I'm combining a painter's and sculptor's concerns in a third medium, photography. It's a reflection upon the media sphere of images surrounding us.
It has been a gradual progress. In the beginning I used to make very small sculptures and then throw them away, because I lived in a very small apartment and didn’t know where to put them. So I would look at them and think that if I needed to I’d always be able to make them again. Then a teacher told me I should record them, to see if I was getting anywhere. And so I started to photograph them. But the pictures were terrible, because I didn’t know how to take photographs. That was my first problem. One day I saw a pair of photographs and thought that they worked really well together. And I asked myself: what should I do now? I learned how to take photographs. And then I thought: what happens if I take a photo of a photo, if I use as a source something that is not an object, if instead of using my own experience I use somebody else’s? So I photographed a place that I remembered very well because I’d seen it many times in books. Many of my photos are pieces of paper that show another piece of paper, which in fact it is not.
The reason is that the majority of stories that catch our imagination are of this kind: the photos in newspapers are almost always connected with violent events. What interests me is getting to the root of what happened, imagining being the person who was there at that moment and trying to reconstruct the facts in an objective way. Take Saddam Hussein’s kitchen for example: at the time Saddam was painted as the most evil person in the world (and maybe he was, I don’t know). The photo of Saddam Hussein’s kitchen was taken by the soldiers who found him, and if you look at it all you see is a kitchen, with the same Tupperware as I have at home. So you say to yourself: this is the devil? The most wicked person in the world cooks eggs in the same frying pan that I use? All this has an extraordinary power: you say to yourself, is it possible for this long story to end simply with this image?
What I need is a picture that is remarkable even without the story behind it.
I leave lots of important things out and at the same time I am leaving out traces of names and letters on paper and things that got used up. All kinds of details that I leave out to keep that fragile balance open to keep the game open in a sense so it’s a proposition, it’s not fact. I’m just trying to keep that process visible to show that this is a reconstruction instead of the real things and that’s why I would be reluctant to call myself a journalist as well because I’m actually not adding any truth to anything. If anything it’s about truthfulness, like in a novel if someone writes about their childhood in Russia, you would never say it’s not true, but you may say he might have forged some facts and it is a really impressive description of it. With a fictional writer you would never be able to really say, “this is not true,” you would only be able to say, “I don’t like the novel,” or “he really bent reality,” or something like that. That’s all qualities in fictional writing and not advantages or disadvantages. Whereas, when a journalist starts doing that, he’s out of business, so I’m on the border where real things become fictional. The other thing is that leaving out a lot of details has to do with perfection verses beauty. I think things are not at their most beautiful when they are complete. A sense of perfection comes when things are not flawless. Perfection is not about having no mistakes, perfection is when you know you can leave things open for imagination and you can also leave them open in a fragile state. You don’t have to define everything. Think of the most beautiful novels where the imagination of the reader is triggered and you can imagine and feel things, but that doesn’t happen when every little thing is written out. That is why I try to do my work myself and decide with every object: how much information do I need and how much is too much?
So there are many people that would say don’t make a photograph all the time because you won't remember the moment, you will only read the moment as something you can tweet about later or you only read the moment as something which makes a nice photograph and the photograph somehow replaces the experience. On the other hand the photograph reminds you of so many things in your life that you have forgotten already. The other thing is when you remember something your brain starts to construct and put together all the things you need to imagine that picture. So whenever we talk about pictures or we remember pictures or an incident, which might have a picture attached to it, you construct it. It’s not that you have it already. So during reconstruction, you change it a little. If you tell a story four times it will be a different story the fourth time. Essentially the facts will be the same but you can make it shorter, or longer.
More than anything else I realised one day that photography was not mere documentation. At that point the process was more important than the object I was photographing.
They don’t last anyway; most of them are made of paper and cardboard and they simply fall apart. I don’t want to have to fix it all the time in a museum. Also, I always want to do things I can get rid of. I move around a lot and I don’t want to have too many things. A room full of stuff drives me crazy.
I want to make sure that people look at the images using their own associations. I don’t want to offer a canonical and defined commentary because there is no such thing.
At the moment, LA feels more inspiring. I lived in Berlin for 14 years—the longest I've lived in any one place—but by the end, I felt I needed some fresh air. LA feels freer. —[O]