Berlin photographer Jo Fischer spent eight weeks in a north German, provincial town near Bremen. The outcome is an impressive photo series that has now appeared as a book published by Kerber Verlag.
Syke has 24,000 inhabitants and no claim to fame. What took you there?
I was invited. The head of Syker Vorwerk (Syke Folwark), a contemporary arts centre, Nils-Arne Kässens, had seen my German Feierlichkeit (German Festivity) photo series, which shows people at fun fairs, in community halls, or at marksmen’s festivals. Together, we came up with the idea of creating a similar series for the town of Syke. As it happened, however, I went there at a time of year when there weren’t too many festivities going on.
It was autumn…
… yes, and it was quite bleak. The streets were empty, the weather was grey and misty. I soon tossed aside my initial intention of taking bright, colourful photos. To tell the truth, after three weeks I was even thinking of giving up and leaving. The inhabitants of Syke were not very approachable, they were very closed. As I wanted to do a portrait of the town, that seemed rather unhelpful.
Now your Syke project has been turned into a book, so it did all work out in the end.
Thanks to a press conference, I finally got access to the people of the town – at dances for seniors, hair dressers, homes for the mentally disturbed. I started photographing in black and white. It suited the melancholia of the season as much as my own mood. I must say, the project was a challenge, as I learned a lot. If reality doesn’t offer enough space, you have to start inventing. This means that In Syke is not classic documentation, but rather a mixture of truth and fiction.
In addition to landscapes with low-lying clouds, you also photographed old people. The portraits show wrinkles, scars, pores. What was the intention behind this?
I wanted to show the people as they truly are. Straight-forward, direct and serious. Smiling just contorts the face. The portraits were taken very close up, but they were photographed with a loving approach. They are honest pictures, pictures that show the dignity of the people and their ageing. They don’t mock anyone. Up till then I’d never taken portraits in this straight form; but with the Leica SL and its zoom lens it was easy to be tempted.
How did the inhabitants of Syke react to their pictures?
At the exhibition vernissage at Syker Vorwerk, the resonance was consistently positive. About 200 people were there and there was plenty of discussion. Visitors asked me very factual questions like, why did you photograph that blurry? I explained that a picture always reflects the photographer’s mood. Light, contrast, blurriness – these things underline my feelings at the moment of pressing the trigger. The pictures tell my story of arrival, failure, resurrection, exhibition and departure.
You can see further pictures by Jo Fischer in LFI 2/2017.
Born in Berlin in 1970 – a committed photographer who is not afraid to exert himself. Contrasts are the most important thing to him. His Herr Fischer bittet zu Tisch series was nominated for the 2015 KOLGA Award.