Interview #26: Rupert Warren (2021)
Rupert Warren is a lifelong professional and experimental photographer who explores thematics rooted in both history and modernity through conceptual depictions. Using digital superpositions as well as more conventional approaches, he portrays timeless abstract scenes in which storytelling and meaning seem the main motive.
Here’s our interview with him.
MS／Welcome to Hintology. To begin with, could you first tell us a bit about yourself and your background in a general sense?
RW／Thank you for inviting me to write about my work. The question you are asking me is to describe myself, in other words to take a portrait of myself using words. Expressing myself in words has always been a challenge. In fact, at school, even my teachers found it difficult to understand me. It was exactly because of this that I discovered that taking photographs solved a multitude of problems. I was suddenly judged according to how and what I photographed, and I was no longer judged on my ability to remember facts or to comprehend texts in an expected fashion, and most importantly on my ability to spell.
I attended a technical college which taught photography with a hands-on approach back in the mid-1980s, when creating images was indeed completely different from today. I then moved from England to Germany for personal reasons, but I believed that I could do photography there because language wouldn’t be a barrier. And for the work I did it wasn’t either, and I have managed to “get away” with both an imperfect German and an imperfect English to become a practicing professional freelance photographer. Since then, we’ve grown to have computers that help with the writing and, much to my pleasure, photography as well.
MS／What has been your relationship with photography like, and what fascinates you most in the medium?
RW／Ever since I discovered photography during school (which was already 40 years ago), I became excited to look at the world through a camera and to frame moments in time. Early on, I noticed what a difference our point of view makes, to the point that whenever I pictured a scene in my mind I would have to close one eye because even the choice of which eye to use would make a big difference. This has been an important source of personal excitement — to attempt to succeed in the challenge of deciding which perspective and which moment to frame for a picture. It is so simple and yet so difficult to get right! And the constant awe it gives you when you get it right or see someone else getting it right…!
MS／How has photography evolved for you and what form does it take nowadays?
RW／Nowadays, taking photographs is not so much about figuring out how to take them, but what to take images of. As a life-long professional photographer, the subjects of my photography were always the subjects that clients found interesting. Apart from trying to arouse an interest for subjects, my ability for taking technically adequate pictures was challenging enough on its own, and my clients were willing to pay for this service. However with modern cameras now doing much of the work, things have changed for everyone on both sides of the equation. Being an optimist and knowing no other way of communicating, I have always tried to improve my photography, and have constantly been experimenting with different techniques.
The three pictures presented here so far are my from my latest experiment. It started off as a series about sand, illustrating words, (e.g. sandbag) or depicting windows in the sand (given that sand is the raw material for glass). But then I then began to listen to the comments made on Instagram and started to adapt and develop my work accordingly. It has resulted in me creating an abstract story about a man (M) in a desert with a smartphone. No wonder my teachers at school had difficulty following my thoughts!
Armed with the experience of having written and published this short story, I’ve now started developing a new one, this time exploring “classical photography”, which will be published on Instagram in May. It is an opportunity for me to try a new experiment, which is always great fun, and I hope it will be entertaining as well for the small number of followers who like to exchange ideas!
MS／What is your creative process like? How do you come up with new ideas?
RW／Back in 2015 I did a 365-days photography project. Alongside my professional work, I really made efforts to come up with a good piece of art every single day, which I then shared on my blog. Doing this, I learnt two things. Firstly, I began to realize there were too many images in the world, to which I was adding mine constantly! And secondly I realized something about choosing and editing images. I became exhausted and it took a year to get back to producing personal work again, which is a long time!. However, what happened next was that I began to make collages, eventually taking images like this one (the walnut tree). At first, I used a documentary style of photography to record different images of a place I was in. I then overlapped these images to reduce them down to a single image. In doing so, I had consolidated the two lessons learned from the 365-days project — I used all the images I loved and only produced a single image.
MS／How do you approach selecting the pictures used in your collages?
RW／Using the technique previously mentioned, I have combined a portrait of myself, my equipment, a bit of theory and myself at work. Each element is related to one another, and therefore fit together well. I am aware that collages have been around since photography began, but I am only combining photographs taken back-to-back for the image in question, a principle I have tried to follow through all of my collages — if I began to use just any image at all, there would simply be too many options opening up to me, and I would never know when to stop working!
I have been practicing my technique on subjects that are very forgiving and not too demanding, These images of nature are all taken within walking distance of where I live or near a place where I used to work. I have only once been on a photo expedition, which was in Ireland.
MS／What kind of motives drive you to explore using photography?
RW／Although I live in Germany, I am from English descent, and apart from being engaged in photography, during 2019, I was following the changes happening to the political landscape of Europe, and especially with the upcoming decision of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, and the effect this would have on the Irish-English border. I thought, with my documentary approach to photography, of just “looking” at a place, and thought that combining all the images of each place into a single image might be an ideal way to express the complexity that exists at border crossings! So I spent a week at these locations and took 10 images of 10 different crossing points in this exact style!
Here, more specifically, we see a bridge over a river which is now an international border between the European Union and the United Kingdom. It is inconceivable for me how just over 20 years ago there were soldiers monitoring the coming and goings of the people in this little village, and the peace that was allowed to prevail is perhaps placed in doubt again.
MS／Have you had any interest in other similar sociopolitical topics?
RW／Yes. For instance, an other situation that’s incredibly complex and deserves our attention is to the fact that we need to take a look at our own history and work out how to come to terms with our past. Especially here in Germany, we have our own history to come to terms with. When I visited Bergen Belsen, a German concentration camp during the Second World War, to see if my approach to the subject could add to the debate, I documented the memorial in a neutral and respectful manor, and combined the images later to create a small series of three images showing three aspects of my visit. To me, it consolidates the entire atmosphere felt there. They do not attempt to show everything explicitly and therefore allow the viewer to fill in the gaps.
MS／How has the global pandemic influenced your photography?
RW／During the pandemic, I have not been able to work and therefore have had plenty of time; but I have not been able to explore other borders or monuments and memorials, and so I have been looking a bit closer to home. More specifically, I’ve used this technique to photograph my home itself, one image per room or per aspect of being in lockdown, which revealed some interesting abstract images representing this rather claustrophobic situation.
Then suddenly a neighbor passed away, and I used the same technique to document her home. This last image is actually one of her sitting room. It had been the very center of her life and where she’d spent her last years; I can easily imagine that she knew and treasured everything little detail about it. But upon her death, there had been no relatives who wanted to keep anything at all. Literally everything was either given or thrown away. Back then I did an Instagram Story that showed the entire process — from the living rooms to an empty shell…
Rupert Warren is a lifelong professional and experimental photographer who explores thematics rooted in both history and modernity through conceptual depictions.
Using digital superpositions as well as more conventional approaches, he portrays timeless abstract scenes in which storytelling and meaning seem the main motive.
Interviewed by M. Solav.