Photographic Duos: An Interview with Arne Piepke and Ingmar Björn Nolting
Photographic Duos is a new feature from Loupe, exploring collaboration in photography through a series of interviews with creatives working in pairs. We discuss varying approaches to collaboration, considering issues of shared authorship alongside the benefits of collective creativity.
Interview by Bertie Oakes –
Despite both still being students, Arne Piepke and Ingmar Björn Nolting are already making work that is being widely acclaimed within the photojournalistic community. Pairing a traditional documentary approach, with stylistic influences from photographers such Alec Soth and Rob Honstra, their work is of a quality and maturity far beyond their years. This interview sees them discuss how their working partnership came about and continues to develop today.
Bertie Oakes: When did you first meet and how did you decide to work together?
Arne: We both study photography at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Dortmund, Germany. We met during the third semester and soon noticed our similar approach towards photography. Two of our friends were also planning on working together, so it pushed us to do the same.
Ingmar: We attended a seminar together, about editing and photobooks, which inspired Arne, a few others and I to meet in our flats in the evenings to continue editing our work, and talk about our projects and photography in general. This was actually the starting point of what we now call DOCKS Collective – a collective of five young photographers, that are working on personal projects and share humanistic values as their common basis.
BO: Do you share many photographic influences?
A: We share some photographic influences like Michal Chelbin, Rob Hornstra, Vanessa Winship, Rafal Milach, Alec Soth, Bieke Depoorter. But influences on our photography also come from elsewhere and tend to be very different.
I: The motivations that lead us to our personal projects vary. Arne is strongly influenced by his childhood in a small village in rural Germany, while my work often looks back to my experience in social work. However sometimes our interests align. When we worked together on our photo-essay about Vaziani, we were dealing with an isolated place, social issues and the connection of the people to their new home. There was something in this place and the people, that both of us could connect with.
BO: Remains of a Soviet Utopia was the first project you collaborated on. How did you find out about the story of Vaziani and what was your working process while you were there?
A: We were researching in Tbilisi and spent some time with street children late at night. A young guy we met, 17-year-old Edo, invited us to his home in Vaziani. He introduced us to his mother and sister and showed us the whole settlement. The people, location of the settlement, and history fascinated us. The atmosphere while walking through the streets is amazing, and so we quickly decided to make work there.
I: Edo’s mother immediately invited us to sleep at their flat while working on our project. The fact that we stayed with one family in the settlement helped us to gain trust to the inhabitants. We were basically working all day, most of the time together. We know the strengths of each other, so it was never a question who is actually going to take the picture in a certain situation.
BO: It’s rare for documentary photographers to work in pairs. Why do you think this is?
A: It’s not easy to find someone you can work with and it can be tricky at first to develop your process, but it can be very successful. I can see how working in a team could lead to problems, particularly if one partner is acting egoistically, however we’re lucky in that this hasn’t been the case for us.
I: I think that working together requires trust and honesty. You totally rely on each other. There’s more to it than simply having a similar photographic approach. Being friends and working together at the same time shaped us a lot. When you share the same vision of a project it can even strengthen a body of work.
BO: You also both create work individually. Do you believe this is important?
A: Yes, if you are working on a personal topic it’s important to work alone. Right now we are working on topics which we both have a personal connection with. It’s in these projects that you can explore that personal relation and highlight your own authorship.
I: I agree with Arne, for me it’s important to have my own projects. It allows maximum freedom. Sometimes it is necessary to work on your own, because the topic requires your unique personality and your own special experience – I think I couldn’t get the same access to the topics and people of Arne’s projects and vice versa.
BO: It’s interesting you mention personal authorship. What are your thoughts on shared authorship in collaboration? How do you manage it?
A: It belongs to both of us. While editing you have to think about the story and not about your personal photos. The story was more important than our single photos.
BO: You shoot projects on multiple cameras, both film and digital. Stylistically, how do you keep the work consistent and bring it together into a single visual narrative?
A: Of course we could have shot the projects with the same camera, but at some point the workflow of analog was more fitting. For example the portraits in Vaziani were shot on medium format. For us it was more about the workflow, because it took more time to set up the frame and the people got used to it.
I: We had very few problems bringing the photos together. I think that it’s actually not about the technique you use – it’s more about the visual language, about the story and about the underlying connections between the photos itself and the viewer.
BO: How has your relationship and collaborative process developed since you first started photographic projects together?
A: It has strengthened, we continue to support each other even though we are currently working on separate projects. I always know what Ingmar is up to right now. We are more honest than ever with our criticism and we always send each other new images. This collaboration is very important for me and became a great friendship as well.
I: Our work as well as our friendship improved from our collaboration and I am really happy about that. Even though we are currently both working on personal projects, you know that there is always someone, who exactly understands your workflow, your motivation and your approach. Arne’s honest feedback is very important for me and helps me to develop my work further.
BO: That honest criticism of one another is important, how do you work it through when differences in opinion occur? Can disagreement be constructive?
A: It’s very constructive, maybe even the most constructive part of working collaboratively. Its through our points of disagreement that I’ve most improved my attitude to photography. Having to think about and make a case for every decision forces you to be more considered, and it’s helpful to have another point of view. It’s been a hugely important part of the development of my photographic approach.
I: What Arne just said!
BO: Despite the fact you are both German, your projects primarily focus on areas in the Caucuses. What fuels your interest in this region?
A: It’s mainly about the people – their hospitality, their different daily lives and their connection to history. As a post-soviet state Georgia has an interesting history, which has shaped the country in various ways. We’ve been to Stalin’s birth place Gori, a city where Stalin is still celebrated, and we have seen a small village close to the Turkish border only inhabited by Muslims. We experienced a lot of contradictions, a modern youth and a rapidly-developing country.
I: Both of us have been to Georgia four times, including a visit the Kolga Tbilisi Photo festival, and I’m sure that we will both visit again. But Arne is currently working on a project in Germany and so am I.
BO: Recently you have launched DOCKS Collective. How did it come about and what are its aims for the future?
A: About 3 years ago we were already meeting as five guys in each other’s kitchens and living rooms to talk about photography, edit our new photos and drink beer. At the start we were just five friends but at some point everyone began thinking about it as a collective. About a year ago we decided formally to become DOCKS.
I: We quickly came up with the idea of releasing a newspaper as out first big project. We didn’t just want to start a collective but present our values and works in a joint publication. We plan to continue with this kind of publications, stay dynamic, evolve and have this collective as our foundation and publishing platform.
BO: What is next for you as individual photographers, as a partnership, and finally for DOCKS?
A: Currently, I want to finish my bachelor project, which is about a tradition in my home area. But of course, it’ll be in close exchange with the collective. At the beginning of next year, we all will have new projects and will present them again as DOCKS Collective in a joint publication.
I: I spent the last year and a half working on a long-term project on everyday life in a German high-rise, which was built with luxury apartments in the early 1970s, but is nowadays considered a “deprived area”. I may be moving into this place for a couple of months to finish the project for my graduation. But there is always a lot of stuff to do with DOCKS. We are curious and hopeful about how the collective and our collaboration will develop in future.
BO: We look forward to it, thanks to you both.
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