Monday, 25 March 2013

We Stand on the Side of the Freaks

The Notwist ca. Sept 2001

I once took my photo portfolio to the Face Magazine in London.  It was taken away, inspected and returned. Then shortly afterwards 9/11 happened.

A week later I got a call in Berlin, where I was living at the time. They wanted me to photograph the German band, “The Notwist”. No one from London, it seemed was willing to fly to Munich now.

“After all, it is just around the corner from you”, I was told. 

Now from Berlin to Munich is a six-hour journey by train, and all second-class tickets had sold out.

So, throwing caution and terrorism to the wind, I decided to fly there.

The location chosen by the band or the Face, I don’t really know, was the Olympic stadium, built for the 1972 Munich Olympics by Günther Behnisch and Frei Otto. This suited me fine, as one of my themes in my photography was sports grounds.

The appointment was for 6pm, on a cold wintery overcast evening approaching dusk. I had roped in a friend of mine, who happened to be in Munich visiting his brother,  as "assistant" or rather moral support. The band remained gracious throughout, despite the fact that my assistant" was on crutches, having broken his ankle the week before and I had no lighting equipment, no array of cameras, just an analogue 35 millimetre camera, a very fast film and a nervous expression.

I took a few pictures of the band in front of the turn styles of the stadium and then inside the club, which the band frequented. Afterwards, we were taken out for a pizza and a drink at a club, as one does with a Face Magazine photographer. If ever I felt like a fake it was now.

The band politely spoke English to me, gave me a copy of their latest CD, Neon Golden, and were thoroughly pleasant. No trace of overbearing ego. Described by the Face interview as "blissful pop experimentalists", they come from a small village outside Munich, and according to the interview "We only started because there was nothing to do". 

So when I asked band member Michael Acher, if he did any other music in his spare time, or something along those lines, for want of something to say, there was just perhaps a trace of bemusement when he mentioned something about jamming in a jazz band.  Only after the fact did it occur to me that he had most likely been pulling my leg.

Later in the bar, my friend, who was himself a musician, was asking a band member questions, probably Michael Acher again, with an intensity that had me worried. Was he coming across as too much of a fan? I was also worried that I was getting on their nerves with my inane questions and my obvious lack of knowledge about the band. What if they knew that I was only here because The Face could get no other photographer on a plane?

My paranoia had reached its height for the evening. I was quite happy to be honest when it was over and I could just hang out with my friend at his brother's place, where he kindly put me up for the night I stayed in Munich for the shoot.

On the shuttle bus back to Berlin from the airport the commissioning editor was already on the mobile, making sure I had got the goods. So this is how it feels, I thought, to be a real photographer. 

I submitted my photos. One picture was really grainy as I had shot it at 1600 and I wasn’t so happy about that. The other one was criticised by the editor because I had allowed the printer to accentuate the colour too much.

I have still got the tear sheet still from the published piece. The banner of the piece is rather appropriate, I feel. The Notwist were quoted as saying, “We stand on the side of the freaks.” 

I felt thankful for that statement, even if, I hope, it wasn't directed at me. It is one that I keep close at all times.

So, where are we now, twelve years on after the shoot?

Though the Face folded in 2004, The Notwist are still going strong.  Judging by their tantalising website they are still in existence either here on Earth - perhaps still near Munich, or on the edge of the universe where they appear to be regularly proofing their music on the principles of infinity and claustrophobia . Their website navigates you, whilst allowing you to play Dadaist games with mouseclicks which gives you the illusion of being in control.  An architect has laid down his plans, but the website keeps you at the edges, where the printing proof marks of the colour spectrum are the key. It is minimal, intuitive and warmly expressive, true to the music they make.

As for me, I am still taking pictures of sportsgrounds.

And my friend?  We still get to hang out on Skype, where we also write songs together, but sadly get to meet less often in person. I hope that changes soon. I am eternally grateful he offered to be my crutch, when he was hobbling around on crutches himself.

perhaps a tad on the red side.

Carried away by canopies.

More canopies? You gotta be kidding.

Aren't you supposed to see the face of the band member?

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