An interview with Robert Rutöd

Featured next in our Seconds2Real series of interviews with famous street photographers is vienna-born photographer and filmmaker Robert Rutöd. Robert Rutöd is perhaps best known for his photographic projects “less is more“, “grayscales” and “right time right place“.
Robert Rutoed also made numerous short feature films with screenings worldwide.

Enjoy the interview!

Tell us a little bit about Robert Rutoed. Who are you, where do you live?

I am a photographer and filmmaker, and live in Vienna. I have been neglecting film somewhat over the past few years due to the fact that too much time is wasted raising money. I came to photography because of painting. In my work, I actualize ideas spontaneously with the resources of unprompted photography.

From „Less Is More“ (2009)

Am I right when I say that you are a street photographer?

Yes and no. This label forces various photographic positions into a box. Over the past century, art critics and art historians have come up with countless genres, but with photography they were less successful. Does this speak for or against photography? This reminds me of Garry Winograd when he said, “I published a book called ‘Animals.’ Does this make me a zoo photographer?”

Can you recall the first photo you took that made you go WOW!?

Yes, very well: a black and white photograph from the early 1980s. Two workers carry a long ladder on their shoulders into a driveway. The ladder spans up and out of the edge of the photo, leaving the real length of the ladder in question. I recently rediscovered the series of photos that led up to this image when I was sorting through my black and white negatives. The result was published last spring in a book titled “grayscales. early b&w photographs”.

From „grayscales. early b&w photographs“ (2010)

How often are you out on the streets shooting? What is your favourite time of the day photographing in the streets?

Whenever I have the time. Lately I’ve been working on weekends to finish my current project “Fair(y) Tales”. For me, there is no perfect time of day. A good photo can be taken at midday or at midnight.

When you are out on the streets, how many pictures do you come home with? How high is your rejection rate and – what is the most common rejection criteria, if you can distill it down?

I try to work efficiently, and never shoot countless photos just to be sure. On occasion, because of certain unpredictable conditions, I will take more photos of a particular scene. I keep a general overview of the day’s work, and after several weeks I begin selecting and processing individual images. This time span provides distance from the original idea, and allows me to judge the image with a more critical eye. It allows me to see if the idea still works and has constancy.

From „Right Time Right Place“ (2011)

What is your opinion about taking photos of other, in many cases unknown people without asking them first?

Asking people for permission would destroy the magic of the moment in a particular scene. I don’t hide myself or my camera, and it doesn’t take long until I become part of the “family”. In most cases, the people involved forget that I am even there and don’t mind being photographed at all.

Please name three of your favourite places to take photos in your town.

I like the city outskirts, the “messy” places, places where there doesn’t seem to be much happening or much to find at first glance. And, of course, the trade fair exhibition halls for “Fair(y) Tales”.

„Fair(y) Tales“ Book cover

How do you feel about cropping an image?

It doesn’t make much difference to me whether I find the right image section during a shoot or after a shoot. What counts is the final image which requires consideration of various criteria such as contrast and color.

Is there a type of photography that you absolutely dislike?

Photographs that require lengthy explanations because they are unable to speak for themselves.

What do you make a living with?

Nearly everyone is forced to juggle several jobs in order to cover expenses. Making a living from photography is fortunate. But under other circumstances, not having to make a living from photography can also be fortunate.

From „Less Is More“ (2009)

What type of art is on your walls at your home?

A few of my early paintings, unreleased photos that are under daily critical appraisal, and a drawing that I got for my birthday: a soccer jersey from my favorite soccer club with the number 40 on the back.

Do you listen to music while photographing? If so, what kind of music is this?

Although I like music very much, I would rather not listen to it while working. These days we are inundated with music wherever we go: shopping, restaurants, even at the doctor’s office! In movies music is also often overused to mask weak scenes.

I prefer silence over “noise”.

How do you define “beauty” when it comes to photography?

Irritating, disturbing, definitely not boring. Ideally, they ask more questions than they answer.

From „Less Is More“ (2009)

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