Photography, 3D scanning, CGI, the 90s and advertising tropes all combine in Till Janz’ work
Based in London, Till brings all of his interests into his photography practice and the results are weird, wonderful and everything in between.
- Ruby Boddington
- 6 May 2021
Technology is ever-present across the work of photographer Till Janz, even if it’s not obvious at times. Growing up in Worms, Germany, a place he describes “as close to nowhere as a place can feel”, Till was bullied relentlessly and he dreamed of escaping to somewhere “new and big and exciting”. Technology, during this difficult time, “presented the best possible tool for escapism and generally avoiding reality,” he recalls, and his computers, the first of which was a Commodore 64, provided a window for young Till to imagine a better future for himself.
“By my mid-teens, I’d morphed into a total gaming geek, and since then I’ve always craved the newest technologies,” he tells It’s Nice That. “I was the first person I knew to get an iPhone, and I’m still obsessed with anything that has a screen.” In turn, he uses a blend of cutting edge technologies in his practice, including 3D scanning and lidar (Light Detection and Ranging, no, we hadn’t heard of it either) data. Through these fascinating methodologies, Till pushes the boundaries of what photography is, describing himself more as an “image maker” because of that fact. Excitingly though, he retains an element of play throughout his work, so rather than resulting in a dystopic vision of a technological world, Till’s work simply feels fresh and compelling.
In a collaboration with Isamaya Ffrench called The Glow of a Single Pixel, for example, he combined traditional photography methods with CGI face-scan technology, “which we used to add makeup to our model’s face digitally,” he explains. Eventually producing a series of six portraits, Till points to this work as representative of his process: “I think that this work really exemplifies the technical rigour of my practice. Each image is the result of multiple digital processes, many of them carried out painstakingly over time.”
Then there’s a personal project titled Me, Myself and My which is Till’s first self portrait series, again combining a multitude of dizzying and impressive technologies. “This particular art piece is made from a 3D scan of my head and I am wearing a custom, digitally crafted look by a high-end designer,” he explains. “I used motion capture data to animate myself and also produced the music for the dance myself.” The plan with this series, he continues, is to continue releasing work as part of the series over time, with each portrait expressing and reflecting what his interests are in that particular time. Reassuringly, he says: “Don’t worry, they will all be strange…” (As if we thought otherwise!)
On his motivations to create more broadly, Till tells us: “I love telling stories. Whilst I’m not great with words, I feel that creating visual narratives comes naturally to me.” He also loves to make people laugh, so many of his projects are humorous or feature comical characters. “Laughter helps people feel comfortable, so you can use it to approach some really hard-hitting topics,” he adds. “This desire to connect with people and put them at ease definitely informs my aesthetic.” Then, on top of technology, Till’s work also references the 90s, futuristic aesthetics, old advertising styles and English humour.
Till’s love of advertising, like his love of technology, also stems from his childhood. “I was surrounded by art, in its many forms and uses, from a very young age,” he explains. “My father worked in advertising, and he had these VHS tapes of the Lürzer’s Archive, which showcased the best adverts from all around the world in the 1990s.” His mother, on the other hand, dreamed of being a clothing designer but ended up becoming a teacher. “Since then she has spent her whole life in pursuit of art, which is perhaps part of the reason my older brother and I both became artists,” Till says.
It wasn’t actually until the age of 22 that Till found photography, specifically, though. Prior to that, it had been music and cooking that had drawn his focus. “I think my previous training in these other areas proved useful in developing my practice as a visual artist. Photography requires a great deal of focus on composition and harmony, not unlike playing an instrument or cooking the perfect dish,” he explains. What he now loves most about the medium he has settled in is its collaborative nature and ability to create deep connections between photographer and subject. “Photography is interesting because I can hide behind the camera whilst still feeling close to my subject,” he adds. “There’s this feeling of real intimacy, but if I take a step back there is often a huge production going on behind the scenes and it’s up to me to direct that big team.”
Luckily for us, Till has various projects in the pipeline, one of which revolves around his interest in programmable art and interactive storytelling. There’s also Past Present Future, an ongoing project since February 2020 that plays with the idea of conformity through programmable portraiture photography. “It will reflect on my path as an artist via observations on my upcoming 40th birthday, and will aim to subvert the traditional role of portraiture as a status symbol,” Till says, adding that an exhibition will open of the work in London at the end of the year. Lastly, he’s been collaborating with an upcoming artist, model and entrepreneur Hugo on myriad projects that explore the intersection of the universe and the metaverse. “You need to follow him on Instagram – he's just one of a kind…” Till tells us.
As someone who utilises such a fascinating mix of techniques throughout his work, Till really is an exciting creative to keep an eye on. Even if we wanted to, we couldn’t predict what Till will do next and we don’t think he could either. His practice morphs and evolves as technology does, and is the result of a singular creative vision.
Till Janz: Oklou (Copyright © Till Janz, 2021)
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor. Get in contact with Ruby about ideas you may have for long-form stories on the site.