“Sub Rosa takes us by the hand to lead us back to a magical, mystical place; like a sneak peek behind doors we thought had been closed behind us forever. We catch a glimpse of the unplumbed depth of human souls concealed behind innocent faces and intimate moments, which seem to have originated from our own memories. Sub Rosa wants us to experience what we have already experienced – intimate strangeness and strange intimacy.”
– Birthe Piontek
Photographs form the project Sub Rosa you can find above.
Please tell us a little about yourself, where you are from, and what you do.
I’m a visual artist originally from Germany, where I got my MFA in Photography and Communication Design from the Folkwang School of Art in Essen in 2004. But, after graduating, I moved to Vancouver, Canada where I now live and work.
My art practice is mostly photography-based but over the last years, I got more and more intrigued by other art forms such as sculpture and installation, and started to include those into my work as well.
How would you personally describe your style of photography? What message/s do you try to convey through your images?
I think style-wise I’m aiming for something in between poetic and surreal. My images have their origin in our psyche and our subconscious minds, and speak about something that is sometimes hard to put into words. They refer to our emotions, our dreams, desires, and fears. If looking at my images triggers a certain kind of feeling or makes people think about their emotional landscapes, I am quite satisfied.
Which elements of shooting film are you drawn to the most?
Not knowing exactly what the result looks like and not being able to see the image while I’m working on it leaves a lot more room for being focused on the actual image. That might sound weird, but I find it mostly distracting to constantly look and check the back of a digital camera, instead of focusing on the light thinking about possible variations and being “in” the picture, instead of looking at it on a digital screen.
I also love the moment of getting my developed film back from the lab – it’s always a bit like Christmas. Not saying you always get the nice gifts you asked for, there are also a lot of woolen socks and ugly sweaters. But, the moment of suspense and joy and sometimes the moment of suspense and disappointment are part of the process that I love.
What would you say is your greatest inspiration?
People – the way we are in the world, our psyches, our identities, our dreams, hopes, and fears. Just looking at people, being with them and observing them, is the biggest inspiration.
Name someone whose art makes you shiver.
Yayoi Kusama and Marina Abramovic.
If you had to choose a camera + film to shoot with for the rest of your life, which combo would it be and why?
That’s easy, Hasselblad 500CM and Portra 400. I shoot with this combination all the time and this camera is almost an extension of my eye or my body.
Can you share the weirdest situation you’ve faced being a film photographer?
Changing film at -40 degrees Celsius, with three pairs of gloves on.
If you had to choose a movie that defines you both, personally and aesthetically, which one would it be?
The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Do you remember the photo you took that made you feel proud for the first time? Can you share it with us?
A black and white portrait of my older sister which I took in my first photography class in high school. I think I was around 16 years old and clearly remember the combination of joy, surprise, and excitement. I had discovered something very new to me and I wanted this feeling to stay in my life.
If you could time travel to the past and be the assistant of a great photographer, who would it be?
At Whattaroll, we believe that inspiration can come from many different sides. Can you write down and share with us a paragraph from the book you’re reading at the moment?
“At her tone, at once intimate and formal, a terrible sadness came over me, and when we looked at each other it seemed that the whole past was redefined and brought into focus by this moment, clear as glass, a complexity of stillness that was rainy afternoons in spring, a dark chair in the hallway, the light-as-air touch of her hand on the back of my head.” – The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
Describe your shooting routine.
I actually don’t really have a shooting routine as I’m working on so many different projects that require very different approaches. If I’m shooting still lifes or installation based work, I usually try to limit myself to one roll, see what I got, and make adjustments in a second or third reshoot until I’m satisfied. When I take portraits I tend to shoot a lot more – usually up to five rolls in a sitting, to make sure I really got something.
Speaking of portraits, who’s the face you’d love to photograph but haven’t had the chance to have in front of your camera yet?
I’m not so much interested in celebrities or famous figures and am a lot more inspired by “everyday encounters” with regular people, like this very interesting looking cashier at Safeway, who so far I’ve never had the chance to approach and ask if she would be interested in having her portrait taken.
Who do you think we should feature in the next Hero of the Week section?
See more of Birthe’s work in the links below: