German photographer Tim Vischer chats with us about his recent portrait series on drag queens and how he learned to accept himself through his photography.
Tell us about yourself.
I was born 1993 in a small German town near the Dutch border —the only way to get out there is by bike or car. I have used photography to create my own little world in pictures and to dream away into a more exciting future. I realized early on that I was gay which was leaving myself trapped between intolerant farmers and their bullying spouses at school and at home with my parents that I didn’t wanted to burden with the truth. Since then I dreamt of the big cities, their glamour, and the feeling of living a life without a need to stay closeted. We got a reliable Internet connection when I was 14, which made me photograph even more to get out into the world and talk to strangers who found themselves in the same position as me.
I started my journey into a self-proclaimed life by studying Arts at the ArtEZ Enschede in the Netherlands. There, I met my boyfriend with whom I moved back to Germany to study at the Bauhaus University in Weimar. I just recently returned from staying in NYC for half a year studying at the Pratt Institute to finish my Bachelor's and then hopefully, I will return to NYC for my Master's degree.
How and when did you start photographing?
I started photographing in my early childhood when my father introduced me to analogue photography on his Nikon f801, which I still frequently shoot on. In my teen years, I traveled around a lot and got myself my first digital camera. Also, I had an long “emo” phase that included lots of self portraits. Later on, I got my first “Lomo” — a beautiful full plastic Holga that made me think more out of the box than any other camera could. The 4-colored flash and the super easy multiple exposure were great to experiment with and inspired the way I work with colours and shapes today. When I turned 18, I got offered a job in a local club that included lots of nights spent between drunk people that wanted to have new profile pics for their Facebook pages. After quitting there, I didn't want to photograph anymore. I felt used and uncreative. At the same time, I started studying sculpture at an art school. The first two years were unsuccessful and the only fun part was photographing the things I made. That was also the moment where I really got into shaping objects or models with light and setting up stages inside my studio. After meeting my boyfriend, I decided to turn my life around and find my passion again, so I quit sculpting and got back to working with lenses.
This series feels high fashion yet personal at the same time. Can you tell us the ideas behind it?
The idea behind the series changed a lot since the start, but I ended up with the essence of it. The queens are situated in the workplaces of the jobs their parents wanted them to engage in when they were growing up. This opens up the conversation between their own self realization and thoughts of life in general as well as the wish of their parents to become a working part of a heteronormative society. The series should open up the discussion about alternatives to the black and white way of growing up and finding a place in the world in a rather beautiful, colorful, and unusual way. Everyone can be anything nowadays if they follow their true vision of themselves and this should be made possible by society. It is also a way to show the heteronormative labour market that they shouldn't fear the different.
In my work, I always try to identify with an issue in some way. After some years of selecting themes for my series rather wildly through all the categories, I tried to go back to my own issues with life. In the last years after meeting my boyfriend, I finally started to accept my queer self. Since then, I’m working through my gay agenda, representing the more unrepresented sides of gay life. A more positive side is proving to the heteronormative culture that there is space for queers on their high fashion magazines next to skinny VIP’s and giving a voice to the creativity of those queens that goes beyond the borders of the safe spaces that the queer community created for itself. I'm trying to create a picture that is worth looking at, more than snapping a moment of time.
Why did you choose to shoot this series on film?
Going for film creates intimacy and a concentration that you cannot replicate with a sensor and a flash drive. People who are working in some kind of spotlight always tend to build a barrier between them and their audience while performing — with those queens, there is their gorgeous makeup, which stands between you and themselves. By staging those pictures in unusual places that tend to suck in the attention of the viewer, I wanted to get up as close as possible to the queens and their personalities. Through film, their aura is captured in a way that wouldn't be possible with another medium. In this series the queen herself, her makeup, her expression, and her backstory already tell enough and I want this to tell the story and not edit them into something they are not.
In general, when I need to be quick, it's the 35mm. When I am unlimited for time, I'm going for 120mm, which can end up in a 20 minute long back and forth about some hairs flying around before actually pressing the shutter. But as I’m also producing lots of moving image content, digital cameras are not banned from my use. In my analogue work, I’m not shy photoshopping my scans. I'm a perfectionist by nature, and when it comes to my work, there is no picture which I can hardly leave fully untouched in any way — at least if I don't intend to do so in the first place. I think that this is a healthy way of working with film. Just because it's been around for so long doesn't mean you can't interfere and evolve with the medium and technology. I know there are some people out there that are super radical about how you should use analogues and leave them untouched, but I’ve also seen people tweaking their scanner settings rather than spending hours in a darkroom with different chemicals in their hand. To be honest, in 2018, there will always be the transition from your negative to your hard drive altering the image in a way that would not have been possible 25 years prior. Why not play around with it?
Most of the time, you will find me running around with at least three cameras at once. There is the 35mm, the instant, and the digital. I recently got a 120mm as well so I don’t have to run around renting it out all the time. Then you add a tripod, some lights, and gels, and that makes it more of a heavier kind of backpack. The everyday and unplanned as well as vacation and getaways are almost never captured on film in my life. They just don't have the entitlement to end up on precious film.
Why is it important for you to make work about these ideas?
I want to empower the gay youth and the queer community to be true to themselves and stay strong and grateful of whatever they've got. There is love out there for anyone. It wasn't easy for me being gay everyday throughout my life, especially having grown up in a difficult situation, but you should always stay true to whoever you are. I want to increase the gay visibility in a way that people open up their minds for a different kind of living, especially in those areas where homophobia is something practiced on a daily basis. I want to shine a light on a different kind of queer culture that isn't part of the minds of the people that urge prejudices against it.
Letting yourself open up to the ideas of gender fluidity can be glamorous and playful. It is very important that people realize that the character drags embodied are not just a facade, but they tell you something about the person's backstory and relates to who they truly are or want to be.
What makes the perfect portrait?
The perfect portrait is made through a connection that goes far beyond the lens. A personality needs to be shown and therefore, a comfort with the situation creating an intimacy for the viewer who is unfamiliar with the model, which leads the model to get out of themselves. The perfect portrait tells more about a character than about a face. Besides that, I think that people have different faces. One portrait can never be the only one but instead, capture as many as possible. I always try to spend as much time as possible with my models before I’m going for the shoot, as this often results in choosing friends as well as becoming friends through the process.
After you got this issue covered, you still have to scout a location or build a studio set, set up your lights, have your camera under control, and get your story straight.