Solemne and Razgo Magazine (original in spanish translated into english)

New photographic/film genre. Frank Hülsbömer: in between the formal abstraction and the representation of moods. by Maria Munoz

Germans have always been precursors in a number of disciplines, both creative and scientific. Also in contemporary art, where it seems like everything has been said or done; the artist based in Berlin, Frank Hülsbömer (Münster, 1968) says to have found the way to express himself through a new photographic genre. He has found a brand-new way to create using photographic images and video, which until now had never been explored. 

New artistic genre 

Hülsbömer provides symbolic meaning to objects, so that they can be associated with images, ideas or concepts by those who behold them, and this way they can find a metaphysical dimension in themselves.

Therefore, this creator states he prefers to express the human condition with objects rather than with gestures or mimesis of his own or other primate species -afterwards it will be clarify why the humans are referred as primates-... 

These simplified abstract objects, through ludic combinations of shapes, colours and surfaces outline a world in which the human condition can be observed from a new perspective.

We can compare this artist’s creations with traditional inanimate object compositions made of different materials and figures, known in history of art as “still life”. In the case of the German artist, they are, nonetheless, dispositions close to geometrical abstraction; therefore we should call them “abstract still life”.

At first sight, the dynamic or static representations of Hülsbömerobjects could resemble simple digital images generated using renderingtechniques in3D CG (Computer Graphics). However, his work is not subject to any intervention other than that embodied by his photographic camera. He assures he does not even retouch the images once the snapshots have been taken. He only “dusts” them off.

These “abstract still life” works of digital aspect with which this artificer tries to express the human condition, the psyche, using objects photographed or filmed, leave behind the traditional figurative pictorial styles that try to represent the subconscious giving primacy, most of the time, to the content over the form, such as surrealism and Giorgio de Chirico metaphysics paintings (just to mention some). This way,Hülsbömer’s style has certainly no precedents.

If we also take into account the constant discussion on the veracity or not of photographic medium, the attempt to "portray" psychological or mental states, for example metaphysical states, through objects, pure forms, materials, abstractions and colour, shows we are in front of an innovative work.

Duality in the work of the artist

Hülsbömer work looks purely formal at first sight. Certainly he seeks abstraction through clarity, division and reduction.Objects are created by him, and if not created, always intervened. He pictures and films such objects in a very stylized way, in which illumination plays an essential role. His flawless use of light is fruit of the profound knowledge of the photographic technique. In his studio, he always locates the light at a distance, emulating the way the sun illuminates the outer. Thus the incidence of light and thus the shadows, in his compositions turn out to be perfect.

Light, so important in the work of this artist, is compound by waves and particles, an irreconcilable physical contradiction. These and other dual principles determine the particular universe of his works: indoors and outdoors, realism and representation, light and shadow, certainty and chance, image and morpheme, dimension without dimensions: he never gives a scale or reference; therefore it is impossible to know the size. Objects are intentionally disconnected from the world. As if he wished to disorient the spectator and explode the tension created by the contrary, generating a more fragmented and reductionist new vision, at the same time sophisticated and ironical.

Conceptual and formal influences

At a formal viewpoint, it is possible to observe in Hülsbömer œuvre, the influence of Bauhaus (shapes and colours), the Russianavant-gardeor the German subjective photography, movement that appeared in the 1950’s with Otto Steinert leading it.

Subjective photography proposed a revaluation of the twenties-thirties photographic works (Laszlo Moholy Nagy) and a more experimental use of photographic resources. This group is considered one of the main vindicators of the abstract image obtained by photographic medium, defending the form versus the content, highlighting the specificity of photography and the photographer’s creativity strongly linked to his own subjectivity, and that of the spectator. All of these principles are identifiable in Hülsbömer’s work.

At a semantic level, his work could easily be located in a nihilistic habitat full of humour, which owes its strength to the lack of the sense of reality, which we live in. The artist says to obtain his keys from philosophy and psychology. Carl Gustav Jung is amongst the names he mentions, and more contemporarily the English John N. Gray.

From Jung, he takes the archetypes, defined by the Swiss psychotherapistas universal, archaic patterns and images that derive from the collective unconscious and are the psychic counterpart of instinct.Hülsbömer is convinced that the western society, and consequently its culture, gets farther and farther from archetypes, creating a sense of non-satisfaction and frustration. One of his video-works takes action on this topic: an object tries to approach its archetype constantly chasing its shadow.

John N. Gray’s quote “we are killer monkeys with a metaphysical will” shows up several times during our conversation, reason why at the beginning of this article the human species were referred as primates. Gray criticizes humanist tendencies, where progress and science have ruled the 20th century. In his bookStraw Dogs,he describes the human specie as voracious and devastating, busy in annihilating other life forms while destroying themselves as well and their natural environment. This illustrates the existential discomfort and the relentless pursuit of finding any sense – or not– to human behaviour dealt by some pieces of the artist: incessant rotating movements, confusion of the human perception, defiance to scientific methods, etc.

Artistic evolution

Let’s have a look then beyond Hülsbömer’s hyperaesthetics, in which lays a habitat fascinatingly saturated with dry humour and poetic qualities whilst he seems to take their keys from philosophy, psychology and neuroscience.

The artist’s evolution is evident, from his geometrical and abstract still life works, in which the image is complemented with titles carefully chosen (Vulnerability Stress Model, from theNeurologic Snapshotsseries) comes to what he calls kinetic pictures, photographic serieshalf way between kinematic laws and cinema (24 images per second). His series can be considered as a type of broken sequence, a pre-film illustration where a temporary continuity is evident. Such photographic series, in which objects are manually dislocated by him, go very well with the scientific definition of kinetics: branch of dynamics that studies the principles of body motion without considering the causes that originate it.

Finally he adds the temporary component to his creations, giving place to a body of films.Something to notice is, that on the contrary to the Kinetic Art, where the movement is an optical illusion, in his videos, the static is an optical illusion. With the simple but studied combination of materials of different colours and surfaces -matt/gloss-, an almost two metre high column, made of constantly rotating discs, manipulates our perception so that some seem to move while others are seemingly static. Aesthetics of movement inHülsbömer, are basically reduced to lateral or rotating movements that, repeated until satiation, places the viewer on the edge of weariness or obsession. There again appears the mental component.

We conclude this analysis with the certainty that we have a new artistic genre that portrays psychological-mental states through the transverse use of techno-philosophical semantics generated by objects.

Text: María Muñoz. Copyright images: courtesy of the artist. 

Kristen de la Valliere for

say hi to_ (

Frank Hülsbömer is an artist who made huge waves in the realm of commercial photography; breaking the mould to establish an entirely new genre and movement for contemporary Still Life Photography. Still Life photography, traditionally used as a medium of utility to sell a product; Frank balanced his work as an artist, sensitivity to a large range of client’s needs and created thought provoking, beautiful work that changed the industry entirely. In addition to this he is an artist who works creating sets and spaces to explore with photos and video. Not only is he one of these rare gems of a generation but he is lighthearted, funny and down to earth.

I remember the first time I arrived at Frank Hülsbömer’s warehouse photo studio in Berlin and stepped into his creative world. I was living in Berlin at the time and Frank was my favourite photographer, whose work I had been following for quite some time. I decided to contact him and ask if he needed a photo assistant. The next day I was on set and completely transfixed by his creative process, calm demeanour and utterly magnetic aura. Needless to say, I was not cut out to be a photo assistant but we quickly became friends and I had to pleasure to enjoy many-a-all night chats about his projects, experimentations through his unique way of thinking and seeing the world.

Frank sits down with us to discuss what it means to have an Avant Garde mind, living and working in Poland in the nineties and navigating his way through the world of commercial and still life photography and fine art.


| Kristen | Please Introduce yourself_

| Frank | I do abstract installations or sets which I often, but not always, photograph or film. In some instances I create installations which are kinetic. I use mostly paper, plexiglas, metal, chipboard, plastic and mirrors to create these installations and rarely organic material. The base is always basic, prefabricated material…and then I usually get out on the phone and show some of my work ;-)

| Kristen | Yes I remember working with you on certain still life photography projects and you created very interesting minimalistic yet intricate sets using paper especially.

| Kristen | What is your favorite aspect about shooting still life rather than people?

| Frank | Looking at all the failures in photography to show one’s thoughts with a portrait or in fashion, is rather amusing. They don’t often times manage more than making them looking puzzled (portrait) or dull (fashion).

Interesting portraits only work if you know a lot about that person which in that case it is no longer a photo. I’m a radio listener, I don’t need a face coming with the idea.

Don’t get me wrong, I love people. I love a good conversation and obviously I’m in need of all emotions as anyone else. With that being said, our internal thoughts and emotions are easier to visualise by combining objects that represent the bits and pieces of our minds. It is much more subtle and elegant to do this with still-life than gestures or facial expressions. 

| Kristen | What is a typical day at work for you?

| Frank | It could be a day of research, following cross- references, reading, sketching, coming up with concepts and titles… as much as sawing, sanding, painting, assembling…or photographing, filming my sets. Sometimes a set becomes an installation or the other way around. It depends a lot on what it is for and where it drives me.

| Kristen | What did your parents do?

| Frank | My father was an electrician and my mom a bookkeeper.

| Kristen | How big of a role did that play in your life? Did it influence you in one way or another? What about another family member?

| Frank |Crafts were a big deal throughout my life. Quality in the execution was very important at home.

My mom volunteered doing the floral decoration in our parish for many years. I helped her often spending hours in nature and in big empty spiritual rooms. She knew how to make things beautiful and was very quick and intuitive in doing so.

My father was a technician in a bank responsible for all electric devices. As a kid, I often picked him up from work and was able to see the great 60’s op-art collection the bank owned. I was playing on and with some of their sculptures without any pedagogical input on art. A purely playful approach…

My brother encouraged me to become a photographer by believing in me, reassuring me and giving me his camera. He became a big shot in the publishing business with a PhD in Philosophy.

Our parents are very pragmatic people, who -although conservative - gave us a lot of space, confidence and freedom to develop. They never tried to push us much into certain directions but expected - whatever we do - to do right, with passion and without complaining. They never really expressed that verbally, more by the way they lived.

| Kristen | Do you have higher education in the field that you work in?

| Frank |I did a three year apprenticeship in Photography in Münster, Germany. After that I spent two and a half years in NYC,  freelancing as a photo assistant and photographer.

| Kristen | Do you think it is something you needed to get to where you are now or did you find you learned a lot on your own or through experiences?

| Frank |Photo and crafts were and are my base. Three years in an industrial photo studio plus photo school 1 day per week in addition for those 3 years, led to a very solid knowledge of physics, chemistry and all maths related to photography, light, optics… technically there was no problem that could not be solved. 

What you make out of this is a different question. Content, design, arts, aesthetics were under represented in our photo school. This was something I had to do auto-didactically but the technique from then on was never in the way of achieving what I had in mind. It was more about how to enrich the mind with all the other stuff, which is obviously a never-ending job.

| Kristen | Did you have any odd jobs along the way and did any of those influence you at all or did you learn things there that come into play now?

| Frank |During my school holidays I worked as a lock smith, mover, builder, demolisher, storeman, cleaner and gardener.

As a locksmith, I learned to work with metal and how to use certain tools.

The other jobs motivated me and confirmed that I had to look for other options in life and sell my time for a higher price, to do a job I had a passion for. I don’t know how so many people are doing that 9-5 thing everyday. For me almost everyday, every project had to be different - standstill of this kind would have led to depression.

| Kristen | I love that you took your experience of these past jobs as inspiration to make your own path and led to realisations about what you wanted and didn’t want in life. I think a lot of people lose sight of the importance of these types of jobs in making their path in the career they do want.

say hi to_ Frank Hülsbömer | Berlin | Photography

Foreign Living

| Kristen | You grew up and currently live in Germany but you spent a few years living and working in Poland. What drew you to Poland and what made you decide to move there? How long did you stay?

| Frank |At that time I was almost solely a commercial photographer , looking for bigger assignments to get personal (not just as an assistant) and to experience how to deal and work with larger budgets, productions, sets, teams…

In 1996-2000, my time in Warsaw, there was the odd situation of too many jobs for too little professional commercial photographers as all global brands wanted to enter that market. Polish photographers had little experience with this type of photography though at the time. Poland, a market with 40 million people, about to become a member of the EU and being the direct neighbour to Germany, was booming. My decisions were often made by my actual needs, never out of comfort. In that time, I needed work experience, so I went east. In 1998, two to three of all billboards in Poland had my image on it. I didn’t expect or foresee this to happen and it kept me there for longer than originally planned. This also says something about planning (or not planning!) in our field.

A longer term artistic assignment for the world expo got me out of Poland and from 2000 on I worked between Warsaw, Berlin and later Paris. My first bigger institutional exhibition took place in the Goethe Institut in Warsaw. The urbanist structure of the city and the people in their post socialistic confusion were very inspiring and the subject of that show.

| Kristen | Do you feel any difference in the work culture between the two places?

| Frank |I haven’t been working in Poland for many years but on my visits and through friends I have noticed how much it has changed. Back in the day, we had to improvise a lot - everything was less professional, more bureaucratic and more conservative.

On the other hand, there were many well educated people in the Polish new world of advertising. The industry was built on people who had studied theater science, music, philosophy or literature rather than marketing, advertising or business which was refreshing.

| Kristen | Did you learn Polish? If not, was it difficult to get by without it? We're your clients German? Did you speak in German or English?

| Frank | The clients were mostly global brands and their big network agency branches in Warsaw. I didn’t study Polish as I wasn’t planning to stay longer than a year and Polish is one of the most difficult languages to learn. I did learn a basic vocabulary to be able to speak to a shop assistant or taxi driver though. In the professional world and especially with younger Poles it was possible to get by with English and some of the older people spoke German.

Poland, like most of the former socialist states, had a very good and classic education systems. In addition, after the wall came down, people privately studied western languages to improve their chances to find jobs.

say hi to_ Frank Hülsbömer | Berlin | Photography

The Business

| Kristen | How did you get your work out there? Did you find social media as a good marketing tool for you?

| Frank | A friend of mine in Berlin, who was a programmer, put my work and website online already in the nineties, when no one had their work online. I don’t think I even knew how to visit my own site yet!

Well…that has certainly changed. Photography is a great media for the online world. Bloggers grab your work an repost it, link it, comment it etc. It multiplies by itself, which is great. I’m also on Facebook and I recently started with Instagram. I should be more active but doesn’t everyone think so? My agents also have my work online obviously which is extra PR. 

I also still have six printed portfolios. Three in Paris, one in London, one in Los Angeles and one in Berlin.

| Kristen | At what point in your career did you feel ready to get an agent to propel your work to the next level? How did you go about finding an agent or how did your agent find you? 

| Frank |In 1999-2001 my girlfriend at that time lived in Paris. When I visited her I took my portfolio with me and just simply called up agents and magazines. For decadent Parisians who have probably seen everything, my Eastern European style back then seemed very fresh. My book was very weird, enigmatic and artistic - a mix of socialistic tristesse, stylish details, odd colors. It had people, architecture, stills, interiors…all mashed up. Almost every magazine gave me a job although I was virtually a nobody.

Of the few agents I saw, it was Thierry Kauffmann who immediately asked me to wait for him to start his own photography agency. I was his first photographer and I’m still with him today. He was always ahead of the others and still is; his mind was always an artistic one who at the same time understands the world of luxury very well. I have learned a lot from him.

| Kristen | How did you know what to charge your first client? Can you explain what would be normal way to determine prices for a magazine shoot vs. a commercial shooting?

| Frank |Pricing is still a myth to me. I’m more the “give me your budget and I will do it“ type. I hate negotiating, that is why I prefer to leave it up to my agents. 

That I and others do notice is, that the price seems to matter more and more to the client. Even luxury clients pay a lot less than they used to; budgets are pre-decided without knowing what the need is going to be and compliance rules make them totally inflexible. Yet they still expect the same results and work as before. Buyout lists are not applied most of time and payments come no earlier than three months later.

| Kristen | I think a lot of young and developing photographers don't know much about their copyright 'rights’ and image licensing. Could you give some advise on how to determine licensing fees and some insight to rules about image distribution and copyright? 

| Frank |In commercial photography the client will tell you what usage rights he wants to buy from you. After signing and paying, you are allowed to use your work that you did for them for your own purpose and PR only. You are not authorised to use it anywhere else and the client can use it for and within the time frame that he payed for. If he keeps using it for longer or on media that he didn’t pay for, you are able to charge them extra for that.

"Always keep a savings account with enough money that would enable you to survive at least half a year without income if you can. You’ll sleep better."

| Kristen | When you went out on your own did you already have a few of your own clients? That is one scary aspect of having the courage to go out on your own, to know the money will keep coming!

| Frank |Normally you continue working as a photo assistant until you‘ve got enough of your own assignments. I still don’t know a single photographer or artist who had no existential crisis at at least one point of his career. Always keep a savings account with enough money that would enable you to survive at least half a year without income if you can. You’ll sleep better.

The Work

| Kristen | I love your book The Fiction of Science. You were the first still life photographer whose work really captivated me, with a fine line between fine art and still life photography. Your images have a very distinctive style and often time almost look computer generated. How did your style develop?

| Frank |Thank you Kristen. It’s hard to say how it developed. My thesis is, that some of my architectural images already anticipated my later still lifes. I often loved the detail more than the complete building. I missed creating and composing the image rather than just documenting a house of someone else. This is why I turned towards still life and creating the sets myself. I became an architect of small worlds; some of the sets were like abstract architectural models or concept buildings.  

I always had a fascination for op-art, bauhaus, fluxus, constructivism and maybe this way my art turned out the way it is. It wasn’t planned but rather driven by interest. Beauty itself wasn’t enough and mere content without beauty wasn’t satisfying either. I seeked a combination of both, where a meaning was implied without being too “in your face”. The depth would come through a subconscious message send to a preceptor sensitive enough to understand it. My messages are not hysteric or loud; they calm people and reassure them; that their feelings and thoughts are not as odd as they thought when they see them executed by someone else.

Around 2006 this new style and genre started to grow in my studio in Berlin. I exhibited it in Paris, Berlin among other places. Some editors of magazines like Numéro and later, Wallpaper, saw my work and hired me to shoot editorials. I created a new style and genre which is being copied until today by hundreds of photographers and creative directors. When I started to notice that (also friends started to send me images of epigones around the planet) I decided to publish a autobiographical book with my works with „Gestalten Verlag“. which was printed in 2009. I felt that I needed printed proof of being the original. Online anyone can fake the dates of his/her work.

Later I got a real inside view on how the world of design and fashion often works. It is mostly based on copying while calling it inspiration to avoid law suits. COS for example, used my name and work to design an entire collection - including shop displays. They neither asked or informed me, nor payed usage rights.

| Kristen | That must be so frustrating. Especially when big corporations and brands use not only your work, but your name for their own financial gain without permission or compensation. On the bright side, we say in English - ‘Imitation is the highest form of flattery’.

"There is no comfort zone if you want to be avant garde. Avant garde is not a style until you die, it is a mental disposition."

In this way though, one is forced to leave the comfort zone of the own established style and keep developing in new directions.  That is what I do for example with my videos for CélineFlos and with my latest installations. It makes me happy and its how this system functions. There is no comfort zone if you want to be avant garde. Avant garde is not a style until you die, it is a mental disposition. It is when standstill leads you to depression and when imperfection brings you close to a nervous breakdown. It is when you ARE the nerd and not the one that dresses like one. 

| Kristen | You do a lot of work with folded paper, how did you first start to experiment with that? Can you explain your creative process from concept to creation?

| Frank |Paper is a very shapeable but stable material considering how thin it usually is. It comes in all colors and textures and it is cheap, light and easy to store. It is great to combine a matte paper with a glossy material like mirrors, metal, spray paint. This way you can highlight whatever you want to focus on, you don’t need high-tech tools to shape, cut or fold it.

For the creative process its a difference if we speak about artistic or commercial work. The aesthetic and technique is similar but art ideally has content and a message bigger than a lifestyle, an attitude or a simple „buy me“.

For art - reading and researching, listening and contemplating comes first. The images come by themselves if you are sensitive towards interesting phenomenas, concepts and ideas. 

In advertising and the editorial work, I’m trying to understand what the client needs and how far we can go together. I would suggest sets, colors, shapes, concepts, scratches, short videos, test shots….which I could imagine for that specific client and his specific product. I try to think for the client. 

For example if I think a product had been presented in a stiff and or uninspiring way, I would suggest a little or sometimes a radical change without destroying the heritage. Unless of course it is good to destroy that heritage. Every job is different.

I then discuss my ideas, color combinations, tendencies with the client or agency or designer to understand more of his needs. It is a friendly, constructive discussion where everyone is trying to narrow the ideas down to the best ones possible. There is no place for vanity, ego nor narcissism. Character and backbone are something else. It helps to keep a client, because it makes you reliable and loyal. Being interesting and entertaining also helps because people don’t like to get bored and only an interesting mind creates interesting work. To be a successful photographer or artist you need to cherish and cultivate all that within you. You need skills on all levels if you want to last.

Timing played an important role in my life. Our brains get slower the older we get. At the same time, when we are young, certain knowledge was missing. There is a window of about 20 years where the mix is ideal. After that many become a copy of themselves. That might work for a while as well, depends on how established you have managed to become within the window. That is at least the conclusion of my observation and biggest personal fear, looking at older musicians or artists.

| Kristen | What do you have in the pipeline now?

| Frank |Artistically it is an installation for „larrys show“ in Berlin. The working title is „ the viscosity of light“ and it shows a spot of light that seems to be liquid. Very simple and beautiful and basically another chapter of my book „the fiction of science“.

The title and appearance of the piece is scientific but since light obviously has no viscosity and is not a liquid, it is a nonsensical thesis, leading absolutely nowhere except back to the viewer. It makes you dream and believe that light could just drip down a table or wall. A scientific thesis is valid if it has been proven often enough and no-one proved the opposite - not more, not less. I suppose no-one will make the effort to disprove my thesis which makes it a little more valid, than having no thesis at all. Most of my works have an absurd, humorous and nonsensical touch. Nonsense is still the best way to make sense to me.

The title is also a persiflage on the new art of phrasing theses in philosophy and other humanities.

German Vogue (german)
Elephant Magazine (english)

by Katya Tylevich, 2010

In one of our many e-mails back and forth, Frank Hülsbömer tells me he’s a friend of demystification. Demystification might feel otherwise. however, because when people ask Hülsbömer what his works are (photographs. sculptures, computer graphics, art) his attempts to answer only raise more questions. Hülsbömer describes his early works as a ‘photographic collection of accidental urban still-lives.’ And says that in 2006 he turned instead to ‘arranging my own small abstract worlds.‘ He cites his greatest inspirations in the arts as Fischli & Weiss and Roman Signer. And later tells me about his efforts to document various invisibilities (a most appropriate wordchoice, I think). I mean, demystify that: making the invisible, visible. But Hülsbömer can say this much: ‘I’ve worked digitally for many years, but my images are not doctored. Everything I’ve photographed. I have built and sculptured myself. I never use assistants, or have other people in my atelier when I work.‘ Which is kind of a shame. because his process sounds like my kind of party. As a catalyst, Hülsbömer might blast some D.A.F., Kraftwerk, Palais Schaumburg, or Bach. and he says he works as if ‘in a trance.’ ‘I’m impatient with myself. I become rather intuitive, concentrated.’ But there is also what Hülsbömer calls a ‘dreamy’ stage to his practice. when his ideas are just beginning to take shape. ‘I see materials and start thinking about what l could express with them. Or it happens the other way around, when a phenomenon or a misunderstanding (e.g. when I’m reading) will strike me and then begin to materialize. I write my ideas down, draw simple schematic studies and keep them until I find the tight moment to transfer them. Once that is finalized, I enter the stage of executing, and my mode changes.‘ Hell yeah, bring on the Neue Deutsche Welle. A most appropriate soundtrack for the discussion Hülsbömer and I have about living. Working, and not cutting one’s ear off in Berlin.

What was life before Berlin?
I was born in Münster, the city of bicycles. the Westphalian peace (1648) and one of the few places in the German Reich that Hitler was afraid of. After school. I did a photo apprenticeship and studied photography for three years, then left to New York, where l lived and worked as a photo assistant for two-and-a-half years. 1995 to ‘96, I spent in Berlin, then the following four years in Warsaw with a pied-à-terre in Berlin. In 2000, I got an artistic assignment to produce a photo series in Berlin for the German Pavillion at the EXPO in Hanover. This took several months and brought me back to Berlin. where I’ve lived since.

After so many travels, what’s kept you in Berlin for over ten years?
Feeling like a pioneer, and meeting hundreds or thousands of people who have that same feeling. When you come first to a completely unusual and unsettled historical situation – East Berlin after the wall – then you get to set the rules. or enjoy the absence of rules and the absence of social obligations and necessities. It didn’t matter, then, if you had money or didn’t; it didn‘t matter where you were from. or what background you had. Architects opened clubs or started a band, medical doctors started art festivals. lawyers became bookshop owners, teenagers started techno labels. I know someone who stopped going to school at sixteen. just to party harder and enjoy the city, becauae it was clear that Berlin in the nineties would never happen again. Artists, musicians, they needed space, and in Berlin space was either incredibly cheap or even free; in many cases. nobody knew whose house it was they were squatting in. West Berlin was also the only part of Germany where you didn’t have to serve in the army – one of many reasons to come to Berlin for many young West German men who weren’t happy to possibly die for the absurd behaviour of leaders they hadn’t voted for. Although the city has changed tremendously, you still feel this esprit in Berlin. It’s an adult playground.

How has Berlin has Berlin changed in the years you’ve known it?
A lot of parts got nice and neat. but since this city is so huge (bigger than NYC), you always have new areas to move to, or new places to open a project room. The galleries and artists keep moving. What used to be in Mitte is now in Neukölln, although most of the established galleries are still in Mitte. I call it ‘space pioneering.’ others call it gentrification. But even in Mitte you still find plenty of unknown and interesting spots like on Heidestrasse.

Has your personal work process changed as Berlin has changed?
Until 2006, my world was more Berlinerish and strongly inspired by the city. But in 2006 I had one major change: I stopped documenting urban situations and turned to arranging my own small abstract worlds in my atelier. The psychological and philosophical aspects remained, but expressed in a very different way.

Why? What happended in 2006?
More and more. I was becoming bored with this selective documentation of the existing. The ultimate turning point was a series I took in my atelier, where I photographed the backsides of my exhibition prints, a pile of magazines without their titles or names, empty walls. all kinds of ‘invisibilities.’ It just happened naturally and subconsciously. I wanted something aesthetically disconnected to the world, and this is why you don’t really have a scale, or idea of how big or what my objects are. Some of them look like drawings. (computer) graphics, renderings, but it’s just plain photography. People ask me often what my work actually is, how I present it – as photographs, sculptures. drawings? l’m a friend of demystification and simplification, but if you do that too much, it becomes unbearable and it gets even more mystic or enigmatic.

Is there such a thing as a ‘Berlin Artist’? Are you one?
I wouldn’t call my work Berlin-specific. And the artists. photographers and painters here come from various schools from all over Germany, like Dusseldorf, Essen or Leipzig. Berlin is also totally international; I often hear more foreign languages than I do German. I can’t see one certain visual style here. In the arts, I would think it’s the most globalised city of all. What is specific to Berlin, is that it was and still is avant-garde and very influential in many fields. It’s a laboratory for music, theatre and club culture, especially.

What do you see for the future of visual culture in Berlin?
It will continue to be one of the centres for art production. You get a lot of visibility here, but given the high amount of art venues already. visibility might become more difficult.

Do you have favorite neighbourhood in Berlin?
I really like Kreuzberg thirty six. But I work north of Mitte. I‘m still there because I invested so much into my atelier and have too many things to move elsewhere. People from more alternative areas sometimes have issues with people from Mitte. That is childish, though. The average income of Mitte-people is 1300 Euro, which isn’t grounds for social envy. and is obviously a generalization.

Do you feel there is a community of artist in Berlin?
There are several communities and groups. And they operate in all possible ways one could imagine. I know one artist who works with a group of scientists. There are artists‘ clubs that party together — I call it ‘the nightlife connection.‘ Personally. I know several artists, but am not associated with any groups. I follow some of their strategies with a social-scientific interest. Their behaviour is an inspiration to my work sometimes.

Are there ‘too many artists’ in Berlin, as is often said?
There are never enough good artists; most cities lack artists. Artists are often the most reasonable people: liberal. aware of political and social situations. Sometimes, the art consumers expect someone very different; they want a freak, monk, hermit or someone who, at the very least, should cut off one of his ears.

Miedzy Nami Magazine (german)

von Stefanie Grebe, 2005

Wann hast Du mit Deinen freien Fotografien angefangen? Gab es einen Auslöser?
1987, mit 18, habe ich zum ersten mal eine Reise getan, deren Ziel ich nach ihrem fotografischen Interessantheitsgrad ausgewählt hatte. Mit Resultaten, die mir bis heute nicht peinlich sind und meine Faszination für gelebte Orte und Unorte vorwegnahm und die ohne jegliche Prägung eines fotokünstlerischen Umfeldes stattfand: Liverpool, Birmingham, Bristol und Brighton... 89 begann ich meine Lehre und glaubte fortan mein Glück in Mode, Werbung und Journalismus suchen zu müssen. Dieses Gefühl wurde in meiner New Yorker Zeit noch beflügelt und hielt bis in das Ende der 90er an, bis mir der Komfort von genügend Zeit und Geld erlaubte, vermehrt zu lesen, Musik zu hören und zu schreiben und eine kehre nach Innen stattfand. 4 jahre in Warschau ohne wirklich Polnisch zu verstehen, verhalf mir diese Sprachisolation und eine ruhige Wohnung zu einer Art meditativen Stille und Inspiration. Gewissermassen fingen dann Gegenstände und Orte an, laut mit mir zu sprechen. So fing ich an, meine Spüle, Räume, Schatten etc. zu fotografieren. oft nachts. ...

Aus Deiner „Sprachlosigkeit“ ist also eine Hinwendung zum fotografischen Bild entstanden?
Ja, zumal es gleichzeitig eine  „Hörlosigkeit“ war. Ich fing an, das, was sonst im städtischen Rauschen untergeht, verstärkt wahrzunehmen. die nihilistische Attitüde und im nächsten Augenblick wieder die enigmatische Dichte des dinglichen fing fast an aufdringlich zu werden. Ein Türspalt oder ein Teppichmuster hatten plötzlich das Potential, mein Leben aus der Balance zu bringen. Ein leerer grüner Raum lud mich ein mit und über ihn zu reflektieren. Ein nächtlich illuminiertes Fenster wurde zur Grossstadt-Lyrik. In Momenten solch starker emotionaler Ekstase öffnen sich schichten im Dazwischen und ich entdeckte das Medium Fotographie als einen Transformator. Es kristallisiert den lyrisch-philosophischen Moment wie kein Anderes. (tatsächlich sind ja die wesentlichen – weil lichtempfindlichen – Bestandteile einer Filmemulsion Kristalle.)

Deine Bilder entsprechen also einer Beschreibung deines Zustandes?
Es handelt sich um eine Vokabularerweiterung. Wer die Fotografie nicht als eigenständige Sprache sehen will, sollte zumindest begreifen, dass sie unsere Wortspache um Bezeichnungen, Begriffe bis hin zu Beschreibungen ergänzt. Im Deutschen gibt es zum Beispiel keinen Einzelbegriff für „die Phase zwischen Wach und Schlaf“ (vgl. „The Kingdoms of Elgaland-Vargaland“, Universal Maschine_01). Schwieriger wird es noch, will man diesen begriffslosen Gegenstand differenzieren. In der Fotografie ist das nicht nur möglich, sondern es kann Komplexes sehr kurz und nachhaltig kommuniziert werden. Ich muss Darstellbares denken und Denkbares darstellen oder denkbares wirklich überhaupt mal zu denken versuchen. Die tatsächliche Darstellung der Gedanken als Foto bringt dann oft noch weitere interessante Schattierungen und Bedeutungen hervor, wo sich doch schreibende Menschen gerne über einen semantischen Verlust bei der Übertragung ihrer Gedanken in Worte beschweren. Es ist aber eben auch wie in den Wortsprachen eine hohe Präzision und semantische Sorgfalt notwendig, ein sichabwenden von Prinzipienkulturen und die überwindung von Clichés von Verziehung (ich meine (V)erziehung, wie fehl-erzogen aber das ist vermutlich gar nicht übersetzbar), falscher Prägung. Meine grösste Furcht ist, in fotografische Floskeln zu verfallen. Letztendlich läuft es darauf hinaus: Ich lege mich abends schlafen und frage mich, sind Symmetrien, Zentralperspektiven, das ausgleichen stürzender Linien... nicht billige Tricks so wie der 3/4 Takt in der Musik, die dem Sinn für Derartiges im ästhetischen Empfinden fast jedes Menschen Tribut zollen? Ist es schon Kitsch und ist die menschliche Solitude-sentimentalität überstrapaziert, wenn ich den urbanen Raum menschenleer und reizarm darstelle und mit dieser Tristesse den empfänglichen Menschen anrühre, wie ein Rattenfänger? Ginge es anders? Wie sähe diese Fotografie aus? Gibt es sie schon und ich lese sie nicht heraus? Bin ich visueller Analphabet, der seinen Mund wie ein syncronisierter Schauspieler bewegt? Ist Abstraktion eine Lösung? Chiffrierung? Entblößung?

Bitte erzähle, wie Du frei fotografierst.
Ich sehe mehr, als ich apriori konzipieren könnte. Ich werde dann schnell aufgeregt so z.b. als ich die Gerüstkonstruktion der Berliner Bauakademieatrappe sah. Ich bin eh sehr im Thema „Berliner Schlossplatz“ durch meine Arbeiten für die Süddeutsche Zeitung. Die Bedeutung dieses Projektes wuchs sehr schnell in mir und so habe ich einen Tag lang versucht zu vermeiden, vom Gerüst zu fallen, indem ich mich bemühte meinen Fotoautismus zu kontrollieren, denn ich vergesse mitunter meine Umgebung beim Akt des Fotografierens. Kürzlich glaubte ich mich bei meinem Assistenten in Paris dafür entschuldigen zu müssen, ihn den ganzen Tag praktisch wie Luft oder eben gar nicht behandelt zu haben. Er gab an, es sehr interessant gefunden zu haben. Eine solch autistische Arbeitsweise und konzentrierte Atmosphäre hatte er so bisher nicht erlebt. Franzosen sind höfliche Menschen, die sich ausserdem sehr darüber amüsieren, wie sie auf deutschen Plakaten in Kampagnen französischer Tabakwaren dargestellt werden.

Das heißt, Du arbeitest nicht konzeptionell?
Wenig. Ich lasse mich eher anrühren und unterziehe meine Inspiration der langen Tortur einer ausgiebigen Überprüfung. Oft noch nach dem Belichten und wieder bei jeder Betrachtung.

Gehst Du manchmal durch die Stadt auf der Suche nach Orten, die Du fotografieren willst?
Am liebsten auf meinem forstgrünen Hollandrad. Man hat eine gute Übersicht und kommt zügig voran! Ein Mensch, der sich längere Zeit in einem weissen fensterlosen Zimmer ohne Kontakt zur Aussenwelt aufhielte, hätte bald nichts mehr zu erzählen. Ihm ginge der Denkstoff aus. Die Flächen, die auf mich abstrahlen und auf die ich zurückprojeziere sind städtische, meist ungeplante Orte. Urbane Sichtachsen auf menschliche Absurditäten, auf Absenzen der Strukturen der Ungewissheit. Ich brauche diesen Diskurs mit der Stadt oder zumindest Literatur zum Thema, so wie ich durch interessante Gesprächspartner oder Zeitungsartikel angeregt werde. Selbst durch das missverstehen eines Satzes kam ich schon zu unverhoffter Inspiration. Ich nehme was kommt. Gerne auch die inneren Peripherien Berlins.

Hast Du eine/n LieblingsmalerIn / FotografIn / MusikerIn / DichterIn, PhilosophIn, die Dich inspiriert?
Fischli/Weiss. Ich mag ihren Humor und ihre gleichzeitig sehr ernsthafte Auseinandersetzung. Demand kommentarlos. Duane Michals’ Psychologie ist interessant umgesetzt. Sugimoto ist technisch und ästhetisch herausragend.

...Amon Tobin, Henze...

Ingeborg Bachmann liebe ich für ihre zartes Auftreten, ihr feines Gespür, ihre offene Zerbrechlichkeit. Sie ist geheimnisvoll ohne künstlich zu mystifizieren („Der gute Gott von Manhattan“). Sie ist ein grosses Vorbild. Joyce, weil er Authentizität in der Literatur und Kunst überhaupt erfunden hat und so präzise vorbehaltslose Bilder vom inneren seiner Charaktere zeichnen konnte.

Philosoph? Als ich in New York lebte, schloss ich mich eine Weile dem Kantkreis an. ich wollte mein Englisch aufpolieren und eine Philosophin zur Frau finden, aber meine angelsächsischen Kantianer waren für beides gänzlich ungeeignet. Auch in Berlin habe ich ein paar Seminare besucht. Einige Mystiker fand ich sehr drollig, denn ich merkte, wenn ich „Gott“ durch „Fotografie“ ersetzte, empfand ich mich nicht mehr als so unspirituell. Mein Erkenntnislevel befindet sich also noch im Mittelalter und ich freue mich gerade auf die Neuzeit.

Gibt es einen Titel für Deine Fotografien, der über alle Arbeiten paßt?
Es müsste das verbindende Überthema meiner Arbeiten sein. Es fällt mir schon schwer einzelne Arbeiten zu betiteln. Gefühlte Bedeutung kann ich schlecht in Worte fassen oder kurze Formeln pressen. Zudem fehlt mir die Distanz. Hast du eine Idee?

Nein, ich habe auch nur eine Ahnung, spüre aber ganz deutlich, daß es um einen inneren Raum geht, der sich in der Wirklichkeit gefundenen und fotografisch verdichteten Orten widerspiegelt. Und das ist genau ein non-verbaler Raum. Hast Du vielleicht bedeutsame Einzeltitel?
Ich gebe meinen Bildern nie Titel. Nur Arbeitstitel, die zu meiner persönlichen Kurzweil angelegt sind. So habe ich ein Motiv mit Fernseher ohne Bild „TV looking for entertainment“ oder eine Arbeit mit einem kleinen Neanderthaler auf dem Alexanderplatz „Boys are back in Town“ genannt.

Mir gefallen deine unverstellten, direkten Blicke, die Du in Deinen Fotografien auf die Wirklichkeit wirfst. Obwohl Du genau vorgibst, was es zu sehen geben soll, habe ich als Betrachterin doch einen Freiraum in der Wahrnehmung Deiner Bilder. Erzählerische Elemente sind rar oder gar nicht vorhanden. Manche Bilder könnten aus einer Dokumentation stammen. Was dokumentierst Du?
Es geht mir in der Fotografie nicht um Dokumentation. Lediglich der Stil ist dokumentarisch, um künstliche Mystifizierungen zu vermeiden. Ich glaube, ich zeichne meine Zwiegespräche mit meinem Umfeld, die auch ein bisschen was von Selbstgesprächen haben, auf. Ich bemühe mich, teile des kollektiven Unbewussten und meine Versuche, Unterbewusstes in Schwingung zu versetzen, aufzuzeigen.

Wenn ich Deine Bilder betrachte, fällt mir ganz besonders die immer wieder auftauchende Bühnenmetaphorik auf, die Du benutzt. Ist das bewußt so gesucht und gefunden?
Es ist entweder Zufall oder unterbewusst. Bühnen sind Projektionsflächen und damit hat letztendlich alles zu tun. Vor mehr als vier Menschen kann ich kaum frei reden, ohne in nervöse Atemnot zu geraten. Trotzdem möchte ich mich vielleicht einer grösseren Menge mitteilen. So zu sagen auf einer Bühne stehen... das geht aber schon etwas Richtung Psychoanalyse. Davon würde ich selber gerne mehr verstehen.

Sounds like me (german)

von Miriam Rauh, 2010

„Der Verkauf interessiert mich eigentlich nicht,“ sagt der in Berlin lebende Fotograf Frank Hülsbömer auf die Frage, was genau ihn am Publizieren reizt. Er sei im Gegenteil sogar ein bisschen wie der Juwelier in E.T.A. Hoffmanns „Das Fräulein von Scuderie,“ der sich seine Schmuckstücke zurückholt und dabei auch vor Greueltaten nicht zurückschreckt. Aber keine Sorge, so weit würde Frank Hülsbömer niemals gehen. Er hat einen anderen Weg gefunden. Indem er sie in seinem Bildband The Fiction of Science versammelt, konserviert er einige seiner Werke für den Betrachter für die Ewigkeit – und eben auch für sich.

"Whether sketchily visualized thoughts or meticulously staged motifs, his dynamic depictions of immobile objects often resemble computer renderings," heißt es im Katalog des Gestalten Verlages zur Vorstellung Deines Buches The Fiction of Science. Woher kommt Deine Liebe zur Perfektion?
Es ist keine Liebe. Eher eine Angst und Unwohlsein, wenn etwas nicht gut ist. Von Perfektion will ich gar nicht sprechen. Es gibt sie nicht. Perfektion ist nur eine Idee, die man anstreben kann.

Wie definierst Du „Schönheit“?
Sie bedingt Geist, Intelligenz, Humor, Ernsthaftigkeit, eigenständigen Charakter und die richtigen Proportionen des Körpers zu seiner Oberfläche und der Farben zu ihrer Anordnung und Menge.

Deine Arbeiten scheinen oft ein Wechselspiel aus Theoretischem und Visuellem zu sein; Du selbst wirkst manchmal eher wie ein visueller Philosoph als ein Fotograf. Wie würdest Du Dich selbst in Deiner Arbeit beschreiben?
Gefällt mir. Vielleicht drucke ich doch mal Visitenkarten: F. Hülsbömer, visueller Philosoph, Musterstrasse…

Hattest Du von Anbeginn Deiner beruflichen Laufbahn an eine Faszination für geometrische Arrangements oder hat sich Dir die Bilderwelt über einen anderen Zugang erschlossen?
Die Geometrie ist u.a. durch die Beschäftigung mit der Sprache der Mathematik (Gottlob Frege/Begriff, Funktion, Bedeutung) in den Vordergrund getreten. Organische Arrangements waren aber noch nie mein Ding. Das kann die Natur besser.

Wer sind Deine Vorbilder im fotografisch-künstlerischen Bereich? Und wer in anderen Bereichen?
Roman Signer, Fischli&Weiss in der bildenden Kunst. In der Literatur Musil, Joyce, Bachmann aber ich lese fast nie Fiction, es sei denn, sie gibt vor, Wissenschaft zu sein. Musik: alles von Bach bis DAF. Es gibt vieles in der zeitgenössischen Musik, was mir gefällt: Battles, Fever Ray, Hot Chip, Moderat, TV on the Radio, Wild Beasts…

Gibt es einen bestimmten Grundsatz, nach dem Du arbeitest?
Es muss zu einem solchen Grad neu und ungesehen sein, dass man maximal Verwandte darin erkennt aber es niemals kopiert oder epigonisch ist. Es gibt nur einen Menschen mit der Namenskombination Frank Hülsbömer auf diesem Planeten, da mein Nachname sehr selten ist. Ähnlich individualistisch ist meine Arbeitsmaxime. Aber natürlich gibt es Einflüsse und Moden, denen ich mich nicht verschließen kann oder will.

Was inspiriert Dich? Gibt es Motive, die Dich immer wieder faszinieren?
Ich baue seit ein paar Jahren meine Motive ja ausschließlich selber, weil ich mir, aufgrund einer einschneidenden Änderung in meinem Leben, schnell eine Parallelwelt bauen musste, die alle Widersprüche zulässt oder sogar glücklich vereint. Ich arbeite stark mit bzw. aus dem Unbewussten. Farben und Formen bilden hier Gedanken und Erzählungen, die teilweise nur gefühlt und geahnt werden können. Das Bewusste kann mir größtenteils gestohlen bleiben. Es wurde gerade in der letzten Zeit in der (Konzept-) Kunst völlig überschätzt und hat sich – in einem Wust von Theorie, Erklärungen und Analysen – sehr breit gemacht und den Spielball der Kunst an die Kritiker abgegeben, dabei wissen wir doch, dass das Unbewusste eine Denkmaschine von so unglaublicher Geschwindigkeit und Komplexität ist, dass ein Computer mit einer solchen Rechenleistung an dem banalsten aller Probleme scheitern würde; seiner eigenen Kühlung. Der Neurologe Wolf Singer  (Prof. Dr. Wolf Singer, Max-Planck-Institut für Hirnforschung, Frankfurt/Main) hat dazu einmal sehr amüsante Ausführungen gemacht.

Du hast eine Weile in New York gelebt, in Warschau und lebst aktuell vorrangig in Berlin. Welcher Wohnort war Dein liebster und wo hast Du das bis jetzt günstigste Klima zum Arbeiten für Dich vorgefunden und warum?
Anfang der 90er mit 23 Jahren in New York… das war eine Befreiung. Mit einem Schlag verlor ich fast sämtliche chronischen Krankheiten. Es war ein einziger Rausch. Ich habe dort aber noch nicht künstlerisch gearbeitet sondern nur getankt und schlechte deutsche Gewohnheiten abgelegt. In Warschau begann ich langsam mit dem künstlerischen Arbeiten. In Berlin gerät man schnell an einen “point of no return”. Wo kann man danach noch ernsthaft leben und arbeiten? Vielleicht in einem mittelalterlichen Dorf in Italien aber dort würde ich den ganzen Tag nur im Garten auf einen Pfirsichbaum starren und käme nicht mehr zum Arbeiten

Gibt es einen Ort, an den es Dich immer wieder zieht, beziehungsweise einen, an dem Du noch nicht warst, den Du aber unbedingt besuchen möchtest?
Ja, Israel. Ich werde nun dieses Jahr endlich dort hinfahren zu einer Hochzeit in Tel Aviv. Auch wenn mich die politische Situation enorm aufregt.

Wenn Du unabhängig von finanziellen und räumlichen Gegebenheiten wärst, welches Projekt würdest Du umsetzen?
Finanzen und Räume sind nicht meine Begrenzung. Eher Zeit. Ich hätte gerne mehr Zeit, um mein Unbewusstes weiter vollzupumpen und den Alltag auszublenden. Dann würde ich da sitzen und warten, bis mein Prozessor anfängt zu rotieren. Es gibt kaum Schöneres, als den handwerklichen Akt des Fotografierens, bei dem das Unterbewusste die Hand führt und den Plan manchmal spontan über den Haufen wirft. Ich lache dabei manchmal vor Rührung oder Überraschung.

An was arbeitest Du aktuell?
An den Photokinetics. Sie entwickeln sich mehr und mehr zu animierten Filmen. Ich träume davon, aus ihnen ein Musikvideo für Radiohead zu machen.

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