INTERVIEW WITH JOCHEN RAIß
In the current issue of the German art magazine »art. Das Kunstmagazin«, the book »Women in Trees« was presented as »the most charming photobook of the summer«. Jochen Raiß is the man behind this considerable project, that brings together 52 old black and white amateur photos of women sitting in trees.
We met this charming fellow from Hamburg in our Berlin office and had a chat while sitting together with a cup of coffee and a piece of strawberry cake.
Jochen, which picture originally inspired you to create Women in Trees? When did you realize that you were going to make a series?
I’ve been collecting historical amateur photographs for a long time, around twenty-five years. At the start the photos were simply more like beautiful bookmarkers for me, certainly not a thematic series by a long shot. About ten years ago I knew I wanted to make something more out of them. In early 2014 I came up with the actually very logical idea of scanning the pictures I’d found. Suddenly, I noticed details on the monitor that I hadn’t been able to see with the naked eye. That was a very exciting experience for me.
How did you start working with Hatje Cantz?
That’s a very good story. Last year, my work took me to the book fair. I’d brought a PDF of Women in Trees on my iPad, simply because I wanted to find out how art book publishers felt toward the theme of amateur photography, or historical amateur photography, to be precise. So I went to Hatje Cantz’s stand at the book fair, where I saw a lady who wasn’t tied up in a conversation. I went up to talk to her, and as it turned out later, it was Ulrike Ruh, the list manager for Hatje Cantz. Like a lot of people do these days when I talk about Women in Trees, she reacted with a chuckle! Then she told me that she had an appointment that would take about a half-hour, and asked me if I would come back then, because she wanted to have a look at the pictures. Well, of course I went back at the appointed time and we talked for a long time, very animatedly, about collecting, photography—and Women in Trees! Then, at some point, she said to me, “You know what, Mr. Raiss, I’d like to do something with the pictures. But first I have to show them to my team in Stuttgart, in order to find out if they’re as instantly excited by them as I am right now.” Apparently, the team was also convinced (laughs).
Your book is being talked about in both the national and international press. Interest hasn’t seemed to slack off. Did you reckon with that?
No. I may have hoped for that. Especially the international attention—I didn’t reckon with that at all. A friend of mine pointed out an article in AnotherMagazine on Instagram. I happened to be on the bus at the time. When I started reading, the Instagram post had six hundred “likes,” and when I got off a half-hour later, there were 1800. It happened incredibly quickly. I got really hot (laughs).
You find most of your photos at flea markets. Do you have a favorite flea market?
Actually, in the meanwhile, two. The flea market where I find most of my stuff isn’t the nicest; it leans toward the trashy. It’s at the racetrack in Bahrenfeld. There are a lot of estate sales there. There’s always a sad component to that, when you see that an entire household is being sold off. The second has a lot of nice visitors and is really lovely. It’s at the Schlachthof on Feldstrasse in Hamburg. I’ve found a lot of stuff there very often, recently. Some of the dealers already know me by sight, even. I talk to them about how I’m publishing a book now, featuring the pictures I’ve bought from them.
How do the dealers react when you tell them about your book?
Like most people do when I tell them the title of the book (laughs). They’ve shared my happiness for a bit with me.
At which flea market did you find the best picture?
I believe it was actually along the banks of the Main in Frankfurt. In those days Frankfurt had only one flea market; it took place regularly on Saturdays—it’s not like it is here in Berlin. When I’m traveling I prefer to go by myself to flea markets or secondhand shops, where I can stumble across something suitable.
Do you also take photographs?
[Considers] Yes, but not many. There are already so many good pictures in the world, which I prefer to discover and collect. But photography is fun. Especially when I’m traveling, I take my camera with me. But like many others, I capture lots of moments with my smartphone.
Would you describe yourself as an art collector?
Yes. Even though they’re all amateur photographs, many of them—naturally, I select them according to this criterion—are very aesthetic.
What exactly do you do, professionally?
I’m the co-founder of fotogloria | büro for photographic collaborations in Hamburg. There are three of us, and we distribute photographs to clients nationally and internationally. But, roughly speaking, we provide services with regard to everything that has to do with photography and how it’s used in corporate communications.
Are there works of art that inspire you, or influence your work a great deal?
That’s a complicated question. There are a number of them, but I can’t give you any specific names. There has to be something going on in the photo that speaks to me.
Are you already planning a new book?
[Laughs] Right now, I’m working with Edel Verlag on a book about my collection of amateur historical soccer photographs. The Berlin author Jochen Schmidt, a member of the German Authors’ National Soccer team, is writing texts about my pictures. He writes very beautiful, almost melancholy texts. Because most of their “true” stories have been lost—which is also the case with Women in Trees—I’ve long been toying with the idea of writing texts/stories about the pictures in this type of project. The book’s supposed to come out this year. But I’d also definitely be pleased to be able to publish a second Women in Trees book with Hatje Cantz. Because, in the meantime, I’ve way more than one hundred photographs in my collection.
One last question, and we’re burning to know the answer to it: Have you got a favorite picture from the Women in Trees series?
The title picture, in fact. Unbeknownst to me, the graphic designer, Gabriele Sabolewski, picked this picture. She randomly chose that photo to show me what the cover might look like. I was enormously happy about that.