How did you become a photographer? Would you define yourself as a one?
I work with photographic materials and see myself as a visual artist. In the 1960s and 70s I studied painting and graphics at the Art academies of Hamburg and Vienna. In the mid-1970s I came across photography through my performance Permanent demonstration. The photographic image of the self-portrait has been my source of inspiration ever since. As in graphics (etching) I used the thread as a line and connected it to the photograph – I stitched over my image on the photo paper with black thread. Later on, I started to tear up the photo paper (with my portrait or body image) and put it back together under a different shape. During this time, my “overstitched and sewn photographs”, as I called them, were created.
Around the same time, I developed another technique with photography: photo etchings. These works also depicted my portrait, figure or body and I scratched the negative with a needle, until it was completely destroyed. I exposed these successive damages to the negative in the darkroom. This resulted in rows, sequences or even large canvases from hundreds of photo prints, all of which I developed myself.
What drives you as a photographer?
My topics mostly arose from a state that corresponded to a respective stage in my life. In the 1970s that was the “self”, the reflection and analysis of my own experiences as a woman in society. The women of this time wanted to break out of their given roles and as artists we separated from the traditional techniques in art. We discovered our body and worked directly with it in performances, video or photo sequences.
The topic of pregnancy became central to me, I wanted to depict the conflict between being an artist and being a mother. I created a number of pictures and videos with my changing pregnant body up to the birth as well as sewn photographs with my two children. I found my topics in the metamorphosis of the changing and aging body, featuring women, from my daughter to her great-grandmother.
Do you think there is such a thing as a ‘woman’s gaze’ in photography? Is this something you can relate to?
Yes, definitely, because I have been consciously dealing with the role of women in art since the 1970s. The slogan “The private is political” shaped my work. I founded a group of female artists in Darmstadt, where I live, which then expanded to Frankfurt. We divided into two groups. With the first one we used to meet in the evenings in the respective studios to show our work and to discuss it with one another. In the other, every one of us alternately introduced a historic artist. At that time, we often only knew Käthe Kollwitz or Paula Modersohn Becker, and Frida Kahlo came up, as she was discovered by the women’s movement. We finally got to know art history from a female point of view and it gave us enormous impulses for our own work. We became aware that feminism could also be relevant in art.
Has being a woman influenced your work as an artist in any way?
For me, there is no separation between art, life and women. In the 1970s, small, so-called producer galleries emerged, in which only female artists were shown. One of them was called “ANDERE ZEICHEN”, Women + Art was founded in Berlin. I had an exhibition there in 1979 and presented, among other things BEGEGNUNG-ÜBERLAGERUNG-EINGRIFF, in which a friend and I presented the complex process of our getting to know ourselves. This work was created in 1977 for the first and only female artist exhibition in the Hessisches Landesmuseum in Darmstadt. In two rows we hung the documents of both of our lives in a line on opposite walls, which came together in a sewing performance with life-size enlarged passport photos.
Do you live off your art?
Yes, I have always been a freelancer. From the start, I had galleries that represented my art. Since 1972, I have had group exhibitions in Hamburg and in 1974 was my first solo exhibition, back then with drawings and etchings.
I haven’t sold much, but my needs in life were small, the bare essentials were sufficient, only my art was important to me.
Which authors have inspired you? Are there any women photographers among them?
Definitely, but it changes depending on the respective phase of my life and work. When I was young, I mostly followed male artists. But after my studies and thanks to women’s movement, more and more female artists came into light, it became a revelation.
By now, in my advanced stage of work experience, I have come closer to where I wanted to go and I no longer need any role models. I do receive it with pleasure that time and again great women artists are discovered, who worked generations before me, of whom I had never heard or seen anything.