(Photography) KATHARINA JUNG
Katharina Jung is a German photographer who has gained notice for her rich dreamlike imagery. In this interview she talks about her conceptual approaches to photography, urban exploration, shooting underwater, and the creative influences of fairy tales and magic worlds.
When producing an image, what elements are most important to you? Overall mood, atmosphere, the specific presence of a human subject, etc.? Do you think you ever tend to focus on a primary element, or does your conceptual approach blend or change from image to image?
Emotions and mood. What do I want to express? What is it that wants to come alive? These are the questions I ask myself in order to work further. My conceptual approach changes from image to image. When I first started photography, I sketched all my ideas down, writing down the moods, the elements I would need and also a color mood that inspires me. I still do sketch a lot, but they are rather more sporadic than super detailed. It’s mostly a combination of stick men and weird scribbles whose language and feelings I can still read after years. As the idea is so anchored and visualized inside of me, I mostly only need a certain word to remember the image I want to create.
There is an otherworldly atmosphere to much of your work. In photographs such as "You're Off Your Head" and "Haven II" there's also a darker allegorical element, similar to the undertone found in some of the classic Western fairy tales. Were you attracted to the thematic elements of fairy tales from a very early age?
Thank you! Indeed, I totally sink into fantasy worlds easily. From a young age I felt drawn to magic worlds and I escaped into those realms. It is still my fuel.
You have produced many languid underwater shots, such as the photographs "Puro," "Self Struggle," and "I Fall Too Fast." What attracts you to this type of submerged imagery? How logistically challenging are these images to create? Do you shoot in tanks/pools or natural bodies of water, and is there much digital enhancement?
The movement we adopt when in water, fluid, weightless, the oneness — I’m simply inspired by those aspects. The way I feel in my body when I’m in the sea is inspiring to me. The sea is ever inspiring. It’s as simple as that. Obviously, it’s a whole new level when taking pictures or filming underwater. It’s challenging (at least with the gear that I was working with) for many reasons; sometimes not being able to stand properly, or to focus your camera using a rule-of-thumb estimate. And that is just the aspect from the photographer. Now, take a guess how physically demanding it can be for the model. Hell yeah, it’s so much fun though! I’ve also been modelling underwater, it’s helpful to experience both sides of the process.
I shot in natural pools outside until now. Digital enhancement was totally necessary in my case, as I didn’t quite get the colors underwater that I wanted. So there was a lot of adjustment for the lighting, focus, and color correction.
Your travels have been an important creative and inspirational aspect for your work. Do you generally lead a traveler's/nomadic existence? Do you feel that the discovery of new places is essential to your process? What's been a particular favorite location of yours to shoot in?
Hehe, I like the expression “nomadic existence” a lot. It actually sounds like the best way to put into words what I’m doing and how I’m living. Travel and being in nature opens my eyes, my mind and spirit, and that is what I focus on. Self discovery, growth and experiencing life. And this process is the greatest source of inspiration that I can ask for. A particularly favorite spot has been New Zealand! All over. Especially the west coast and the South Island.
You have several images that are staged within the gorgeous semi-ruined interiors of what appear to be old mansions. Where did you find these locations (or location, if it's all been one building)?
Urban exploring became quite a fun hobby for me. Discovering abandoned places and strolling around is just something I love to do. So I started Googling and researching abandoned houses, entering secret Facebook groups of fellow urban explorers, getting contacts and then driving to those places, mostly with models and friends to shoot.
With stylized and narrative-laden images such as Escapar, what is your process for assembling the photograph from the beginning? Do you sketch out the overall concept on paper or digitally, or take any preliminary shots? Do you approach the shoot the way some film directors would, with a very planned sense of framing and mise-en-scene, or do you like to discover the final shot as you work?
I always sketch my concepts on paper. I plan all that I need to know and need to have, such as props, lighting, dresses. On location, things can change if I’m inspired.
Distinctive costuming choices for your subjects are present in much of your work. Do you work with anyone in particular with assembling wardrobes, and for assistance with other elements such as makeup and hair?
Most of the costumes and wardrobes I find myself, for example at the flea market or from friends. Some are actually self-made, which I also love a whole lot. But I also have been working with designers.
Until now I never needed a makeup and hairstylist to assist. But that is coming in the future for sure, as there are some ideas and visions that I want help with.
Some of your shots feature representations of miniature people and objects. They're quite reminiscent of terrariums or dioramas. Do you model these images with a diorama aesthetic as a creative foundation?
I haven’t done those experimentations in a while. But when I did them, I shot the scene, and then I took a picture of the person in action. Then I simply stitched them in Photoshop. For the image with me sewing the hat, I had bought a hat and draped in the needles and string. I shot a picture of me standing on a ladder with a broom, with a big sewing needle added later.
Who are any photographers who have been an influence on you so far? What about other visual artists? I see elements of surrealist painters such as Rene Magritte in much of your work, for example.
Lots and lots. There is an endless pool of inspiration out there, everywhere. People are creating beautiful inspiring provoking work. My always-come-back-to artists are Shana and Robert ParkeHarrison.
What's coming up in the near future for you? Any exhibitions or publications that you would like people to know about?
It’s bubbling inside and I’m piling up ideas that are screaming to come out. And I’m so excited! I’m moving to Hamburg to put my fascination for filmmaking on another level and actually get stuff done (this is also a reminder and a kick in the butt to my future self).
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All images © Katharina Jung