Photographer Erli Grünzweil wants to challenge his audience through digital and post-production techniques

Moments from the everyday – like tripping over your shoelaces – are the focus point to the weird and surreal gaze of this Vienna-Based photographer.

7 April 2020

Technology has increased and challenged our understanding of, well, pretty much everything. An advocate of this is Erli Grünzweil, a photographer and art director based in Vienna, who, ten years ago, was a concert photographer that believed the medium was only useful for its documentary capabilities. “Over the years and throughout digitalisation, the rise in social media and computer generated content, my view shifted,” he tells It’s Nice that. “Now, I’m fascinated by the fact that it’s possible to challenge the viewer by staging and manipulating imagery.”

Although a keen campaigner for what can be achieved through the medium of photography, Erli’s path to where he is today wasn’t very linear – but boy was it complimentary. Having studied graphic design, he always thought he’d end up working as an editorial director. In 2016, however, he tried his hands at photography. Now, he hones his creative skills by striking a harmonic balance between both photography and art direction, as seen in his recently published book Dreaming is Okay, in collaboration with Susanna Hofer.

Upon description of his work, the photographer explains that, on the surface, he’s the kind of person who likes to toy with ordinary objects or situations. “My work celebrates the everyday because I think it’s worth looking at objects and situations, as well as photographing them; there are facets that remain hidden when viewed less closely.” This openminded perspective means that “fantasy, poetry and magic” are all elements that can be set free in the process: “When you move through the streets and take a positive look at the small things,” he continues, “a huge new world opens up. This creates awareness of objects that affect our lives as we produce, buy, consume or throw them away, and each of these actions affect the environment, society and ourselves.”

GalleryErli Grünzweil

Alongside moments from the everyday, Erli tends to read texts and books for inspiration. For example, Didier Eribon’s Returning to Reims impacted his series Mundane Confusion Constant Mystification to a great extent, while the work of Jorge Luis Bores is of much influence at the moment, too. “Other images evolve out of personal experiences and I re-stage them directly or metaphorically,” explains Erli.

This formulaic and considered approach is a reoccurring theme throughout Erli’s portfolio. Nearly all of the images he takes are staged, and each serves as a foundation for further experimentation using post-production and digital manipulation techniques, either with Photoshop or CGI. While in the process of shooting, he tends to work with one or two small flashes and mixes it with the available natural light. As discussed prior, Erli used photography as a tool for documentation, but as the years went by and he gained more experience in the medium, he realised that there’s much more to be said of photography – particularly in terms of manipulation and the articulation of another reality. “It’s a challenge to overcome to superficiality of photography,” he says. “In this sense, to use the surface to address more profound content so that the absent becomes the subject of the images. Another reason,” he adds on why he takes pictures, “is that I wanted to use the mechanics of politics and fake news and turn it into something new.”

He refers to when he photographed shoelaces, for instance. “On the surface, it’s super banal and the story to it,” says Erli, before explaining how he’d had an incident where he’d fallen over his shoelaces and hurt his rib. “A big fail but also kind of funny.” He continues to explain how it’s not really interesting nor revenant to anyone else but everyone can sympathise with the story of tripping of shoelaces. “On the meta level, it stands for the fear of something you want but couldn’t avoid. Sometimes everything seems to go wrong in life and you don’t know why.” Capturing this moment is just a small part of Erli’s mission, but it’s also highly representational of his aim to transform the everyday – with the help of light and composition – into something a bit more surreal.

GalleryErli Grünzweil

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About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla is a London-based freelance writer, editor and consultant specialising in art, photography, design and culture. After joining It’s Nice That in 2017 as editorial assistant, she was interim online editor in 2022/2023 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. She has written for i-D, Dazed, AnOther, WePresent, Port, Elephant and more, and she is also the managing editor of design magazine Anima. 

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