Bärbel Praun is a German photographer who lives everywhere yet nowhere, as she describes herself. Her photography moves between monumental landscapes which question our interactions and attitudes to nature and tourism, and small, intimate details of places and objects, a visual research and constant questioning of the notions of home and memories.

this must be the place_2015

How did you become interested in photography?

Actually, it was more of a coincidence: for my 18th birthday I got a camera, a Canon AE 1, from a good friend and so it started. I went to see photo exhibitions, took some black and white lab courses, threw pencil and brush away and photography quickly became my suitable tool to express myself.

plastik in weiss_2009_03

Landscape appears constantly in your photography. What do you think is a feature of our contemporary interaction with nature? We used to consider it something to tame and conquer; now we seek to protect it from our own selves. There is also an attitude, an interest in a re-enchantment of the earth itself as a nurturing mother and so on. How do you see these issues through photography?

I agree, basically mentality towards nature has changed from a conquering to an observing and conserving attitude. However, our society’s perception of landscape is a construct, deeply connected with the longing for the idyllic and sublime. The subject nature versus landscape is a rather complex, highly interesting interdisciplinary discourse including language, literature, painting and advertising. I recently read the book “Why is Landscape Beautiful? The Science of Strollology” by the Swiss sociologist Lucius Burckhardt, who taught, amongst many other things, theory in architecture at the University of Kassel. In the 80s he founded the new subject Strollology, the starting point for a realistic attitude towards perception and reality, regarding a different, new comprehension of landscape and urban space, of strategy and architecture. I am fascinated by how up-to-date his approach still is: landscape is a social phenomenon and the meaning of landscape depends on our cultural interpretation. Also, Burckhardt said, contexts rarely are recognized: each of us only sees what we have learnt to see. He explored natural and urban environments by foot, asked to look closely at the network of relations and reflect on our perspectives. Environments are invisible – so Burckhardt’s challenge was all about re-discovering and observing.

I guess that’s what I am trying to do and show within my photography: to slow down myself, have a close look and explore society’s (and my own) perception regarding these issues. It’s the gap between our images in our head and reality that interests me and besides all criticism I find lots of beauty and humor in it too.

on pad_D 826_since 2012

What are your sources of inspiration and which artists do you appreciate or follow?

I recently participated in a workshop at the ISSP in Latvia (International Summer School of Photography). Being surrounded by a bunch of people being passionate about photography, creating new work there, attending lectures and discussions and having a group exhibition at the end was extremely inspiring and comforting at the same time for me. An essential source of inspiration for my work and living in general is to be on the move: there’s city, social and cultural environments, being with friends and family on the one hand, and seeking loneliness on the other hand: go for a run in the forest, do a hike on a mountain, sit in a train. It’s a process of absorbing impressions and experiences like a sponge and then sorting everything out again to get some order and structure in my thoughts. That’s when the working process starts – I need to be alone for that, without any people, without distraction. So the perfect outbalanced input-output situation is having these extremes of curiousness/crowded and emptiness/calmness.

Tell us a bit about the series ‘solo for plastic’. What is it about and how did you work on this series?

I remember when I was a child, I loved strolling through department stores touching all kinds of cloths hanging there. Until today, various kinds of materials and substances and their surfaces, haptic and shapes fascinate me, whether they are natural ones, like ice, stone or water, or artificial ones like plastic foil or styrofoam. In the series “solo for plastic” my curiosity about this tactile sensation mainly occurs in different kinds of landscapes and environments: collected situations like a black plastic hanging down a rock – probably leftovers from a construction site. There’s artificial snow produced for the winter and ski slopes to come. Plastic bags caught up in a bush at the seaside. Two people embracing each other, wearing black, highly artificial produced jackets. My main focus here is the tension between real and found, artificial and staged. I guess it’s a mixture between beauty and oddity, a play with one’s perception and imagination.

goldgelb_2013_02

plastik in weiss_2009_01

How would you describe home? 

In a traditional sense you’d probably say it’s the place where you come from and where you settle down. Since I‘ve never lived and worked in one location for more than some months over the last years, it’s been hard to answer this question for myself and for others. An approach in doing so is my recently finished series “this must be the place”. It might not give one specific answer, it’s more like a research about land, place and home, describing my exploration, perception and interpretation of landscape, led by intuition and my emotional state.

gruss und kuss_2006_01

plastik in weiss_2009_02

How do you work in a specific place, in a given time? How do you choose a theme or bring a personal interest to a place, such as a photography residency for example?

Residencies in general are a fantastic opportunity for me to concentrate on my work and an enormous challenge at the same time. My first artist in residency was a three-month stay in Vienna in 2012. There were five of us, one artist from Armenia, one from Slovenia, two artists from China and myself. One of the wonderful things was that we had our apartments and studios only fifteen minutes by train from Vienna city. Secondly, our front yard was a big park with a water-castle within and the Viennese woods was behind. I decided to go for a run in the woods as often as possible, that’s when I discovered several wooden huts spread over the forest. Some of them were spacious and clean as someone used to live inside, but I never met anybody. Others were artfully made, like woven combs or tents, but nobody could ever tell me the reason that they were built. This was the beginning of my project “HOME_82”, with a focus on home, origin and memories. The longer the period of a residency, the more freedom of research and experiments you have of course. Thanks to this specific one I found a theme I have been working on ever since. The shorter a residency, the higher the pressure you put on yourself, but it’s amazing how intense these stays are, how much you learn about a foreign place/country and yourself.

gruss und kuss_2006_02

solo for plastic_2011_02

What colour is silence?

All kinds of whites and blues. Feeling empty and fully filled at the same time. I am not sure my mind’s ever in silence, I probably should do more yoga to achieve that.

You can see more of Bärbel’s work at: baerbelpraun.de
As well as a video preview of her upcoming photobook “this must be the place” here