Claudia Reinhardt

Herpes, Hamburg 1990

Interview: Annette Weber and Claudia Reinhardt, August 1998
Annette: Do you know your images or do they know you?
Claudia: Mean and at the same time interesting question.
A: Okay, how did you come across your topics, how did you start,? how did your topic evolve, which covers your work generally?
C: When I started to photograph I wanted to shoot fashion, self-portrait came out just like this. I wanted to become a fashion-photographer, because I was fascinated by the idea how the illusion of feminity, of women, developed ? I am talking about Vogue or Harpers Bazar-photos of the 20s and 30s. Richard Avedon is one example. Really amazing what these people have done.
A: But those photos those women are perfect, there is no trace of a breaking apart
C: I also started this way. I wanted to take beautiful photos, the people on my photos were supposed to look good and its still this way. But the violence, the breaking of beauty I catch in my work, how does it come about? Well, my photos were not accepted as fashion-photos and my work continued, new influences infiltrated.
A: How do you make your way to one specific image, so you dream about it?
C: Thats varying. Sometimes there are concrete ideas, for example the self-portrait Frances Farmer, whose autobiography I´ve read. And I saw movies with and about her. She is such a legend, the tragic female character in the heyday of Hollywood movies. She was a victim of this business and her life or what people made of her life in pictures, books and movies is again great material for a Hollywood movie. At this time I was
interested in this kind of legends.
A: And how do you visualize an idea, which you beforehand conceived via literature/movies etc.? Do you have clear images in your mind, you realize then?
C: Sometimes. I do have an image in my mind, but later the photo never looks this way. In my realizations I keep full scope for improvisations, for coincidences, the spontaneous feeling. Mostly its not coming up as planned. That is also the fun of it and I am still excited when I am taking a photo.
A: Why do you take photos of women most of the time?
C: Well, for a long time I didn´t reflect about what I shoot and why. Now I know that I came by way of the self portraits to the theme of woman and gender roles. When you get busy with this you inevitably come across roles and ideas of disguise. The topic of identity became a center of interest.
A: Are there roles you wouldn´t like to take over?
C: Yes, there are some, but it is on the other hand absolutely necessary that I am the one, who personates the role.
A: Your female images are either alienated or there is a kind of violence impact in your photos, sometimes very direct, sometimes more subtle. You didn´t portrait many strong, unbroken images of femaleness. Can you explain this?
C: This has often been a reproach. I would like to present optimistic, unbroken,
self-determined women figures, this is exaxtly what I am keen on, but it is not possible, such images don´t exist for me. If somebody shows me examples of this kind, I find these failed more deeply than anything else. I really don´t know any picture, which would come true to this, this entity and autonomy, which is required there.
A: The images you invent do they concern you or are they found in your environment or your perception?
C: That´s varying. Of course all of it is transmitted through me, becomes subjective,
but it doesn´t concern me personally in every case the way it appears later in the photo. I stole many images from Madonna for example.
A: This is really interesting. Because Madonna represents a strong, self-confident image of femaleness.
C: And I a negative one, yes?
A: Yes, in a way therefore I couldn´t live with all your pictures, have them around me all the time.
C: I wouldn´t say I portrait negative images of womanhood. Rather, I put a woman in a situation, which reveals the conditions of her construction of identity. Perhaps I present her as a captive of this situation, this world, and it is seldom that she has the power to get out of this situation like Madonna. Only a few portraits, close-ups with the woman in an introvert mood, show self containment and autonomy.
A: Is this then the solution for you, the idea of a secluded system, which she sustains for herself, shown in her location and then the other images, where it is obvious, there is influence from the outside world?
C: I don´t really know this, it just stroke me, that it is this way.
A: When in the process of producing an image, do you think of other people looking
at it later?
C: Well yes, but it doesn?t really influence me.
A: Do you believe that femaleness must always appear as a break, a vulnerability and that it is bound to work upon or against a dominant dicourse? Is there no possibility of another reality for you, a parallel exising reality with other parameter?
C: I really don´t know, if there is another view except for the male one, and if there is something like this, how to make visible, to indicate this view. But I consider this a great challenge.
A: Do you have the feeling that people understand your photos as constructions of femaleness? Cindy Sherman really points this out.
C: I don´t think I intend to say: gender is construction, femaleness is constructed, but what I am interested in is the way how this happens. Earlier people had problems to understand my photography, now gender theories accommodated to me. My series "Love Line Part One" got criticized a lot at that time for example, even though I had more in my mind than simply repeating porno images, the desperation in the search for individuality, which is expressed in these pictures. My idea has always been to produce pictures who strike the spectator as being normal but there is something weird in them.
A: Richard Prinz and Jeff Wall come to my mind. Both show images of things being there already. Why are you interested in the making, one could suppose, you find these scenes also in real life.
C: Right, many of the photos I invent look authentical, but then it is the case that one doesn´t find the images in real life. There are always only fragments and I join them together. There are always only shreds, it´s your mind which fits this scenes together.
It is, so to say, realism and inspired material it could have been this way.
A: How is actually the position of the recipient, does he understand your work as
autobiographical or is it the perspective you take hold of as photographer, when you are the one in charge in front of and behind the camera, hm?
C: I always considered it the most horrible stuff to be autobiographical, for a while it was very unpopular and one got soon stamped categorically as woman-art. A Jeff Koons, as you said so cleverly, can raise his personal orgasm towards art and this is not considered as embarrassing. It was a kind of problem for me that people didn´t differentiate between me and my photos. People presupposed that I would satisfy my phantasies in my photos.
I found these comments totally displaced and pejorative, besides the fact that it is total bullshit to realize ones phantasies in sessions like these. I denied more and more that my photos had anything to do with me, which is of course also not true.