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Ulmann-Matthias Hakert, Gunda Förster


Do you watch a lot of television?
It varies. There are times when I watch a lot, and times when I don't at all. For me, television is a diversion—as opposed to going to the movies. I only go to the movies with a purpose in mind, to see particular films. I don't pick up videos to watch a movie at home either. Only if I don’t expect the film to be shown in movie theaters again, or for my photography from the television screen.

And what do you watch?
The news, and otherwise … If it's late at night and I’m just wasted, then it doesn't matter at all what's on. But the television is never on just as background at my house, and neither is music. That would bother me. I don’t have a particularly close relationship to television. I just use it for my work, and now and then to clear my head.

Doesn't the effect of derealization bother you?
That's just what I find exciting about television—that you can get something through this medium that you could never have in reality. For instance when I’m a bit exhausted, like yesterday. I was supposed to go with friends to a bar but I didn't feel like it at all. It would have been too much effort, to go there, deal with other people and have to converse. So I went home instead. I wanted to work but I was too tired for that too. So I watched a talk show.
I thought it was good, to sort of sit in on it but not have to say anything myself. And I could still hear more or less interesting stories. And when I didn’t want to anymore, I could just turned it off. I didn’t have to apologize to anyone, make arrangements with someone else because I wanted to leave; I just pressed a button and it was off. I was alone and everything was fine. The fact that it actually works that way depends upon my emotional state, of course.

When do you take photographs from the television?
I only shoot in situations that are completely relaxed. That means at night, never during the day. When I don’t have any more appointments, when the telephone doesn't ring, and I’m calm. I can't just sit down, turn the television on and go at it … I first have to acclimate myself, get into it. With time, I've gained enough experience to know about what will be on the photograph. That’s not a 100% game of chance anymore. There is some ability to calculate, even though there's still some room for surprise. I have also gone over to picking up particular films and not just photographing any television program at all. Videos that have more marked contrasts. That makes the gradation of movements frozen in the individual images more pronounced. The effect that ensues from shooting electronically generated images using the camera’s inertia, this superimposing, is more powerful with films that are rich in contrasts.

Which films are richer in contrasts?
Black-and-white films from the 1940s and 1950s, like French films from that period or old American films too.
It depends on the film material. But I also photographed »THX 1138,« images from George Lucas' first film.
I stumbled upon it by accident on television. Much of the movie takes place in a white space with no contours, where people are moving around who are themselves dressed in white. The only points of contrast are their hands and faces. As I came across it while surfing, I quickly grabbed my camera. I also made some pretty great photos from Orson Welles' film version of Shakespeare's »Othello.« I had picked up a pile of black-and-white films from the video store and it was one of them. The advantage with videos is that I can rewind and shoot a particular sequence.

Why are all the shots in black and white?
With color films, I switch the television set to black-and-white playback, then I get these blue shades on the color slide film. When I photographed »THX 1138«  the first time, I wasn’t switching the color off yet. In those passages with people dressed in white in white rooms, the skin tones were still visible of course. So I worked on them on the computer so that they are more gray, black, blue-ish. All the photos are reworked on the computer. Sometimes the photos aren't just reworked, I select a detail on the computer. Even while I’m shooting, I'm selecting a detail from the screen, but sometimes I select a detail from that detail. Then the images are processed in such a way that the chromatic values are somewhat the same.

What kind of technology do you use, digital?
No, it's just a normal automatic camera. With an automatic camera, I don't need to bother with technology while I’m watching the screen. I can concentrate completely on the images so I can shoot at the right moment. I sit huddled up on a stool right in front of the television, or kneel in front of the screen, looking through the view finder the whole time. That brings the image closer so it seems to be right in front of my eyes. That makes the whole business much more intense and closer than if I had to do a lot to focus the camera. Later I look over the finished images to see if I can find anything good or if I see something that I like as a detail of a detail.

How long have you been doing this?
About two or three years; back then I was still using images that had been photographed from a passing car for an installation with slide projections. Those images had the brilliance of color, the contrasts, the blurs and haziness I wanted, in other words a degree of alienation to minimize the shots’ reference to reality. I don't remember anymore exactly how I came up with taking photos from the screen.

In any event, the situation is now reversed: in the car, you were moving. The motionless camera in front of the television screen records the movement of the images.
I realized that I have much better images when I don't aim the camera directly at reality but rather at the filtered reality on the screen. I liked the idea of using an electronically produced image of reality and then distancing it yet again with the camera. It can no longer be traced back to its origin and yet it’s a sharp image, in the sense of focussing—it's blurred only by the speed differential between the shutter time and the frame frequency. I thought that was exciting. Of course, my interest in black-and-white images is related to my light installations, with white light and darkness.

translation: Janice Becker

in: > NOISE, Vice Versa Verlag, Berlin, 2001