She took her first photo a while back not knowing that it will change her life forever. Her photographs are mysterious and beautiful, someone would even say with a touch of darkness, but she also enjoys playing with light. She never hesitates to experiment with various techniques such as long exposure, water and glass.
Her ability to recognize emotions of others enhanced her photography and allowed her to explore more. In an interview for our magazine, Gundula speaks of what fascinates her the most about photography, how did her photographic style evolve over the years and what does her day look like when she is "off duty".
"I'm fascinated by the dark, wicked and melancholic parts of our personality."
Can you remember the first time you took the camera and made your very first picture? Was that the moment when you felt like photography was something you wanted to do? Has your style of photography changed over the years, or you kept a little bit of both?
I took my first photos of the interior of our house. My mother had borrowed me her camera and I was allowed to take exactly 10 images. I remember the “butterflies in my stomach” when I started to search my motifs and I chose them very carefully. It was banal things that I photographed, for example a part of the wooden stairs which led to the first floor with my room, but for me they were places with which I connected something, places of my everyday life that symbolized home and safety. The most amazing moment for me was to hold the developed photos in my hand with the images I had chosen! It was a delight for me to see those motifs on a paper in front of me. Nowadays I have the same excited and euphoric feeling when I insert the SD card in my computer after a photo session. When I was ten or eleven I got my own camera and from that day on I tried to capture everything in my world: Friends, holidays, my everyday life, important places... Retrospectively I find my motif choice of this time very interesting, because they tell something about the perception and the world of a child. As a teenager it was very important for me to capture this new amazing world with all the new exciting experiences and emotionally charged moments that I opened up together with my best friends. At this age I and my best friend started to make photo shootings. We loved to dress up and to try out other roles, far away from our everyday life.
Later I discovered the photographing of beautiful, aesthetic places, buildings, landscapes and meaningful, exciting motifs. But someday I was bored of capturing real images, because I felt depend of what happened around me. So I wanted to create my motifs myself. Someday I took a photo through a water-filled carafe that stood on a table. That surreal and bizarre world behind the carafe resulting from the water in the curved glass awakened my love of experimental photography. This was the moment I gained a new passion. Since that day I don`t only try to capture moments and emotions, but I create them with using different techniques. Sometimes I have an idea for a picture or I guess how it will look like, but mostly the pictures become something completely different, they be- come a window to a new world with a meaning I could not imagine before. And I love to be surprised!
Your photos are all about capturing beautiful, surreal moments and provoking different emotions while looking at them. How do you manage to do that every time? Would you say that inspiration is the answer?
Yes, I think inspiration is a requirement for creating something. I can only take pictures when I have special impressions or emotions. There are days when I’m completely empty and on these days it makes no sense to try to create pictures. No matter how long I try and experiment, it doesn't work. That can be very frustrating. On other days I suddenly get an idea based on something I've seen or heard. I get inspired by a wide range of different settings; it can be a person with a special aura or a fascinating face or it can be a text which evokes associations and images or pictures which trigger something in me. I have to be in a good mood, I need to feel open to have a good eye for new impressions. If I don't feel good I'm not able to discover something that would inspire me. But when I'm inspired and I have an association, a new emotion and new ideas for creating an image, it runs almost by itself, so that it's sometimes even scary. In addition, another requirement for creating my pictures is a huge interest and perseverance in experimenting. I create my photos with using different techniques like water, color, light and glass. The hazard plays a major role in this creating process and then I'm surprised by those chances. Then I love to work with the new effects and the changing meaning of the picture. For me it's like trying out different realities and roles, a kind of playing. I was always fascinated by the complexity and the contrariness of our personality, our inner reality. In every one of us lies dormant a multitude of different realities and each of them is an own mysterious and impressive world. I'm also inspired by the people around me with their personalities, both in my work-life as remedial educator and my friends and family. On my photographs there are often no recognizable faces, some images are blurred or distorted, they are a kind of anonymous. So it has this mysterious effect and maybe the viewer is thrown back on himself, on his inner life and her or his fantasy will create automatically a subjective part of the image. I think the most important question is what and whether a picture evokes something special in the emotional world of the viewer.
How do you feel when you look at your early work? Are you discovering something new about yourself?
Yes, meanwhile I'm able to see my early pictures “from the outside”, with a kind of distance, I'm not “in” the pictures anymore, so now I can better understand how I felt when I created them. Suddenly I recognize my inner reality and my perception of that time, because I have another now. A few years ago I was almost surprised when the people said that my photos would seem so dark and depressed; I didn't feel like that, probably rather unconsciously. But something has changed, and now I agree with people. Compared to my present feeling I felt kind of lost, disoriented and timid that time and I often had the impulse to hide, perhaps because it was a time full of upheavals and changes.
Nowadays I have a totally different basic emotion and another view of life as well and I ́m glad about this personal development. I find it exciting that art always reflects the inner reality of the artist. Without even beware of it I choose and use special techniques, colours and stylistic devices based on my frame of mind. For my current images I work much with different kinds of light, which has this transfigured effect. And I love colours; a fascinating colour is sweet for me. In the past I used to create my pictures only with few and decent colours, that's different now. The unrecognizable faces are still important to me, but in a different manner. Created pictures reflect phases or stations of inner processes and each of them is important. I find it really interesting to see how the perception changes in life and I think that you learn from one phase or station when it is completed and a new one begins, so that you can compare.
When you seek inspiration, do you always find it within yourself, or you turn to everyday life, people you meet or emotions you are experiencing in that specific moment?
For me it's very important to get input and different impressions from the outside which evoke associations and ideas inside me. From time to time I need the distraction; I need to escape from myself and from my everyday life and after that I feel renewed and refreshed. I love it to throw myself into the colorful life of Berlin and its hidden adventures and to be enchanted from its energy, variety of possibilities, lifestyles and point of views. But it's equally essential for me to have my calm periods of time only for me. I need these quiet days to process all the big and small experiences, because only then they enrich and inspire me, otherwise I`d feel stressed and the experiences had no worth. I love to walk through the streets of Berlin, preferably after getting up in the morning. I like it especially to discover places or districts where I haven't been before. Then I often see details that inspire me.
Recently I saw an old half-opened double window and behind that a very old white lace curtain which hangs there presumably for a long time. Except for the fact that it was a very aesthetical image I wondered which story is hidden behind these old curtains. This thought put me in a peculiar and wistful mood. I'm fascinated of images that remind of the transience of life which is frightening and beautiful at the same time. Sometimes colors trigger something in me and give me ideas for photos. Recently I was hiking in the Alps and that blue of a field of gentian flowers put me in a special mood and suddenly I had imaginations for creating pictures. And I like the different forms of light, for example the transfiguring effect when you look with half-opened eyes to the sun. Sometimes I get annoyed, because I want to capture exactly that image which I see with my eyes in that special moment. Unfortunately it's impossible. And you know those kinds of dreams when you slide very slowly from the dream reality to the reality of the waking state and a second ago everything in the dream was totally logical, the dream had his own reality and a clear logic which you understood perfectly, but the more awake you are the less you understand this logic, it's like losing a kind of understanding. I'm so fascinated from such dreams and its inherent realities.
Do you think empathy plays a big role in your photography, since you are very good at recognizing emotions and capturing them in your photos?
Yes, I would say that I'm a person who's able to recognize emotions of other persons and I ́m often influenced by the mood of other persons what can be exhausting. But on the other hand I'm very glad to have that very sensitive nose, because I need it for my work with mentally handicapped persons. Many of them aren't able to communicate their emotions and needs with the help of speech, they communicate in a different way. But as I already said, often I feel over- stimulated and even confused by too many impressions and moods and then I can't interpret anything. In these situations I need much time for me in my flat where I create images and probably I process those sensory overloads with making my pictures. It helps me to feel clear and ordered again.
What is your favorite technique to use when you are in a process of making your pictures? Do you like combining diverse techniques so you could always have a different outcome?
I love to estrange photographs with a variety of methods and filters. I play with light and long exposure, with glass, water, and color and the good thing is that there are no experimenting borders. I like every technique which hides something in the picture so that there is a space for fantasy. Usually I have a special technique for a period of time and in this time I'm able to create a series of images. But after a while I'm running out of ideas and the technique is “used up“. But it's funny, always when I get annoyed because of that, I get an idea for a totally new method after a short time, mostly while I'm experimenting. Sometimes I combine different techniques. A few years ago I spent a lot of time with experimenting with the printed photograph and water, respectively water drops and watercolours. That was my first technique and it fascinated me for a very long time to get the right moment for taking the photo. Water drops or the running colour in the water are only for a very short moment in the right position and it was/ is my ambition to capture this perfect moment with the camera.
What fascinates you the most about photography?
For me the strong effect of photographs is fascinating. Originally a photo showed the visual reality in front of a camera lens, and even though everyone knows that nowadays on a photograph can be everything, the feeling still says: “A photo documents the reality.” That's the reason why surreal photographs – or I would rather say “pictures based on a photographic procedure”- have this effect, because the surreal seems to be real. I think that a photo is closer to the viewer than a painted picture. When you see a painting you know from the outset that the painter had no borders in his painting process, he could paint everything what he wanted to and every motif could be possible and a photo has still this “position” of a faithful picture. But creating photographs like I do is almost the same like painters do. The painter mixes and uses colours and I mix and use photographic methods to create an image.
One of your series called Fragile Identities implicates there can be various stages of human personality and a possibility that we all have many different faces hidden under the surface. Was that the trigger for you to make these series of pictures, and what has influenced you the most while making it?
I think I wasn't aware about what was the special trigger for the series. I experimented and all the created images had this similar mood. Only in retrospect I looked at those dark and haunting pictures and I wondered why they all represented that special atmosphere. I saw the images at a distance to myself and I recognized that I had many unconscious emotions the time I created them what founded its expression in the images. I remember that somebody asked me why I always “burn the faces” of the persons and I thought about that, but I had no answer, only that I find it aesthetically pleasing to hide the faces with a bright light. But there is always a special reason why you find something beautiful. So hidden or not recognizable faces symbolize an escape and they show that there is something behind the surface that you can't see. I'm fascinated by the dark, wicked and melancholic parts of our personality.
What would you say to your younger self when she started doing photography? Would you advise her to do something differently?
No, not really. Sometimes I think what I could have done better when I look at older images, but in the next moment I think that it was right and good to create it like that and in that time there were no other possibilities. It's necessary to pass several processes, otherwise you can't develop. It was a process to come from my first experimental images to the images that I create nowadays. And if the time between didn't exist I wouldn’t understand my current art.
Since your work is about combining different techniques, would you say you love working with both analogue and digital photography?
At the moment I'm trying out an old analogue camera from my grandfather and occasionally I photograph with the very first camera that I got. It`s another approach when you know you have only a few photos for one motif, otherwise it would become expensive. That approach can be fun, especially if you hold the bag with the fresh developed photos in your hand and you know that in a few seconds you will see them. But in my case my impatience is the problem. I hate it to wait. And a much bigger problem is the limit. For my art I need the possibility to take photos without limits, but when a film is full, I have to stop (and many films are too expensive...). I must be able to experiment without borders, otherwise I become dissatisfied. But I would like to develop photos by myself and to experiment with that. Unfortunately I had no time to learn it yet.
It’s obvious that your photography has much impact on the people around you. How did it influence you as person and an artist?
When I was asked the first time to write an article about my work, I noticed that I had not thought that much about my work until this moment. Suddenly I was asked to reflect about myself and my art, and the first time I began to wonder about what I was doing (and to find the answer) was difficult. I'm a person who ponders much about everything, but when I think about my pictures there's a kind of block. I have no fixed plan for a special image when I experiment, I think it`s more a subconscious process that is hidden from awareness. But since people ask me to communicate my thoughts I have also the ambition to reflect my art and to create pictures more consciously.
Can you describe one day in the life of Gundula Blumi?
Ok, so I will describe a free day, when I don't have to work. Usually I go for a walk through my neighbourhood with a coffee in my hand after getting up. I love it when it's early and the day is still “young and fresh”, it feels like everything can still happen, all options for the day are still open. When I'm at home again I have a breakfast and after that I do important matters or I work on my photos. Towards evening I meet friends, now in the summer we like to sit with a beer on a lake or in the park. It's great when our meetings become spontaneous photo shoots. There is an enchanting clearing in one of my favourite parks in Berlin where we often meet. When the sun sets there, it is beautiful and the intense light shines through the trees around the clearing. Then we take pictures.