For photographer Philotheus Nisch, his chosen medium goes beyond the usual love of capturing a moment in time – he believes photography is at the root of everything. “So many things exist to end up as a photograph,” he remarks, “even a lot of our actions… It happens a lot, that I see things or create certain set-ups that I would like to be eternal. For me, taking a picture of it is the most immediate approach to that issue.”
Originally from near Stuttgart, Philotheus is currently based in Leipzig working on personal and commissioned projects which incorporate his somewhat philosophical understanding of photography, largely through highly-saturated still lifes.
Having studied at Bauhaus University Weimar, as well as at schools in Leipzig, Montreal and London, he tells us how “basically everything” inspires him, a statement which makes sense upon seeing his maximalist imagery. “I like to do ordinary things to get inspiration like taking a bath or topping a pizza,” he says. “I have a big obsession with dime stores and DIY warehouses. I love to enter those amusement parks, filled with people that are searching for tools and materials to fulfil their unfinished dreams and visions.”
As a result, Philotheus’ work feels much like visiting one of these warehouses; every frame jam-packed with something new to notice next time you return to it. It’s a fact spurred on by his process for creating work. “I have a lot of sketchbooks where I translate these ideas by making crappy drawings,” he explains. When working on an image, he also visualises how it’ll be digested by a viewer, whether it’s in his “mothers living room, on a badly designed website, as a poster in a kindergarten, printed on a teacup, as an old postcard at a flea market”.
It’s an approach which means his images are imbued with twists and turns, and layers of potential understanding to uncover – often dripping with sarcasm. “I guess I have a soft spot for cheesy pictures,” Philotheus explains of his resulting visual language. “I like the challenge of working with kitsch and clichés in a way that it becomes difficult to ascertain my level of irony.”
Despite this, Philotheus’ work is no joke. From his compositions to the visual trickery and even the lighting he employs, he displays a proclivity for photography both from a technical and conceptual viewpoint. In a recent series, commissioned by his former university, he created a series celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Bauhaus. Confusing and compelling, they feature cubes as a central motif, made from differing materials.
In one image the cube appears as “part of the hemisphere”, whereas in another, it reveals some kind of reaction to a stranger. “It can be read as a metaphor for all the ideas and concepts this movement brought to us and the various reactions to these innovations until today,” Philotheus explains. This adept balance of technical prowess and conceptual thinking is what underlies all of the photographer’s portfolio. Whether interpreting monthly column for a German magazine (What if?) or visualising his fascination with the fact we are materials and the universe (Before the Beginning), Philotheus’ work draws you in with high contrast, high colour, slick visuals, and then, slowly but surely, forces you to figure out what the hell is actually going on.
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