Ulrik Gliese - Visual Arts - Interview
Interview with Ulrik Gliese
by Anita Lind Mikkelsen, December 2002
via e-mail as part of an assignment at
Department of Writing, Literature and Publishing,
Emerson College, Boston, Massachusetts.
ALM: What is your background?
UG: I was born in 1965 and grew up in the suburbs of Copenhagen in Denmark where I lived during the first 34 years of my life. In 1999, I moved to the US and now reside in Maryland. My profession is engineering and science and I hold a Ph.D. in electronics and fiber-optic telecommunications. I worked for 10 years at the Technical University of Denmark and now work in the telecommunications industry in the US. Photography entered my life in 1986 and became artistic in nature during 1990. Over the next 5 years, it became clear to me that it had become a passion and that I needed to pursue art as an essential part of my life. Working with my art, I have made two main bodies of work. These have been exhibited in Denmark and my prints are in private collections in Denmark, Switzerland, Canada and the US. I presently pursue my art in my spare time trying to balance art, professional work and family life.
ALM: What or who got you started into photography?
UG: In 1986, I got myself a camera to do photographs on a 10,000 km road trip that I went on down through Europe that year. After that, I started photographing all sorts of things around me and started experimenting a little with various aspects of photography. In that way, it stayed a hobby for some years. I had always been doing creative things but had never been very interested in art nor understanding of it. Then at the end of 1989 something special happened. I was living with my grand parents. One day I roamed the house to find a suitable subject for some close-up photography that I wanted to try. An orchid in their living room caught my attention. I ended up making quite a few photos of it. When I got the prints back from the photo finishing store, one of them brought about an epiphany. There in front of me was an image of an orchid that showed so much more than an orchid. That was a very strong and emotional moment. Trembling and staring at the image almost in disbelief I realized the expressive potential of photography. Today, I do not find the image to be especially good, but that experience was an eye opener into the world of art and personal expression and it changed my life more than I would ever have imagined. It made me decide to do more work along the same lines, however, this time intentionally. That started me out on personal studies into art and photography.
Two other things happened that enabled me to focus my photographic efforts during 1990. First, I was offered a chance to exhibit work. This forced on me an intense and focused effort to produce a cohesive body of work in less than one year. Second, but not least, I met a skilled photographer, Lasse Rusborg, at the university where I worked. From him, I learned a lot of fundamental things about the craft of photography and received a lot of support in my efforts. This enabled me to execute the work needed for the exhibit and to achieve a good consistent quality in my work in a short period of time.
Finally during some of my travels to the US, in connection with my professional career, I was fortunate to get the chance to see real prints by some very excellent masters of photography like Edward Weston and Ansel Adams. Seeing their prints made me weep in joy. I was amazed by the strength of expression and by the quality of their prints.
Those four things changed my life forever.
ALM: At which point did you know that photography was more than a hobby for you?
UG: I guess that part of the answer is covered above. It happened gradually by working with photography and by studying it. I would say that after really getting into my second body of work, after seeing great art made by other photographers and after receiving positive feedback on my work by other artists in the field it became clear to me that photography was not a hobby but rather a strong passion that had become an essential necessity in my life.
ALM: Where did you study?
UG: I am mostly self-taught. This I have achieved by working with my photography and through personal studies of art and photographic craft. I have also learned directly from other photographers. For the craft, I have received a lot of help from the Danish photographer Lasse Russborg that I met during my time at the Technical University of Denmark. In addition, I have taken a workshop with John Sexton and have visited with master photographers in the US, such as John Sexton, Christopher Burkett and John Paul Caponigro, to gain insight and receive advice. I am very grateful for the openness and kindness they have shown and for their willingness to spend time with a young aspiring artist.
ALM: What kind of camera do you use?
UG: Any camera in my possession that will enable me to get the best possible result. For the work I am presently pursuing, I mostly use a 4x5” bellows camera. Occasionally, I use a 35 mm camera if the subject is too small for the 4x5” format or if the physical surroundings do not allow for the bigger camera. I do not have any dogma about equipment or processes and my equipment choice will always be determined by the work and by my means. I mean, sometimes you may want to use certain equipment that you simply cannot afford.
ALM: What kind of film and what kind of paper do you prefer?
UG: I do all my work in color and solely use Kodak Ektachrome 6118 transparency film. This is a slow film (50 ASA) balanced for artificial tungsten lighting. Therefore, I have to compensate with a color temperature conversion filter when I photograph under natural daylight. I have found that this film is the best suited for my present work that often requires very long exposures. It is very well compensated for long exposures in the seconds to minutes range. In addition, it has an excellent tonal range and neutral color balance.
Previously, I did all my prints on Ilfochrome Classic paper. This paper is made for prints from transparencies. It is very high gloss, has excellent color rendition and has excellent longevity. At the same time, the required processing is not too complicated and is well suited for a small darkroom operation. The only drawback is that it requires adequate display lighting to make full use of its long dynamic range. This can be compensated for with extremely excellent results by the use of silver masking processes that also enables refined tonal, color and sharpness control that is not normally believed to be available with color processes. However, the work of Christopher Burkett is an outstanding testament to the true possibilities of these processes.
With the latest advances in digital photography and especially inkjet printers, I have made a decision to switch over from making prints in the darkroom to making prints using a digital workflow. I now scan my transparencies and use an Epson inkjet printer for my prints. For this process, I mostly prefer Epson Premium Glossy paper but sometimes use a matte paper as well. It all depends on the body of work and on the image at hand. As stated before – no dogma. I will use whatever will enable me to achieve the strongest and finest possible print!
ALM: Do you switch between black and white and color?
UG: No. As told above, I presently do all my work in color. However, this does not mean that I will not do work in black and white in the future. Again, it all depends on what I feel is required to do the work.
ALM: What is you feeling about the two?
UG: I love both of these media. They are quite different and both capable of producing wonderful images. It is very difficult to master both at the same time as the visual means are so different. By this, I mean that you have to see things in very different ways and it takes a lot of time adjusting back and forth if the quality and strength of the image shall be at its best. In black and white you have to see everything in terms of tones whereas in color you have to see it mostly in terms of color, however, without forgetting the tones. If I am ever to do work in black and white, I would prefer to focus on that for a while leaving the color work on the shelf for an extended period of time. It happened so that I, by chance, started out with color and it stuck. At present, I do not want to try out black and white. I have a deep passion for color and how it can be used to make expressive images. However, I definitely also love black and white. It has an in-build level of abstraction and is very powerful for conveying sensations around form.
A lot of the best work to date in photography is done in black and white. This, I think, has two reasons. First, black and white has been available to artists longer. Second, until now, the black and white processes have allowed for more flexibility and control. Fortunately, color photography has been catching up and by now a lot of good color work exists. A few very excellent artists such as Eliot Porter and Christopher Burkett have managed to achieve excellent control in traditional color processes. With the breakthrough of digital processing there is now fairly easy access to almost unlimited control. Many artists, such as John Paul Caponigro as an example, have already started to take advantage of this and I think that we will see a lot of excellent and exciting new work appear during the next 10 years as artists gets the grips of this new way of making prints.
ALM: What was the first image you made for money?
UG: I have never made an image for money. This is because, I have never made any work on external assignment. All of my photography revolves solely around my personal work. I exhibit and sell my images. The first exhibit I had was in 1990 at a Danish company through their art association. They bought two prints.
ALM: What is the story behind it?
UG: It was an exhibit of my first body of work that consists of 11 sensual images using flowers as subjects. In the beginning of this interview, I told about an image of an orchid that brought me into working with photography as art. My first body of work evolved out of that image through the year of 1990. All of the images are close-ups of flowers. In some you can see and identify the flower in others you cannot. They all have strong sensual and some of them sexual overtones and combined they tell about human sensuality and sexuality and display a visual similarity in sensuality and sexuality between the human world and the world of flowers.
ALM: What is your process in making a picture? Do you visualize it first or do you let it come to you?
UG: My picture making process varies a lot depending on the work and the stage that the work is in. I mostly work in series that end up standing out as cohesive bodies of work. New work may come about in two ways. Sometimes, I just make new images stimulated by the subject and my reaction to it but without any specific series in mind. In this case, the images will end up telling me where to go. At other times, I seek out images for a series that I have in mind where the idea has been generated through other stimulations. When working on an existing series it is the same basic process. Sometimes, I go photographing and just let myself react to subjects that fit within the body of work. At other times, I hunt for subjects that will work for a certain image that I have in mind.
When I photograph in any of these two modes, I always visualize how the image will end up looking in print in terms of composition, tonal range, color and overall sense and feel. With respect to what the image conveys it varies more. Sometimes, I have a clear feeling of what the image tells me right away. At other times, I don’t really have a clear sense when I make the image. I made the image because I reacted to what I saw in unexplainable ways. Then in the later part of the image making process and even after the print is done, the image will keep speaking to me. This is the way that art can really be enriching to the artist and help in gaining some insight into the complexities of life.
Making a photographic image is really a two stage process. First there is the photographing part that generates either a black and white negative, a color negative, a color transparency (positive), or a digital file depending on the process and media used. Second there is the process of creating the final print based on the result from the first part. I know that many people perceive the result of the first part to be the so called “original” image. The truth is that the first part does not create the final image. It is only part of the process. The image is really not created and complete until the printing process has been done. Thus the final print is really the original and the final print of a particular image may vary greatly if printed at different times in the career of an artist. I mean we all change over time and therefore our desired way of interpreting a given image material will also vary.
Ansel Adams has previously drawn up a good analogy for this by comparing the photographic process to that of music. In this analogy it is said that the first part, the negative, transparency or base digital file, is equivalent to a musical score. In this way it is the basic image content that can be used for a variety of interpretations and at the same time puts a limit to the possible interpretations. The second part, the print, is then equivalent to the interpretation and performance of the score, the base material. I find this to be a strikingly accurate analogy and a substantial part of making an image, for me, lies in the printing process. I spend a lot of time on making the final print for an image and a lot of the way that an image ends up expressing itself stems from this part of the process. Naturally, the first part largely determines the subject and the composition as well as many other things. However, the printing process is what makes the image work. This process is what puts feel, expression and finesse into the image. Without this process, the image would be harsh and crude like a piece of music played before the musician had a chance to practice it.
ALM: Do you have a favorite setting or place that you often return to?
UG: Not really. But again, it depends on the work. In the work that I presently do, I solely use wood as the subject. Therefore, I often go to wooded areas and often return several times to a place if I find that it holds good potential. There are a few places out in the western US that I really love not only for their image potential concerning wood but also for their overall atmosphere. Unfortunately, I cannot return to these places as often as I would like to for practical reasons. I also do a fair amount of work in the studio for smaller pieces of wood that I either find or buy.
ALM: Do you search for the perfect shot or does it find you?
UG: No I do not search for the perfect image. I do not believe it exists. If it did there would be no room for improvement and the image making process would become dull rather than being an adventure. Image making for me is a long continues process that has grown to become an essential and stimulating part of my life.
ALM: How do you know when the exact moment is to take the picture?
UG: The concept of the moment and time is central to photography. It is both possible to show something that is only in that moment and something as it evolves over time. This may lead to very different expressions and show things that we can never directly see. Consider flowing water for example. It will look very different if frozen in the moment or if averaged over a longer time exposure and both results will show the flow of water in ways that we can absolutely not see it directly with our eyes. But I guess that your question may have to do with timing which is very essential if for example the right light plays an important role or if you photograph people or events for example. Funny enough time has not played a significant effect in my work so far as my subjects have been very static. Timing sometimes plays a role in terms of the right weather and lighting although most of my present work is best done under overcast conditions producing soft enveloping light. However, I already have some future work planned with moving subjects where the effect of both time and timing will play a very central role. In this work there will be two things to work on anticipating. One is the timing so that the photograph is made when the subjects are in the right position resulting in the desired composition. The other is the right setting of exposure that will convey the movement of the subjects in the desired way. The latter part can be optimized through experimentation whereas the former part must be dealt with through visualization of the desired image combined with observation of movement leading to anticipation of position. That will require quite some work to gain the require experience. So I guess it all boils down to experience and to knowing what you desire from your image.
ALM: Which aspects of photography come easily to you, and which ones are more difficult?
UG: The craft of photography, I guess, is somewhat more technical than for many other media. Having a very strong technical background through my professional career, I find that this part comes easily to me. I also find that I have no problem with the required patience and persistence in working out all the small details in an image. Working with the images from the content oriented and expressive side is what brings me the joy and I always seem to have more ideas than I have time to work on them. So, I guess that part comes fairly easily as well. A difficult part for me, and a source of great frustration, is finding enough time and enegy for my art. But, I guess your questions was more on the aspects of making photographs. There are not really any of those aspects that I look at as difficult. Certainly, there are many challenges involved in constantly improving my images and my craft, and sometimes I run into tough bumps in the road. The solution I use is to dig into it, just try and not be afraid of making mistakes. This, I think is the right way to learn and improve.
ALM: What inspires you?
UG: Life and the human soul! The fact that we live and can think, feel and fantasize is amazing. I am very fascinated by how all this shapes our souls and how we in turn perceive the world we live in. It is fantastic how exiting, varied, delicious and wicked life is down to every little thing. There is wonder, amazement, desire and disgust to be found around every corner. I cannot wish for better inspiration than that!
ALM: What do you find the most satisfying in the whole process?
UG: To discover and to create! These are the two central forces that drives me artistically and that gives me satisfaction.
ALM: How often do you shoot?
UG: For artistic work, I never “shoot” a single image. I prefer to say that I make my images. I know it may seem strange to be so particular about the linguistics. However, my picture making process is quite slow. It typically takes me one half to one full hour to make one transparency. Sometimes it may take even longer than that. Then after that there is the long process of making the final print that may easily take weeks.
The frequency with which I photograph may vary considerably as I, presently, pursue my photography in my spare time in light of having a full time job as well as family obligations. In good times, when energy is high and time available, I photograph once a week. However, sometimes it can be several months between photographic activity.
ALM: In a roll of 36 exposure film, how many pictures would you expect to be any good?
UG: Presently, I rarely use roll film as most of my work is done in the 4x5” format using sheet film. It is very difficult to say what the percentage of good images is. It also depends on what good is. In terms of craft, my success rate is very high. I would say that I get the exposure right more than 95% of the time. My most frequent cause of failure in craft is vibration. Many of my exposures are quite long into the several minutes range. Although my subjects are static it only takes little vibration to ruin the image. Outdoors, wind may be a cause for this. In the studio it happens when the subject is flimsy and/or difficult to support. I would say that 10% of my images are unusable because of vibration problems. Whether an image works visually is another thing. This can only be evaluated over time. Naturally, there are images where it is immediately obvious that they will never work. My guess is that with about 30% of my transparencies I can immediately tell that there is no good image. Another 30% is in the zone where time has to work its effect. The final 30% are usually good images. Naturally, only a very small fraction will lead to outstanding works of art.
ALM: Is there a specific place or person who motivates you to photograph?
UG: No not really. Naturally, there are a lot of motivating things that I think I covered in some of the answers above.
ALM: How are you influenced by other photographers?
UG: My dedication to photography and quality in my work is greatly inspired by the strong dedication and quest for excellence shown by masters in the field. I have found that many contemporary masters are very kind to try and share their knowledge and dedication. This is truly inspiring and motivating for aspiring artists. Naturally, I am also influenced by the work that has been done by others so far. I mean, you get influences from all avenues in life and the work of other people is one of these avenues. I think it is important to know what other people have done and are doing. To some of it I say “Wow, this is really good” and wonder why it works well and why I react to it with excitement. To other things I react more like “Man, this is boring and dull. I will strive to never make anything this bad.”
ALM: Who is your favorite photographer in the history of photography? Who is your contemporary one?
UG: For me it makes most sense to group the answers for these two questions together in one. I don’t really have a single favorite as I believe it is unhealthy to idolize other people and because so much excellent work has been done by so many different great photographers. However, there are definitely some photographers that have shaped me more than others in various ways at different stages through my development and growth as an artist.
The first real prints of high quality that I ever saw was made by Ansel Adams and Edward Weston. Their images and the quality of their prints made a significant impact on me and were part of deeply rooting my passion for art and photography. This experience also started me out on studies of other peoples work. I have gone to many exhibits since and acquired many books of other peoples work. The artists that have stimulated me the most are, for very different reasons, the photographers: Edward Weston, Minor White, Brett Weston, Wynn Bullock, Ruth Bernhard, Frederick Sommer, Eliot Porter, Ansel Adams, John Sexton, Christopher Burkett, John Paul Caponigro, Jerry Uelsmann, Sally Mann, Kim Weston and Joel-Peter Witkin, the painters: Georgia O’Keeffe, Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, Yi-Tong Lok, Henry Heerup, Modigliani, Edward Munch, Egon Schiele, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali, and the sculptor Constantin Brancusi.
ALM: When you see other people's work, do you first see subject matter or technique?
UG: I always let myself react emotionally to an image before anything else. I just look at it and let the feelings flow through me. This pretty consistently tells me whether I like the image or not. My perception may change over time but most of the time the initial impression is not far of. After the initial reaction I start to look more close and think about what the image is telling me or helping me discover. At this point I also look closely at the craft. For me, a good work of art must show both expressive content and excellent craft. Expression alone often ends up being dull, cluttered and/or harsh because the cohesion and finesse is missing. On the other hand with excellent craft alone we end up with a beautiful empty image that really does not enable us to discover anything.
ALM: Which picture are you most proud of and why?
UG: I don’t have a single favorite image. Naturally, I find that some of my images stand stronger than others. I would say that I have a handful of images that I find a really strong within my latest body of work.
ALM: What keeps you still making images?
UG: The artistic process has become an essential part of my life. For some particular reason, I just need to do it. I don’t really know why but am very certain. When I don’t do it I generally become very unhappy. I guess that a combination of intense curiosity and resulting happiness and satisfaction keeps me making images.
ALM: How have your interests in subject or styles changed over the years?
UG: So far, I have been concentrating mainly on two bodies of work. The subject used in the first was flowers and in the second wood. So, in the strictest sense of the word, the subjects are different. However, the subjects are not the primary content of the work. The images of both these bodies of work can be considered to be semi-abstract and quite symbolic. With respect to style, I fairly early on zeroed in on a distinct “style” that I find to be my own and one that I like. So, it has been pretty consistent over the years. In addition, since I have only been working on two bodies of work so far, there has not been much room for changes. I am fairly early into my artistic career at this point and many challenges lie ahead that may change a lot of things over the years. You never know.
ALM: Describe an image that you really want to make?
UG: I cannot describe that in terms of any specific successful image. For the work I am presently doing, I am in the process of making the last images required to finish the work. After that I have a number of things that I am going to work on and I feel excited about them. The only thing that I have been thinking about doing that I do not feel too comfortable about is semi-abstract sensual work involving the nude body. This is something that requires considerable new effort and the need to find and work with models. Starting out on this will present a lot of challenges. However, since a lot of my work deals with the sensuality exhibited in all parts of nature it will be a loss to omit the human body.
ALM: Has there ever been a time when you contemplated quitting photography?
UG: The answer is not really and many, many times. I know that this may sound confusing. The reason that I answer this way is that I know and feel deep inside that the passion I have for art and photography is so essential to my life that I could never quit unless circumstances forced me to. On the other hand, I have often felt great frustration over what this passion does to me when I cannot find enough time or energy to do the work. At these times it is only natural to say, if I could just put all of this away, my life would be simpler and happier. Then the next moment I see something, or start thinking about something, that visually and emotionally excites me and I know that I always have to do the work.
ALM: What is the ratio of importance between shooting a picture and printing it?
UG: I think that making the photograph and making the final print are of equal importance. For me they are both important processes leading to the final work of photographic art. Both of these processes give me joy in working with photographic art and they both enable discovery and creation.
ALM: How do you feel about cropping images? Is it cheating?
UG: As I have said many times earlier in this interview, I do not believe in dogma and do not follow any rules in making my images. I will use any technique required and available that will produce the desired result. How can we even talk about cheating when it comes to art? One of the purposes of art is to be able to discover and create free from rules and conventions. All aspects of our lives are so full of rules, and rules tend to make things dull. Let’s keep art fresh!
ALM: Do you think going to a photography school mutes creativity?
UG: Sometimes it will and sometimes it will heighten creativity. It depends on the spirit of the individual school and on the teachers and fellow students.
ALM: What would you tell aspiring photographers NOT to pay attention to?
UG: I would tell them not to try and please others with their work. They should make sure to do what they like themselves. It is impossible to please everybody else. In trying, you will end up pleasing nobody - not even yourself. Working this way you will end up with a lot of dull work and a lot of frustration. On the other hand, if you focus on making work that you like yourself and that speaks with your own voice and with passion, then the work will be unique and have something to say. You will enjoy it yourself and there will most likely be others out there that will enjoy it too.
I would also tell them to take advise with a grain of salt. I would definitely encourage them to seek advise from other artists and other people in the art world. However, they must be prepared to receive all sorts of advices some of which they can use and some they cannot. They need to filter these advices and not become to emotional about it. They should take to them the parts that make sense and discount the parts that do not. It is all about being true to yourself and believing in your own work.
ALM: What do you know now about photography that you wish you had known when you started out?
UG: I wish that I had known earlier that it would become such an important part of my life. Then it might have become a full time career. However, I do not regret a single moment of my life. We are made of all the things we have experienced in life so far. I have had and still have a great life filled with many experiences, adventures and challenges, and I have a wonderful family that I love very much. Although it often frustrates me that I cannot find enough time and energy for my art, I am still very happy that I happened to become excited about art and have the chance to experience the great things it brings to my life.
I guess that your question may point more to photographic craft. With respect to this, I have been fortunate to have good help and inspiration all the way from the beginning. Therefore, I do not feel that I could have learned things much faster. On this it also goes back to what I said above. If I had started out on photography on a full time basis early on, I might have been able to work as an assistant to a master photographer for a few years. I would have loved to be able to do this as it gives a unique learning possibility and a good insight into how the art world works.
ALM: What sets you apart from other photographers who work in the same photographic niche as you?
UG: That is a difficult question to answer. I mean most things have basically been done to some extend and some way or another. However, I do think that the continuous quest for novelty for novelty’s sake that rides the art world at present is doomed to fail as it will only lead to emptiness. What art is really about for me is personal expression put into a more universal context. Many of the things that I am discovering have naturally been discovered before, and some of the things I am trying to express have been expressed before. However, maybe not from that particular angle or using that particular expression. I believe that the uniqueness in art does not come from edgy novelty (at least not alone) but rather from the uniqueness of each of us and the way we all perceive and experience things in slightly different ways. In this way art builds an ever expanding mosaic of insight into the great mysteries of life.
I would describe my work as being mainly semi-abstract to abstract. There is nothing revolutionizing to that. Many photographers have and are still pursuing work this way. My work is also very symbolic and expresses much more than the subject that is used to make the image. This others have and are still also doing. What sets me apart, I believe, is my particular way of doing it and the particular things I am trying to express in my particular way. Based on what I have seen through my studies of other peoples work, I have not come across anything that is quite similar to what I am doing. To some extend my work fits mostly in under a more formal and classical style. However, it tends to be more expressive than most in this category. On the other hand, it is not aggressive and edgy enough to fit with the present main stream of contemporary art. In other words, based on feedback from many galleries and museums, my work apparently does not fit well into existing categories. This I actually take as very positive feedback because it tells that what I am doing is uniquely mine.
ALM: What was your most daring picture?
UG: You are probably asking in the way of image content? I would say that in relation to what has been done over the years, most people would not find my work daring. So I guess that I have not really made a daring picture. It is more like the entire endeavor is daring. When you start to make art and show it to others you inevitably expose many of your personal feelings and intimate sides. My images do not belong to the edgy or provocative mainstream of contemporary art. They are a little more subtle in their expression. However, if the viewer is willing to be open and look at them for more than mere subject matter it should be obvious that they deal with a lot of intimate aspects of both good and bad nature. We all react differently to what we see based on our own background. So, with my images I have experienced viewers that just see a piece of wood and I have experienced others that were so embarrassed by what they saw and felt that they could hardly bring themselves to talk about it.
Another way to address daring is to ask how daring I have been in making my images. If I find a subject that seems to convey something important I will go through great efforts to make an image if needed. The most challenging situation I have had was with a subject located some way down a slippery cliff. In situations like that, my preference would be to work with a 35mm camera because of the difficult and risky accessibility. However, in this particular situation, I did not have that equipment with me and had to work with my bulky 4x5” bellows camera and its heavy tripod. I could have let the image go but just wouldn’t. So, I scampered down the cliff and managed to set up the camera in a very awkward working position with myself balancing precariously halfway out over the cliffs with slippery gravel supporting only one foot. I got the image and a great experience. Unfortunately, this particular image turned out not to be what I thought it would be. It was still worth the effort though and in other similar situations, the efforts have paid off sometimes.
ALM: Can you put into words what your message might be?
UG: Well if I could do that, then there would be no justification for the work. I recall a famous response given by Louis Armstrong to a man that once asked him if he please could explain his music to him: “Man, if you have to ask, 'What is it?' you ain't never goin' to know." This really touches the basics of all art forms. Visual art is really a language in its own right. Naturally, it is always possible to translate between languages but the fine details get lost. As with any language, the highest form of expression is only reached when the language is understood and used directly free of translations. Therefore, I will only attempt a short broad and general description of my work. My work mostly revolves around investigations of the processes of life and of the workings of the human soul. I am deeply fascinated by the world we live in and by our capability to think, feel and fantasize, and I am very interested in the way we react to our world and are shaped by it on the emotional level. I try to express various sides of these things through my imagery. I also continuously discover so many parallels between the way we perceive ourselves, on all levels from body through soul to spirit, and the way these things are present and expressed in everything around us. I guess this is the main reason for using subject matter like for example wood to make semi-abstract and symbolic images that express things about the human body, soul and spirit. In this way the images also end up expressing these parallels.
ALM: How does the response to your work compare with your intentions?
UG: I have mostly gotten very good and engaged response to my work. I rarely get a response like: “this does not interest me or tell me anything at all.” Sometimes people will get to the same direct experience and/or understanding that the image gave me, and sometimes they will experience things that I did not experience. When showing my work to other people, I never impose any explanation of the image on them. It is always best to let them view the image on their terms, and it is always exciting to hear fresh experiences and understandings made by others based on my images. We all come with a different baggage and will therefore perceive things slightly differently. This is a very fine thing that if taken positively may greatly enhance our insight and spiritual growth.
ALM: Have you ever tried other artistic endeavors or avenues? (besides your day-job!)
UG: I played the piano once for three years as a kid but it did not really catch my interest at that time. Over the years, I have drawn a little. This I actually did both before and after photography came into my life. Now, I only use it for sketches of some of the ideas that I get for a particular image or future bodies of work.
ALM: Aside from photography, what are other passions that you have?
UG: I am generally a very passionate person. However, the things I am most passionate about aside from my art are: my love for my family, my wife’s art, being outside and experiencing the world, the nature in the western US, food and wine, powerful cars, and, last but not least, my wife.
ALM: What do you absolutely adore?
UG: I absolutely love my wife, my children, my wife’s paintings, working with my photography, and being alive and living my life.
ALM: If you had a chance to be a character from the history of photography, who would it be?
UG: Myself. I do not have the desire to dream up being somebody else. I very strongly believe in living my own life. There are no rehearsals and we only get one chance at it. So, better make the best of it and focus on creating your own wonderful reality.
ALM: If you could say something to that same person, what would it be?
UG: Considering my answer above, this question does not make a lot of sense. What I can say is that, I have made an effort of visiting other artists whose work I greatly respect in order to learn from them, gain insight and receive feedback on my work. These have been great experiences and due to the kindness of these people I have had the chance to discuss many aspects of their and mine art with them. This is something that I continue to strive at doing as it is not good to create in a vacuum.
ALM: Would you be open for that person's critique?
UG: I am always very open to critique. Feedback from other people is a tremendous help in my growth as an artist.
ALM: If you could invite one character from the history of photography over for dinner, who would it be?
UG: I would love to reciprocate the kindness and generosity of the photographers that have enabled me to visit with them over the years.
ALM: What would you serve?
UG: A nice delicious dinner based on whatever I would be inspired to make at that time. I am not really into a lot of pre-planning when it comes to food. If I have to make a good dinner on a particular day I prefer to make it according to my desire that day and depending on what fresh ingredients I can get that day.
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