DMB Welcomes New Artist Pierre Winther!
Photographer & Director Pierre Winther discusses concepts, controversy, collaborations and more...
How did you actually get into photography?
It wasn't anything exceptional but I remember, back in the 80s I was really caught by the long shadows on winter days. To this day I like these dark shadows that the low sun throws into the snow. I wanted to capture them, but didn't know what media to use. Initially I thought of drawing, but I felt the method would have been too slow for me and my drawing skills were too limited. So I bought a camera and went to a library for a book on how to develop film. That's how the whole thing started. I never went to school for photography, nor was I ever an assistant to any photographer. I'm
an autodidact photographer and developed my style over the years.
The title of your book is “Nothing Beats Reality.” What does this phrase mean to you?
"Nothing Beats Reality" was originally the working title for a project where I explored old police documents, newspapers and medical reports. I was so astonished about the stories I came across, that I thought about these words. Over the years I started using this title in many of my projects. It perfectly summarizes my belief that even when you think you have the wildest concepts in mind, there is always something going in the world that is even more incredible, and a step ahead of any idea you could ever think of - in short: “Nothing Beats Reality.”
When compiling this book, seeing all your work together, do you notice any recurring themes?
When I look at the pictures from 25 years ago up to now, it’s the same vibe. The pictures haven’t gotten more romantic. They’re all a little bit twisted, operating in a sinister realm. Maybe I’m just more attracted to the power in that. I like to portray the darker side of human behavior and social messages. To convey these messages I often use humor, so it´s easier for people to take it in. In the “Under Water Project” you point out parallels between the ocean environment and the dangers of the urban landscape. The key visual is “shark riding” and is on the cover of this book.
Why did you choose this image?
I think the narrative of the man riding a 17-foot tiger shark visually sums up my general approach to image-making. It’s this balance of danger and illusion, with a playful nod to the viewer. At the same time, I see the image as a hint to the title “Nothing Beats Reality” and vice versa. In real life, the man was riding this big tiger shark, which was an idea I had thought of long before I actually carried it out. Luckily, I convinced Levi´s to get behind the idea and realize the concept.
What was involved to actually execute the photograph?
The entire shoot took place on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia with a crew of over 30 people. We chartered a big motorboat and spent over three weeks there in order to create the image of the man riding a shark and others in the series. The model was a stuntman, who I coached in diving. He only wore a small air tank on his back when he was finally riding the 17-foot tiger shark, and I had this short period of time to take the picture. We were protected by underwater-guards, taking care we wouldn´t get attacked by other sharks. Everything was done for real, without digital manipulation or any other manufactured visuals.
This shot was created for Levi’s, and you’ve done several projects for advertising clients. What is your approach to working in this world?
My ambition is always to actualize an idea more as an art project, no matter if I do it on my own or together with an advertising client. I make the idea tangible and fill it with content that sometimes has an educational message or just provokes a reaction. I'm not a typical photographer who gets commissioned to shoot someone else’s concepts. Of course I make exceptions if I like the vision. But I think this is what differentiates me from other photographers. I use these partnerships as a vehicle to get my ideas out.
That brings me to the images around the “Successful Living” Series, which you shot for Diesel in 1994. How did this collaboration come about?
Diesel Jeans and their then agency in Stockholm approached me to come up with a fresh idea for their “Successful Living” campaign, that up until this moment was highly successful with commenting on consumers illusory ability to provide simple solutions to a better way of living. It was presented in some kind of collage and Diesel was looking for something new. I suggested we go one step further by providing profound social messages that offered ethical, political and even philosophical discourse. I depicted these themes in a then more contemporary way that to this day provokes both a grimace but also a grin. In the twentieth century photography became finally accepted by the art world and the gallery system, documentary photography and photojournalism is shown alongside fine art photography. Yet today there is still a debate about commercial photography in this context. That´s why many photographers try to shed their “commercial” skin in order to please the art market. Though they gained recognition mostly through their commercial work. I find that hypocritical. I prefer to adhere to my collaborations with commercial clients as it doesn't affect my approach to photography. When you see my images you can´t really see a difference between free photography and commissioned work. When I collaborate with a commercial client then under the premise that they trust me and provide me with creative freedom. So it's my vision that is portrayed in the photograph and doesn't this correspond with the approach on fine art photography.
Would you say your relationship with clients is comparable with the way an artist and his or her benefactor would function?
It would definitely match with most of my commercial collaborations. The mechanism
is the same. A benefactor usually financially supports the artist to realize an idea and that´s what most of the commercial clients did when they commissioned me and offered creative freedom. Look at the relationship between Leonardo da Vinci and
the Vatican, not that I dare to compare myself with him, but Leonardo was basically commissioned and paid by the Vatican to paint these fantastic wall and ceiling frescos in the Sistine Chapel.