When I met her she wanted
“glamorized,” “nice” looking pictures—no way, not with me.
Stefan Rohner is an Ibiza,
Spain-based photographer. He is a member of the photo agency Anarchy
Images and a founder of Still-Dancing , a
cooperative gallery. Stefan’s work has appeared at the Galerie Lichtpunkt in Munich.
He has taught at the International Summer School of Photography (ISSP)
at the Petersburg Photo Workshops
and The International Summer
School of Photography (ISSP) in Latvia. His recent exhibits include “The King is Coming,” a
journey through Morocco, and an
exhibit on Latvia .
Can you talk about growing up in Germany. What was your childhood like?
I grew up with my parents and siblings in a village outside the big
cities, at the border of Lake Constance.
The area has a beautiful landscape, but a rather conservative, closed
environment. I very much enjoyed the journeys to Italy, where I went on
holidays every summer—since my mother was born and raised in Italy, and
I grew up bilingual. All the antique viewings, cathedrals, museums,
sculptures and paintings. The feeling of the old cities with the warmth
of the Italian people left an important mark in my youth.
you get started in painting? What kind of exposure did you have to the
arts, and when and where did your interest in the visual arts begin?
the end of my school studies I met a very interesting arts professor.
He was a great inspiration to me. He opened my eyes to painting and
sculpture, he also introduced me to the wonderful world of classical
music. At the time I was around 17 to 19 years old. With him I made my
first steps with brush, canvas and plaster. Later here on Ibiza I
started working with wood, using a chainsaw and an axe, influenced by Georg Baselitz’s sculptures.
How did you end up leaving the Lake Constance area? What kind of
painting do you do these days?
the age of 21, I moved from southern Germany to Berlin, escaping from
my conservative surroundings, escaping from the organized ‘everything
has to have its order’ society, breaking out from my parents’ house,
and going to see the ‘big world’ outside of the small, provincial town.
Berlin was great: galleries, museums, independent arts, artists from
all over the world. Everything I saw influenced me, sunk inside me. I
started to paint a little more seriously. I loved the Junge Wilde
movement: big, big canvases, big brushes, quick and wild paintings. I
loved [Rainer] Fetting, [Helmut] Middendorf, Salome, they had a huge
influence on me. Later I found Anselm Kiefer and Georg Baselitz.
Painting was a
to find my own way, to find the sense of life. Why do we live? There
must be something more than only the conservative values that our
society instills in us as we grow up—at least better than those I grew
up with. After four grey and cold winters I left Berlin and Germany. I
came here to Ibiza for work reasons, but I kept on painting, still
looking for the sense of life. Painting was very important to me. I
turned to it whenever I felt bad, whenever I was depressed or
heartsick. Later on in Ibiza, I became influenced by Soutine, Miquel
Barceló and Bernhard Heisig.
I am not
painting anymore. I feel more at peace inside, an important reason for
this is my wife Carina Berlingeri
. ‘Thank you’ to her! I also felt that when I reached the point where I
knew how to do certain things, how to form a picture, how to compose
it, how to express myself, I stop, I want to go new ways. One of those
was letting go of painting and taking photography seriously. I had
taken pictures when I was in Berlin—I got an old Nikon FM2 at a flea
market—but I never took photography seriously until some years ago.
Back then, I never developed any film myself, nor printed pictures,
just looked at them on the contact sheets that I got back from the
Galerie Lichpunkt has said that you enjoy the encounter with the
“living document.” How do painting and photography compare for you,
especially for portraiture?
remember only painting two to three portraits ever. Most of the time I
was lost in some abstract fantasy world inspired by music or by the
work of other painters. For my human portraiture I need time: time to
establish a relationship to the photographic subject, time to get to
know her or him, time to build up reciprocal trust, get to feel secure,
lose fears and shyness—on both sides.
photographer and the one being photographed must feel good, feel free.
It can also happen that at the first encounter no picture is made, that
there have to be several meetings to establish the trust I am speaking
of. Other times it happens quickly. Every person is different, has her
or his own times, reacts differently to the camera. To me, as a
photographer, the most important things are the emotions of the model;
they have to be positive and open. If somebody doesn’t want to be
photographed I respect that wish and don’t take pictures. No problem at
all. So painting is a mere expression of myself and my feelings,
photography on the other side is an interaction with the other human
being in front of the lens.
explaining your photography, your fellow Ball Saal member Edward van Herk
has said that painting taught you about “structure, grain and strong
composition.” How exactly has each of those concepts translated into
love grain and structure. In some of my paintings I experimented with
sand and plaster, giving more structure and making the surface more
alive, more vivid. Strong composition to me has graphical order. With a
well-ordered graphical composition you can create wonderful depth,
space and room, have an interesting, three-dimensional photograph. This
is one of the reasons I still do my black and white work with film, the
end result on fiber paper is still an unique thing, structure, grain,
gloss and depth, wonderful. It also is a beautiful feeling to hold in
your hands a piece of art made all by yourself, from the beginning to
the end, handcrafted, there’s no machine that can give you such a
feeling. A strong character adds also a lot to a picture, we are all
unique and beautiful human beings in our own way, I like to capture
this uniqueness, one part of it, keeping that moment alive
You say that you were able to put down your paint brushes because you
came to feel more at peace. Why does photography reflect that inner
peace better for you than painting does? What motivated your transition
from inspirations such as the Junge Wilde movement–with its quick,
decisive strokes—to the more deliberate pace of something like
portraiture, which requires you to be deliberate and get to know your
As I said, painting was sort of a liberation for me: very self
centered.There was no one else involved. It was something that came
from inside me and had to be let out. Painting is a philosophical
process, a process that goes on until the work is finished. Some
paintings you never finish, since your ideas and feelings change
is different. I took it up in a different stage of my life, when I was
ready to let go of myself and get in more profound contact with other
human beings. It’s like a binary, two ways, from me to the one being
portrayed, and from him to me. To me, photography is “easier.” It is
less abstract. When you portray a human being with a camera, in most
cases you create a reproduction of an image, whereas in painting you
are influenced far more by your own feelings, way of view.
In what ways do you collaborate artistically with your wife Carina?
When I started in portraiture, Carina was my first model, she
had to put up with both my negative and positive emotions, depending if
things went wrong or right. I was training myself with her as my model,
testing my patience and hers, trying to figure out composition,
emotion, light. When we worked on taking pictures, we went through very
strong emotions. I was never satisfied. Later, though, when I saw the
negatives, I would become happy again.
Many of your portraits are gritty and less glamorized, yet they are
still beautiful, since you seem to capture the dignity of your
subjects. How fair is that characterization? What do you do to capture
that sense? How do you choose your subjects, and how do you reach that
level of understanding with them? What must a photographer do to
establish that kind of rapport?
Stefan: In our
world we are surrounded by glamorized images, superficial advertisments
in magazines, TV and so on, so there is no need to produce more of this
stuff. I agree with you about the characterization. I like to show
strong “characters,” fascinating people like Otix, a musician and DJ. Or Alice… when I met her she wanted
“glamorized,” “nice” looking pictures—no way, not with me.
Most of my
are friends, neighbours, normal people. It is important to make your
model comfortable. There has to be trust between the model and the
photographer; the photographer has to have respect for the model. With
some people you get to that in a short time; with others you need to
communicate over a longer period to establish a relaxed and trusting
was surprised when I told him that I wanted to photograph him, I made
it clear that he was a very interesting personality, it took me some
days to convince him. He thought that he was ugly and old. He owns a
piece of land in the middle of the town, where he lives in a trailer
and rents parking spaces—what a wonderful experience to sit there and
hear him tell stories. You also learn a lot about life from these
Yanny, a Russian artist who grew up in New
York, has lived in Ibiza for 35 years. Mora,
another artist. Most of these people are existentialists, they live
their own lives on the border of ordered society, that’s what I love,
what I admire. When I edit the work I make, I try to show them as
strong characters, as interesting personalities. I try to show what
makes them interesting to me.
Speaking of subjects, some of your most notable photographs are of your
daughter Ariel. In some of your photos of her, she is this wonderful
blur of activity. In others, she is still and angelic. How deliberate
or systematic is your photography of her—of your other family
members? How much of it is simply capturing certain moments? And what
advantages or disadvantages are there in knowing a subject that well?
Since you wife Carina is also a photographer, she likewise spends time
documenting Ariel’s life. How different, photographically, do you and
Carina see Ariel?
you, Wayne. With Ariél there is nothing serious involved. Never.
think that around 95 percent of the pictures of her are quick
snapshots, just snippets of daily life. She has known for a long time
when she feels like being photographed: if she does not feel like it,
she quickly tells us to fuck off. Everything is just normal, no
advantages or disadvantages, it is just love! It flows alone….
I don’t know
there is a difference (stylistically) between Carina and me in taking
pictures of our children. We are around them everyday. We spend a lot
of time together, in different activities. We take pictures when we
feel like it. The most important thing is to respect the children’s
wish to be photographed or not. Other than that there’s no limitation
One of your latest series is “The King is Coming: A Journey
through Morocco.” What inspired you to document Morocco?
have been traveling to Morocco for more than four years now. Every time
I go, I spend time with people in their homes, becoming part—even if
only for a short time—of their lives, events, such as weddings. Every
time we go back I bring them prints of the pictures I’ve taken. We talk
as well as we can, eat together, spend time together. Morocco is
wonderful. The people, once you get to know them and respect their way
of life, are warm and open. In this last series, though, I took a step
back. I wanted to be less involved as a photographer. I wanted to be
more of an observer, with less communication, less a dreamy and
romantic mood than my work in India, just showing the place.
What inspired the creation of Still Dancing? What do you see as its
over-arching mission, and what kind of need was there for this kind of
I started to take photography more seriously, of course, I also started
to have a look around, to see what others did, if there was a way to
exchange experiences, ideas, points of view. What I found was
disappointing—not because I didn’t find good photography, but because
of the superficiality most photography sites were based on. The more
nice comments you wrote, the better your own pictures supposedly became.
There are a
great photographers out there, our goal at Still-Dancing is to show
their work, be it through the monthly exhibitions or through active
membership and participation, exchange honest and open critiques, and
share our knowledge in an open workshop forum in order to help those
who want to learn and take their passion for photography one step
further. We don’t care about style, so anybody who applies for
membership is welcome, she or he just needs a strong portfolio.
have mentioned a number of painters who have inspired you, but which
photographers have been your greatest inspirations, and in what ways?
When I started seriously with my first portrait work I did it with a
digital camera. Then I found the work of Mary
Mark and Anton Corbijn
and asked myself how they got that nice square format! That’s when I
learned about 120mm film, bought a used Hasselblad and started to
develop my own film. Before this I trained my eyes for a long time by
photographing my portraits with a regular, digital 35mm camera, like I
would use the square format; I simply cropped the pictures later in
Photoshop. Just recently I found the work of the Spanish photographer Alberto Garcia Alix, I think he is a
very interesting photographer.
deeper into photography I found Robert Frank and Garry Winogrand, I started to buy
books, for example “The
Italians” by Bruno Barbey. What impressed me most was
“Gypsies” by Joseph Koudelka and “The
Mennonites” by Larry Towell. I bought more books and a
rangefinder camera, went out in the streets to catch daily life and decisive moments. I left
portraiture aside and dove fully into street photography. Street is fun!
To briefly meet people, talk to them or just run around without
communicating—catching emotion and moments. There is never repetition,
the moments are always new.