Andrea Gruetzner won the $1,000 second prize in last year's Source-Cord Prize. In anticipation of this year's Solas Prize John Duncan spoke to Andrea by Skype about what the Prize has allowed her to do and how her work has developed over the year.
John Duncan: What is your background in photography, where did you study?
Andrea Gruetzner: I first studied Communication Design at Konstanz, in the south of Germany. I learned a lot about Swiss graphic design and art, concepts that are very broad – how we design our environment, how we do things in cities – and there we also had photography studios where we could rent the cameras. I got on well with my photography professor and I wanted to learn more about how we deal with pictures in society so I decided to study on the masters course in Bielefeld. I studied under Katharina Bosse and Kirsten Wagner.
And was there someone that you’d say has been a big influence on your work?
I would say my surroundings and where I come from are a big influence on me; I am from the eastern part of Germany. Also my friends, the ones who were with me through my studies, professors and fellow students, they all had some kind of influence on me. Katharina Bosse taught about single images and with her I learned a lot about seeing the different parts of an image and colour. Professor Kirsten Wagner was really into space theory and this was very important for me to develop my thinking and I’m still reading a lot about memory spaces, about cultural spaces, so this has had a lot of influence on my work.
You were one of our winners last year, can you tell us what you have been up to since last September in particular in terms of the work we had selected, the Erbgericht work. Did it go on to be exhibited?
It was really great to win the prize. It gave me the chance to work more on the project and to go back to the house and have some money for materials, this was the first thing that was really good for me, some encouragement to work on it.
What were the new pictures like? Did you develop the work in a new direction?
That’s a good question, I think there are more colours in each picture now, they are more colourful. I want to make a publication but we'll have to see.
Where did the work go on to be shown?
It all came together, there was the Source-Cord prize and then I won another prize in Germany - Gute Aussichten 2014/15 – and the work was exhibited at different venues, also at the Brighton Photo Fringe and in South Korea. I have also had some people contacting me after the prize from England for example, this has been really great.
And how did the work end up in South Korea?
I have a friend who was with me on my Masters and she wanted to show young German photography in South Korea, she does themed exhibitions and this one was about spaces. I had sent her the essay by Gavin Murphy [that was published with Andrea's work in Source], this is a really great text I think, with some insights about my work. I have sent it to other people to read because I think he wrote really well about my work.
I’m sure he’ll be really interested to hear that. I’m curious, what do the people in your village make of the photographs or of the work?
The people who own the house have seen the pictures. They have their whole world inside this house and they don’t know a lot of things outside of it. So it was something that came into their environment that they had never thought about before. They said that they liked that there was someone who was working with their building and thinking about it for a long time, but also of course they thought ‘its strange to us, but if you like it and can work with it then go on, we support you.’ They also have a son and he is more understanding of what I am doing there and why exactly I am doing it. When some images were ready I showed them to some other villagers and my family and they could see their environment in another way and I really liked this. They could view pictures of an environment they have known all their lives, but now maybe it is a little bit different.
When you first approached them to take the photographs did you know the people who owned the house? Was it easy to convince them initially to let you come and make pictures?
We had almost every family activity there – weddings, our children go to the school, then we go to the cemetery – so I already know the people there from activities and events. But then I came back and said I want to make a portrait/project about your house, and they reacted by saying ‘we don’t really mind just go into our house and take pictures’. They were really relaxed and I was surprised by that.
You mention you’ve been back in the house and making some new pictures but I notice on your website the Tanztee and Melange projects. Are either of those a direct follow on from the Erbgericht work?
Tanztee is a project which comes out of the house, because it is an event which takes place there. The old women go, and some men (maybe two thirds women to one third men), they go in the afternoon on a Sunday and dance together. They all wear special clothes, special textiles with wild patterns. I was looking for shots that showed some tenderness and sweetness between them and also the strangeness of it. So pictures of the hands coming together and the patterns.
That’s two projects based in the village where you live, is that your preferred way to work – to work somewhere repeatedly in a place you are familiar with?
On the one hand this is very familiar, on the other hand they have a very different life compared to my life. This comes together and it creates a tension between the two things. I think I develop my art from this tension. This is where I come from but it is really another life. But I would still say that my working method is to go to a place and stay there for a long time and take a lot of pictures.
In terms of your working process, do you have a studio or do you work from home?
Last year, it was this village and this house, it was my part-time studio. In Berlin in my apartment I have a special room for that so I also do some shoots there.
What have you got coming up in the future?
Right now I have some sponsorship from another town in Germany to develop a photography project about the city. I am working on this until next year and then it will get exhibited and there will be a little publication.
A city is a pretty big place - how far have you got into that?
I only got involved a few weeks ago so I have begun to think about the urban space but I have really still got to dive into it! I’m fascinated by the fact it is a very old city in Germany, one of the oldest. There was also a lot of it destroyed during the war so it also has this mixture of contemporary architecture, and the 50s and these really old things. So I’m thinking about combining fragments of the city and bringing them together in a new way.