Peeling off emulsion lifts from your instant prints is like seeing a whole new picture appear before your very eyes. It is familiar but vaguely different at the same time. We talked about this and more with photographer Tanja Deuss in a quick interview. Check out what she has to say after the cut.
We featured her amazing travel emulsion lifts awhile back in the Analogue Lifestyle section and we had the pleasure of talking to her to pick her brains about photography and her works. Say hello to Tanja Deuss and give her a big Lomo welcome! And oh, she’s also a community member too!
Hi, Tanja! We’d like to thank you for finding the time for this interview! We’re excited to feature you again on the magazine.
You may get this question in a lot on interviews but still we’d like to ask: how and when did you start shooting on film?
I started working with a digital camera in 2002. But many of my photographer friends worked with analogue cameras like the Pentacon Six or Yashica Mat. Back then, I found my love for the square format. It was a big process to shoot my first analogue B/W Photos because I was very curious and wanted to immediately see my pictures. But in 2003 I started analogue photography. And it was a fine process for me. Anyways, I like both – analogue and digital. Without digital photography I would not be able to do my job as a photographer and art director. For my “art” I mix both processes. They belong together.
What makes analogue photography special for you? Is there anything specific about shooting on film that makes it particularly stand out?
Well, as I said before – both, analogue and digital photography are important for me. And every process has its charm. I like shooting with my Yashica or my Holga when I am traveling because it’s like going back to childhood. Waiting for the pictures… taking them to the photo lab… waiting a bit more and then seeing the results. That makes the moment magic and fascinating again. Perhaps this sounds a little bit crazy. :o)
But nevertheless I always have my digital camera with me. And my Polaroid SX-70. These Polaroid pictures are for the very special moments. Like standing on Brooklyn Bridge or Golden Gate Bridge.
What makes your approach to shooting with film different from shooting with digital?
Shooting with film sometimes is more intense. And even more with Polaroid. For example: I stood at Brooklyn Bridge with my Polaroid Camera and it took about 10 or 15 minutes to shoot ONE right picture. You only have the possibility once when you have 8 shots in your camera. I compose, wait for the right people with right clothes and colors, the light must be okay… there are so many things you have to think about. I do not say that you don´t have to think about the picture when you shoot digital but it´s different because you can take several opportunities. With Polaroid and other films, you only have one. And you can be lucky if the photo turns out right. Every Polaroid is an experiment.
We see that you travel a lot and your ongoing emulsion lift series (“Abheben”) from all over the world is pretty interesting, can you talk more about it? How does traveling affect your photographic work?
Traveling affects me in every detail of my life. It´s the most important thing for me (next to loving my wonderful husband) and it always has. When I was young – the moment I had some money to spend I got on my way. It opens my mind, gives me more perspective and makes my life bigger. Talking with people from different cultures makes me happy. I always wanted to learn how other people live in foreign countries. And when I started with photography, it got even better. Now I was able to take the special moments of people and nature back home with me.
The best traveling moment I ever had was coming out of the hotel at Times Square the first time in my life. New York for me is the most inspiring place on earth. Never felt the pulse of time that intense before. Pure inspiration and neverending turning lifestyle.
Can you talk us through your creative process when you’re doing your emulsion lifts? How do you envision your photographs even before you look into the viewfinder?
Perhaps I should give you a short explanation why I did all these emulsion lifts. A good friend of mine asked if I would like to make a photo exhibition. That was some years ago. I had to say no because I had no concept. And I hate photo exhibitions without concept. Just hanging some pictures on the wall is not my opinion of art.
Last year – after a lot of traveling, experience and a great coincidence I made the decision to do this exhibition now. I found a new way to work with Polaroids. I took photos from my monitor and used all my favorite pictures to turn them into wonderful Polaroids. I call them Hybripolas and Hybrilifts. It´s a simple idea but nobody tried it before. The Instant Lab was not out at that time. And it´s not as easy as it might sound. Try it yourself. With this I had my concept. I was very happy because I could combine digital and analogue and give my work a hint of “handmade.”
When I started my emulsion lifts, I exercised with trial and error. First I had no idea which pictures and motives could be good and support the technique. But I had my favorite pictures and they have one thing in common – they were reduced and focused on one detail. That´s it.
The process then is simple to describe. First, I wanted the lifts to look smooth, plain and clean; much like the originals. But that was the wrong way. They look much better if you work with the motive, rub the wrinkles and stretch the emulsion until you support the statement of the photo. And that became my process.
What can you say is your more preferred phase of your work? The “before,” “during,” or “after?” Why?
This is a difficult question. Never thought of that. Every phase is important. None could exist without the other. Perhaps the “after” is the most experimental phase. The “during” is the most satisfying one. The “before” the most creative in my opinion.
Do you have personal rules that you apply to your own work? Please share them with our readers.
Oh yes. FORGET RULES! Try everything. And I mean EVERYTHING. Do not listen to people who say “You have to do it like this or that to make it a good picture.”
Find your own creative process to make your dreams come true. Try analogue, try digital, and find ways to connect them. We are so lucky to live in 2014 – take every chance to use technology. Make collages, do painting with your hands and feet, use crazy cameras, and make people laugh about and with you. The more experiences you make the better you feel inside and the better you will know yourself. If you love photography do landscapes, macros, shoot photos of people and animals… every field of photography is interesting and not easy.
Oh – ok – perhaps there is one rule: visit New York. :-)
Which artists inspire you in your work? Any artists that we should follow?
Every artist inspires me in a way. I always take a piece of every artist with me when I visit exhibitions. For me there is no THE Artist. If you look closely, you can find inspiration just around the corner – street art, films, photos or maybe a friend´s story.
But there is the German musician Udo Lindenberg. He and his music gave me the kick to start my project. To follow my dreams and not to listen to stupid opinions. He is a great man with great experience. Besides he is a very good painter.
Given the chance to collaborate with any artist or photographer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?
Leonardo da Vinci, Robert Mapplethorpe and Udo Lindenberg.
Leonardo because of watching him drawing the Mona Lisa.
Robert because of sitting with him in the Chelsea Hotel making his first Polaroids of Patti Smith.
Udo because he inspired me with his song “Und ich mach mein Ding.” I would love to sing and perform with him while wearing my green socks.
Any favorite Lomo camera worth mentioning? What makes it stand out?
I do not have a fave Lomo. I love my Holga. Sometimes I use my Spinner. My SX-70 is my favorite camera. But that is not a Lomo. :-)
What’s next for Tanja Deuss?
My next project will be giving workshops in Wuppertal, Germany. Together with Christian Hang who is also great Polaroid artist. We would like to share our knowledge about Polaroids and emulsion lifts.
And I am looking for some places to share my “Abheben! Art.” Not sure if galleries are interested in my work. That remains to be seen.
Any last words for our readers?
Please follow your dreams and feel free to do whatever is important for you!
Thank you very much for this opportunity to talk with you!
Liked this interview? You might want to check out these interviews with other great artists:
An Interview with Commercial and Erotica Photographer Ellen Stagg
An Interview with MirrorLessons founder Mathieu Gasquet
An Interview with Analogue Photographer Eugene Levinta
A Quick Chat With City Space Photographer Clarissa Bonet