Ruth Stoltenberg is a photographer based in Hamburg, Germany. She is Vice President of the Deutschen Fotografischen Akademie and you can see more of her work here.
Also check out DFA Photography
As this is the last in the series of Ruth’s Isolation images and also the end of the full lockdown in England, we have interviewed Ruth about her work and the impact and influence of the pandemic.
Each of your photographs often has its own unique colour pallet, often with one or two dominant colours, as one would more often find in the fashion photography where a shoot is meticulously planned around textile colours. How do you go about finding these scenes in the day-to-day world?
Thank you for the compliment. I am indeed often asked about the coordinated colours in my pictures and then never really know what to answer. I’m primarily not looking for colors, but for motifs. But if there is a yellow garbage can in front of a yellow house, then of course I like to include it in the picture. Or if a woman in a brightly colored dress walks along a blue house facade, then I wait for this moment. Mostly, however, the colors in my pictures are subtle and muted, because I like to stay in areas with old building fabric and dilapidated buildings, where the paint has peeled off or faded badly. Maybe that’s why the colours stand out.
Though ShSo has only shared your ‘Isolation’ series, it was actually one of four personal photography projects you embarked on during lockdown. Would you tell us a little about the other three?
The first series ‘At home’ was created right at the beginning of the 1st lockdown. Our daughter was with us and we spent almost 5 weeks more or less locked down at home. We had a lot of time to ourselves and I wanted to do something together. So the idea was born to stage pictures that exaggeratedly reflect our current feelings and thoughts. There are pictures of my daughter and me, as we sit in front of several screens and inform us about the current situation of Corona or as we just hang around; on the sofa or on the tree in the garden …
This second series ‘Vis-à-vis’ was created when being locked up and the uncertainty of how long the condition would last increasingly frightened me. I tried to capture this feeling in pictures. And so it drove me out onto the deserted streets, in the evening, when it got dark. Darkness makes the outside world invisible and makes the illuminated houses and their inhabitants visible as separate units. Even the virus, which is not visible but present everywhere, brings families closer together again. The streets were very empty and quiet and I met at most a resident with his dog or a police car creeping through the streets. l felt a little uncomfortable in my role as photographer. Almost like a spy. And once I was really scared when the silence was suddenly interrupted by laughter and music. A small group of young people were celebrating in the garden and seemed to be breaking the rules. It was so extraordinary in these weeks and upset me.
My eyes fell on the lights, got stuck on facades or allowed a glimpse into the rooms. Screens light up, providing information from all over the world and allowing the so important contact with the outside world. A world in which the home as a safe haven takes on a new meaning.
The third series is ‘Isolation’ that you know.
The fourth and hopefully last series in Lockdown brought me back to the first, the staging at home. It has its origins in the “Untitled Film Stills” of Cindy Sherman with images she took almost exclusively in her apartment in New York in the 70s. Through the Corona Lockdown, I found myself in a similar situation and tried to recreate the images as best I could within my own four walls. I improvised and tinkered, just as Cindy did. With her film stills, Cindy wanted to stage images that could have been taken from a movie, but were not. I want to use these images as a starting point for a new series, but I don’t want to go into detail because I don’t know yet exactly.
How has quarantine been for you as an artist? Has there been a distinct ebb and flow to your creativity?
As described above, my photography projects have kept me afloat.
Though this has been a very challenging time for everybody, many artists have had a lot more time to create and share their work. Have you found any new artists during this time?
I was very active in my role as vice president of the German Photographic Academy, as we used the Corona period to set ourselves up well digitally. We offered online portfolio walks and many new interactive online formats via Zoom, Facebook, Instagram and Youtube. It was a lively international exchange about photography, through which many new contacts were made.
Do you actually use the mixing bowl for baking or did you buy it for the purposes of the shoot?
Hahaha… My series “Isolation” was created when public life was largely at a standstill. So I couldn’t go out and buy a bowl. But I was able to cut out the houses depicted below in the appropriate size. But the shape of the bowl was not very suitable, because it was very narrow at the bottom or rather at the top, so the houses were always bent. Also, I always wanted to show the actual sky in the pictures, and to find such a position sometimes took several hours.
by Ruth Stoltenberg
Interview by Josefus Haze
Photos from Ruth’s ‘At Home’ series:
Photos from Ruth’s Vis-a-vis series:
and some ‘copied’ images by Ruth of Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills: