“I do believe in the spirit of sisterhood!”

© Jessica Backhaus

Do you consider yourself more of a visual artist or a photographer?

I would consider myself as a photographer that is working in an artistic way.

Your mother was an actress, and your father was a theatre director… Have directing and performance art influenced your work?

It was a very colourful childhood. Later on, I spent some of my teenage years, in a film archive from the partner of my mother. I think in between this theatre and the film archive, I started to have this desire to become a photographer. I do think in some ways, it has influenced me because so many creative doors were opened, and I had a window into these very artistic worlds, so I do believe it has influenced me.

Portraiture, minimalism, abstraction… Why have you explored so many different aesthetics?

My work has dealt with portraiture, with still life, I did some documentarian work, and in more recent years, I went more into abstraction. But, in a way, I feel that all this evolution in my work happened in a very natural and organic way. For example, I started with my first project, Jesus And the Cherries. It’s a project I developed in Poland, some twenty years ago, and it was very documentarian. I did portraits, I did still life, some interiors, and for many years I kind of documented what I saw and what I discovered. Then, afterwards, in the last six years, I’ve developed another project of mine called Six Degrees of Freedom, and I was interested in the notion of mise en scène. I was wondering what I could create if I did that myself…

It’s changing, I mean, how I see things now. I still go in a documentarian way, but sometimes, for example, my brand-new work, the project The Cut Outs, it’s very concrete, but, in a way, it’s a mise en scène, because it’s a work that I have created, and it’s not something that I stumbled across, and then, I documented. So, it’s all stepping stones and it changes from project to project.

And so, do you think that artistic creation should be in constant evolution?

I can only speak for myself, but I really look for challenges, and I do not want to stand still. I really like to explore various fields, and I like to challenge myself each time because, for the majority of the time, I work on long-term projects – they last about three years – and I like to challenge myself. I don’t always want to repeat myself, and do the same thing over and over. Therefore, I look for new challenges. I also look for new ways of expressing myself and it can be collage, photography or it is photography where I’m adding other elements to it… I do think that it’s a necessity for me to be in evolution, and to push myself and see what else I can do, apart from just the simple act of taking a photograph.

Colours, light, shape but also emotions are part of your work – elements often associated with femininity…

I don’t see it necessarily only attributed to femininity. I also see it in masculinity, and I wouldn’t make such a difference. I think creative people – whether it be men or women – all, or a majority of them, use these elements. I don’t think you can only attribute them to the feminine world.

Why does abstraction appeal to you?

Now, in the last few years, I have landed in abstraction, and abstraction is a way of expressing, of showing my work. It gives me room. It gives me freedom to think, to feel and also to dream. I feel that sometimes people are… I don’t know if I can say afraid, but they feel a little bit insecure or uncertain when there is something abstract. Maybe it is because we don’t necessarily understand it when we see it for the first time. I think abstraction pushes you a little bit away from your comfort zone, and I also think it is a really special place where you have to feel and see… I’ve noticed that I’ve sometimes come across projects, exhibitions and I didn’t really understand everything, but, because sometimes I couldn’t grasp it, it was very abstract, but I still was inspired because I simply followed my feelings and my emotions. I do find, in abstraction, something fascinating.

And how has it elevated your work?

In my latest work, The Cut Outs – a work I developed over three years –  it’s basically different paper cut-outs that I cut in various shapes and forms, and then, I put them on various coloured backgrounds and photographed them in the bright sunlight. Because of the heat of the sunlight, the paper was deforming and casting shadows and rising. It allowed for the creation of completely different dimensions. Initially I was a little bit annoyed, because it’s not how I had envisioned this series, but then, the more I looked at it, I was just mesmerised. The cut outs have a very abstract allure, but they are, in the end, very concrete. It’s paper photographed on paper in the broad sunlight.

You were very closed to the photographer Gisèle Freund. Can you tell us more about your relationship?

Gisèle and I, we had a very beautiful friendship, and the fact that I met her when I was a photography student – I met her in 1992 – that friendship that I had with her truly was one of the wonderful gifts I’ve been given in my life. She has inspired me and influenced me, not only because of her incredible biography, but what I really loved and valued the most about her was her courage and also her curiosity that has been very inspiring to me. Some of the conversations I’ve had with her still resonate with me today. I’m very grateful that we were friends.

Do you believe in the spirit of sisterhood?

Yes, I do believe in the spirit of sisterhood! I do find it beautiful when women help and support each other in their lives, in their works. It is true that recently, maybe even in this particular year, I feel it more and more, and I witness it that women really are much more opening their arms toward each other. They are much more supportive. They are more helpful… And of course, I would say it is important. I think, in ways, there is a new era for women, but it’s also an era where women are in strong positions and where they have a voice. But I think t women are also very generous, and it’s an era where men are alongside women, and that’s also the beauty. It’s the differences we have between women and men that is also what I find interesting.

Jessica Backhaus


Born in 1970 in Cuxhaven, Germany, Jessica Backhaus studied photography and visual communications in Paris before moving to New York to assist photographers. She now lives and works in Berlin. It was her encounter with mentor Gisèle Freund, in 1992, that sparked her passion for the medium. Since then, she has been developing a diverse body of work, exploring various aesthetics, such as minimalism, portraiture, still-life and – more recently – abstraction. She published several photo books (Jesus and the Cherries in 2005, Once, still and forever in 2012, Cut Outs in 2021…) and exhibited her projects in Germany as well as abroad (at the National Portrait Gallery of London, the Martin Gropius-Bau of Berlin, etc.) Her creations are also part of many prominent collections. Amongst them, Taunus Sparkasse (Germany), ING Art Collection (Belgium), ou encore Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts (USA).

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