Slow Travel Berlin, 2011
Maren Winkler is an amateur photographer who moved to Berlin in 2000. Escaping from small town life in Western Germany, she “wanted to live in a place which I wouldn’t ever know by heart – no matter how long I lived in it.” Working as a medical doctor at Charité Berlin’s Centre for Stroke Research, Winkler spends her free time documenting the details of her life on photographic film. Her book A Passion for Plastic explores deserted scenes from her adopted home, recorded using vintage Bakelite cameras. “I am a nerd,” she freely admits, “I do benefit from the fact that nerds are more respected these days, but seriously - I’ve always been one.”
What sparked your interest in photography?
I like to collect things – not so much material things, but impressions, moods and memories. I find it hard to let go of them, too. If I were any good at painting or writing, I’d probably paint or write. In 2006, a friend of mine introduced me to the Flickr community and I realized that photography was the best way to build up my own little collection of memories.
What kind of photos did you first start to take? Do the same subjects or themes appear in your work today?
Looking back at my “older” photographs I find a lot of arranged still lifes, and food photography. I remember times when I went to the grocery store and bought food because I thought it would look nice in a photo! Similarly, I browsed flea markets for objects that would make nice arrangements. I guess that arranging and re-arranging, picking objects and setting up scenes helped to train my eye for composition in general. Nowadays, I prefer to go out and shoot random scenes, so to say scenes that have been set up by somebody else.
Did you study photography, or are you self-taught?
I am self-taught. Sometimes I wish I knew more about the technical stuff. But then again, intuition works well enough for me.
You seem to shoot exclusively on film, using vintage, toy, Bakelite or Polaroid cameras. What is it about this “traditional” approach that appeals to you?
Most importantly, I love the way film looks. It’s experimental, unpredictable and hardly ever perfect. If you screw up a digital photograph it means nothing to you, and it doesn’t evoke anything. If you screw up with film you get a happy accident – it’s never completely screwed.
I also like the handling. I like loading a roll of film (especially 120 film) and I like the excitement of picking up freshly developed rolls from the lab.
I am fascinated by these vintage cameras, too. I like to imagine where and with whom they have been in the past, and what kind of pictures were taken with them. Most of them are rather primitive but that, too, makes photography more unpredictable, less “perfect”.
Would you ever switch to digital?
I started with digital photography and I still switch back whenever I need faster results or more perfect pictures. I use it differently now, though. Shooting film helped me to slow down, and consider shots more carefully. So even with my digital cameras, I no longer shoot excessively.
Your Flickr photostream reads like a diary - photos of personal subjects, or accompanied by personal comments, sets called “My place”, “My planet”. Is photography a way for you to document your life?
That’s definitely true. And I do emphasize on the “my” because I am aware that anybody else would look at these subjects differently. It’s only a visual diary, though. I don’t want to get too philosophical by adding any detailed descriptions or clever thoughts. It’s just for fun.
Your biggest collection is “My Berlin”. What role does the city play in your photography?
Berlin is my favourite subject. I know that many people complain about the dirt, the graffiti, the run-down houses etc. To me these are just signs of an ever-changing city that tells stories and surprises me every day. It never gets boring.
You’ve published a book called A Passion for Plastic. What is the thinking behind this?
Making any kind of photography book was something that had been on my mind for quite a while and when I finally came to it I had just started to shoot film. I didn’t want to mix film and digital shots so I came up with the “plastic” theme. I stole the title from my favourite radio show that I used to listen to when I was younger. Since I was using my Pouva Start and my Rheinmetall Perfekta, both vintage Bakelite cameras, the title seemed to make sense. And in some way, “plastic” could also mean “film”. True, I could have chosen “Early Adventures in Film Photography” as a title, but even I would have found that boring!
The book (and your work in general) includes a lot of deserted scenes. Are you more interested in places rather than people?
I am aware that many people think of theses scenes as depressing or disturbing, but it is not my intention to evoke feelings like that. These deserted and static scenes leave so much more room the viewer’s own interpretation and imagination. You wonder what has happened there, or what could happen there in the future. I want the viewer to stumble upon an unfinished story and come up with a possible ending. It’s a little more edgy than conventional amateur photography of crowded places, happy people, but it’s also far more intriguing.
My favourite pages in the book depict an equestrian statue outside the Alte Nationalgalerie opposite the modern steel horse sculpture by Hauptbahnhof. Does the meeting of the old and the new - especially here in Berlin - interest you?
A meeting of the old and new – that’s a nice interpretation, but it wasn’t my intention. I am always attracted to ugly and somewhat ridiculous things. When I took these two pictures, the idea of doing a series on statues of horses in Berlin came to my mind. What do they have to do with a modern city like Berlin? It’s quite ridiculous, don’t you think? And I find this modern statue to be particularly ugly, as well. I never got to continue with the series, even though I came up with a pretty good title: “Berlin, ein Ponyhof”.
As well as Berlin, the book includes photos from Potsdam, Munich, Hamburg, even Switzerland. Does it feel different to shoot in different places? Do you come away with different results?
It’s much more difficult to have an eye for detail in unfamiliar places, so I come away with a more “general” or touristic view. It feels less personal in a way, and I also think that my pictures are less personal. Oh now, that sounds like a terrible thing, doesn’t it? Hey, it’s not. It’s vacation!
A Passion for Plastic includes photos of public places, some well known. Do you have plans to publish photos like your “My work” Flickr set, which shows a world which most people don’t get to see (behind the scenes at a hospital)?
None that will never be published. Initially, I wanted to do a larger series about my work but it soon became too difficult. Scenes from hospitals are either quite disturbing to people without a medical background, or they intrude on patients’ privacy. So I didn’t find much besides empty floors to shoot and eventually, I got bored of it.
What next for your photography? Are you working on any particular projects at the moment?
I just got an old SX-70, so Polaroids will be my next challenge. I don’t think I will get tired of my vintage Bakelite cameras anytime soon – so there are definitely more pictures to come. And who knows? I might even give those horses another try…
You can explore Maren’s photos on Flickr and find out more about her book here.