Interview with Frank Schirrmeister

Frank Schirrmeister is a Berlin-based photographer whose work has been exhibited in Germany, Poland, France and Lithuania. He studied Modern History and European Anthropology as well as Film Studies before he turned to photography.

Frank Schirrmeister: from the series Sundays in Berlin

You graduated at Ostkreuzschule für Fotografie und Gestaltung in Berlin in 2007. Was it important for you to study there and not elsewhere? Have the academic studies been important for you to define yourself as a photographer?

For me, the Ostkreuz School was a stroke of luck. It was founded by exactly those people I had adored since adolescence, that is, Sibylle Bergemann, Ute Mahler etc. Another godsend was that the school was founded at the time when I was ready to become photographer. I belonged to the first class that graduated from the newly-founded school. Thus, we were kind of guinea pigs, which created a special and very close relationship between lecturers and students. Having studied at the Ostkreuz School was a formative time and the experience of intense discussions about images, photography and life in general has definitely shaped my idea of photography.

Frank Schirrmeister: from the series Sundays in Berlin

When did you start photographing? Can you recall the first photo you took that made you go WOW and can we show it here?

I have always been fascinated by photography but it took a long way until I realized that I could do it by myself! Surely, this was a matter of being grown-up (which took a while) and a kind of inner maturity that lead me to the point when I had the world to tell something. This started to become serious about eight years ago. However, I do not want to be remembered of my first attempts expressing myself by photography. To a certain extent, photography is a simple craft that needs some skills or has to be trained. That´s why I wouldn´t present my early pre-Ostkreuz works.

Please tell us about the genesis of SUNDAYS IN BERLIN, which is currently exhibited at FENSTER61 in Berlin.

A formative impression for me was the East German photography that mostly dealt with ordinary men in an unpretentious way. Let me mention as an example (beside the famous Ostkreuz names) Gundula Schulze-Eldowy and her great work BERLIN IN EINER HUNDENACHT. Inevitably, I soon turned to this kind of street photography by myself. My diploma work LAND OF FEAST (FEIERLAND in German) was already an extensive observation of people on public festivals and funfairs.

The approach of my new work is similar in its idea. For SUNDAYS IN BERLIN I have been exploring the leisure activities of ordinary Berliners, avoiding the big fuss in order to find the unspectacular “real” Berlin. Again, I am rather interested in Berlin on the fringe, beyond the cool downtown districts, to approach the essence of the town, to scrutinize the popular image of Berlin. My procedure is to study the calendar of events at weekends and to select any events that sound promising, strange, even a little bit obscure and beyond the things I usually do on a Sunday. Then I go there and watch the fuss and with some fortune I arrive back home with an useful image or two.

Frank Schirrmeister: from the series Sundays in Berlin

Do you talk to the people you photograph and ask for permission?

No, since the result would be a staged image, not an observed one.

How often did you attend an event without getting a good picture for the series?

This happens of course, but normally there are at least one or two pictures as a result of an afternoon out that satisfy me. Even so, very few of them made it in the final round. After three years of work I have now made a selection of 50 images. You can imagine how many pictures are left in the shelf.

Frank Schirrmeister: from the series Sundays in Berlin

Another series of yours, PLAIN CITY, is currently on exhibition at Robert-Morat-Gallery in Hamburg. Are you constantly working with that gallery? If yes – how did you get in contact with them?

The exhibition of my PLAIN CITY is the first one at Robert Morat´s gallery. I do not know yet if subsequently a constant collaboration will result from that. I would like to since Robert is an open-minded gallery owner with a vision and, not the least, with a good standing on the art market. It was Arno Fischer who brought us together. He recommended me to Morat when he saw my diploma work. However, from the suggestion to the final exhibition it took three years! This lead time seems to be quite normal for a gallery in this league.

Frank Schirrmeister, from the series PLAIN CITY

PLAIN CITY – in contradiction to SUNDAYS IN BERLIN – never shows people. They have a very formal style of classical architecture photography. What is the idea behind this series and what technique did you use for it?

Since 2006 I have wandered Berlin with a Sinar large format camera, always during the weekend, always at dawn. The reason for getting up that early: the emptiness. Reducing the city to its plain, naked existence is for me a way to approach the essence of the place. Although the streets are devoid of people, traces of everyday life and activity are found everywhere. In the sallow morning light, Berlin’s makeup seems about to crumble, and a transformation happens: things, buildings, places you have seen a thousand times before appear strange and new. In a while, nothing will look the same. The urban landscapes in these photographs are mostly places in transition, waiting for their reshaping. This leaves the chance for a sequel: how will these places look in a conceivable future?

Frank Schirrmeister, from the series PLAIN CITY

Actually, PLAIN CITY is for me the contrary as well as the complement to SUNDAYS IN BERLIN, different in its method but similar in its mental and intellectual approach of delving into the deeper layers of the metropolis Berlin.

Is there a new project you are currently working on?

This year I will take a time out and cross throughout Europe in an old VW bus for three months. Of course, I will not forget my camera. My plan is to do a project whose working title is BEYOND CRISIS. I will try to find a middle course between pure street photography and the more conceptual photography as in PLAIN CITY. In any case, I will return for this project to conventional analog film and medium format.

Which photographers inspired you the most?

Still, my favourite inspiration is the East German photography in general with its idea of humanity and its reservation against false tinsel and its attempt to get beyond the surface.

Any young photographers who impress you?

I don´t know why I should distinguish between young and mature photographers? Important is the idea behind and if the person has to tell me something or not. The latter is unfortunately quite often the case.

Thanks, Frank.

Further informations:
Frank Schirrmeister’s website
PLAIN CITY at Robert Morat Galerie, Hamburg
SUNDAYS IN BERLIN at Fenster61, Berlin

Frank Schirrmeister: from the series Sundays in Berlin

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