Palacio Fronteira, Lisbon, Portugal 2009
Christopher Köller will be exhibiting Parádeisos, photographs of both international and local gardens produced between 1997 and 2009 at Wallflower, opening Friday October 19 from 5-7pm. In the tradition of our previous shows we have asked him some questions about his work, life and experiences.
If you don’t mind me asking, how many years have you been photographing for? You are respected as one of Australia’s most established and senior image-makers.
I was the family photographer at nine years of age. However my first exhibition was in 1981.
Let me continue with a second question which is a bit laborious and many photographers don’t like to deal with. Your projects I think are a celebration of the medium in analogue mode; you seem to champion film (and plastic cameras) but not totally for “respected” qualities but also inherent flaws. Many believe that digital advancements are liberating photography, taking it to audiences that wouldn’t usually be interested, for example, at the ACP you can do a course to “better use your iPhone camera” but online you can also purchase t-shirts with the slogan “buy film not pixels”. What are your thoughts on digital photography and what’s happening to analogue production?
I still prefer to use film because of the quality of analogue camera lenses—from the cheap faulty plastic of the Diana to fine German Zeiss lenses for Leica and Rolleiflex. I use digital technology in transferring from the film to the print and love the capacity to tinker and improve the information on the negative. I still love proof sheets as a way of editing and learning from mistakes and successes.
At Wallflower we are showing the Parádeisos series, which has been produced in many countries, how did it begin? And what would you like to tell us about the project?
The series began with a commission to photograph something—anything, in Ararat Victoria for an exhibition and the Art Gallery of Ararat’s collection in 1997. As most of the other photographers involved were photojournalists, I decided to photograph gardens.
As well as diverse locations, there are multiple stories and historical settings in Parádeisos, what role does travel play in these works? Do you research the places before you shoot or are the location and shooting process more intuitive?
I have an interest in gardens and their design and I had studied bonsai in Japan in the 1980s. Sometimes I travel to places to visit particular gardens I have researched, sometimes I take the Diana with me when I am travelling in case I come across a garden. It has become increasingly research-driven because there are features that make certain gardens better to photograph.
Your work “Milano” was, amongst other things, related to the past impinging on contemporary reality, do you feel that you have also touched on this idea in Parádeisos? How important is the ‘hand’ of the designers and gardeners and of course the people that consume these spaces?
Yes I agree the gardens are mostly historic, although I do photographic remarkable contemporary gardens too. But I have also photographed the topiary in Paris Disneyland and in a parking lot in Los Angeles. It varies about how important the designers and gardeners’ work is the final result. But also the weather, time of day, time of year and the dice roll of the Diana’s random leaking of light are significant.
Your book Parádeisos is published by M.33 and is available through Wallflower, can you elaborate on producing a book, especially now as it’s so much easier and accessible to do so in Australia.
The digital revolution has reduced the price of pre-production and overseas printing has become very competitive. I enjoyed working with the designer, editor and author of the essay, choosing the works to include, but the interaction with the printer was a bit stressful at times.
In an interview with Kings ARI for your 2010 video retrospective ‘Killing time’ you mentioned harboring a “secret desire to be a film maker”. I must admit I have the same desire but I’m unclear where or if it will ever be played out. Do you think you will be pursuing your own cinematic desire in the near future?
I have long been obsessed with film and enjoy reading film theory. I did briefly study film-making at Prahran. I will continue to make videos. I collaborated recently with Elizabeth Presa on one called Screen Test 508 which was shown at Screen Space gallery in May this year (2012).
As with myself, I believe you have a deep and engaged interest with the Land of the Rising Sun. Although this is meant to be a short interview, can you tell me when you first visited, about your experiences there and how it may e/affect your work?
I have been interested in a range of Japanese cultural phenomena. In the 1970s I studied kendo (sword-fighting) when I was living in London and I got interested in Japanese cinema, especially Oshima, Ozu, Kurosawa and Imamura. I was interested in Japanese photographers when I was studying photography, especially Daido Moriyama, Eikoh Hosoe and Masahisa Fukase whose work I still love. I lived in Japan from 1982-84 where I started visiting gardens.
As a long-time educator and head of photography at the VCA for many years, how do you feel about the present dismal cuts and closing down of particularly Humanities and Social Sciences and art departments within universities? What is for the future of arts education? I must admit it looks like very unstable ground.
It was disparaging to constantly have to whittle away staff hours, and to do more with less money. Also the pendulum had swung too far to the side of paperwork at the expense of time spent teaching. The few who are passionate and driven will find ways to educate themselves and learn wherever they can. However cutting education funding doesn’t have a positive impact on the education of the majority of young people, and they miss out. To compete globally as an intelligent and creative nation we need people with a wide range of skills, the nature of which can’t always be perfectly anticipated, and also shouldn’t rest only on demand.
Extending on the last interview with Robert Canali (who is actually also a musician), I asked him at the end of the interview if he had a question for us, to which he replied “what will you be listening to while installing the show?” I think I am comfortable saying a lot of your work is “operatic”, what would you recommend punters listen to while viewing Parádeisos?
I would suggest listening to Mariza, the leading contemporary Portuguese fado singer. Fado is romantic, nostalgic and almost always sad—about unrequited love, love that has ended, love that should end.
And to conclude, any questions for myself and/or Team Wallflower?
Where is the best coffee in Mildura?
As we are sponsored by Stephano's brewery, of course we can only endorse their product...
Christopher Köller’s Parádeisos will run in the main gallery until November 13.
Christopher Köller is represented by fehilycontemporary.com.au