer who has been exhibited internationally, how important do you consider formal art education to be?

AB: I think a formal art education helps you especially at the beginning of your career. It provides you with all the basic tools and it gives you the possibility to share your vision with like-minded people. 

I began my adventures in photography with literally nothing. No contacts to other photographers, no idea about preparing an exhibition, no studio space, no advice on writing an artist’s CV – just the amateurish enthusiasm and inner drive to bring my ideas to life. So I had to start from scratch and there were several moments where I wished to have an experienced professor or a fellow student to talk about these challenges. I acquired this knowledge in a learning-by-doing process, which was a pretty chaotic experience with a lot of ups and downs. 

From my point of view, the formal education becomes increasingly unimportant at a later point in your career. Then it’s much more about refining your artistic language and finding a real meaning in the things that you do. This is something no school can teach you. 

ZD: Some of your photographs look as if they have been processed in Instagram. However, when you started your career, Instagram did not exist, or at least it was not as mainstream as it is today. Do you think about how the viewers’ perception of your work changes through the course of time?

AB: For almost 10 years I have been using self-made and vintage lenses with a D-SLR body to create my images. I always wanted to combine the feeling of analogue nostalgia with the convenience of a digital workflow.

Today we see a massive retro trend and in the meantime there are tons of software, filters and apps available, which help you to create a ‘vintage’ look just with the push of a button. Hence it sounds completely plausible to me that people think that some of the photographs have been processed in Instagram. And of course it’s interesting to see how the perception of my images changes from ‘experimental’ to ‘photo filter app’. But at the end of the day this is nothing to complain about. In the last years the whole process, the creation of the masks, my extensive research on lenses, traveling and working together with people became more important for me than the final image. The image is just a snapshot of this unique experience. Fortunately, experiences can’t be simulated with a software tool yet.

ZD: Your work deals with the spiritual and the surreal, but you also collaborate with musicians. What’s the link between the two in your opinion, if any?

AB: Bands like Vaura, the artists at Utech Records, Stephen O’Malley and all the other musicians I had the pleasure to work with, have a similar view on our existence. They just use another medium to express their thoughts.

ZD: Some of your projects - Infestation, Ultrawald, and Gotham, to name just a few - are collections of out of focus, hazy, somewhat obscure photographs whose subject cannot be identified straight away. Was it your intention to ask your audience to go through them over and over again, to make sense of them?

AB: The obvious always bored me. Our world is full of obvious things, easily consumable products, media and art for people with an attention span of less than a second.

I love the idea of looking at images again and again. For me, it is only a profound and sustainable experience when I have to find access to something that is incomprehensible at a first glance.

So, yes, it is my intention to let people meditate on the photos. The images are blurry and obscure, the sequence of images follows a complex narrative structure and even the title only gives a vague hint about the idea behind a specific body of work. My photography is much more about feeling than understanding. It’s an emotional process, not a rational one. There’s no right or wrong, the meditation on the images and your individual interpretation is the whole reward.

ZD: The majority of your projects end up as books. What is it about the book form that you find so interesting?

AB: You have to know that my dad is a fan of French comic books from the 70s. Especially Jean Giraud aka Moebius heavily influenced me with his fantastic visual journeys. I already knew that I wanted to publish my photos in a book when I picked up a camera for the first time.

My obsession with photo books is also closely linked to the way I work. I perceive the photos not as singular observations but as stills of a never realized movie. One single image just wouldn’t be enough to convey the atmosphere of such a film-like concept.

By the way, this month I started to work on ‘Kristall ohne Liebe’, my next photo book project, which will be released in late 2015 by Tangerine Press / London. I deeply admire the craftsmanship of passionate bookmakers and I am looking forward to seeing how everything evolves.

See more of Alexander's work HERE 

Zak Dimitrov

— Zak Dimitrov
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