Herman Seidl from Fotohof in Salzburg is one of the judges for the Solas Prize. Tanya Kiang spoke to him about his background in photography and what he would like to see from this year's submissions.
Tanya Kiang: What first got you interested in photography?
Herman Seidl: You could say that I got into photography in a very unusual way. My father was a policeman and my mother a midwife so both were working. From the time I was six years old, my father used to take me with him to the police station. It was quite boring except for when I would get to see the police photo archive.
My father had to document all the crimes going on – burglaries, suicides, car accidents – they were small b/w prints, stored in a box. I frequently went through this box. Some of the photos were really shocking but my father never prohibited me from going through it. I saw photos that most ordinary people wouldn’t ever see in their lives – people hanging from rafters, a skull divided in two, homes trashed after burglaries, car accidents – I think it has influenced me and my photo work to this day.
My grandfather was an avid photographer and from when I was 16 years old I always carried a camera. It was after taking a course in photojournalistic photography at university that I really got hooked, it introduced me to all the greats – Eugene Smith, Cartier Bresson, Robert Capa – all the traditional masters.
Are there particular subject matter or themes that you have consistently been interested in?
After doing workshops with Juan Fontcuberta, Thomas Cooper and Dieter Appelt at Salzburg College University I saw that there was not just this photojournalistic, passive approach to photography; I saw there was the possibility for more conceptualizing and constructing the image. I had more friends in the art scene than in photography and my interests shifted from being a passive onlooker on society to these more artistic approaches. I am very interested now in how photography is used as a conceptual tool more than regular photographic approaches. For example, John Baldessari – an artist who uses his own images but also uses appropriated images – that’s a very interesting way of working with photography in my opinion.
Appropriation can be infringing copyright…
Of course it’s a no-go to just steal another’s images. But for example when Richard Prince used the Marlboro Man image, there was a reason for it – it was making a personal statement. Now, with the internet, we need to be sincere with what we do – there are a lot of artists who use images from Flickr and produce a new form of work out of it by bringing them into a new context. This should still be allowed – it is part of artistic freedom.
What advice would you give to people submitting work for The Solas Prize or for other online competitions?
Look around at what has been done in photography and ask yourself if your photos are really a new way of telling a story, or if the story that you are dealing with is an untold story. Be sincere about your work. For example, if the photos are staged, that’s fine but you must declare it. And avoid submitting single images with no connection to each other. I’m looking for the story behind the images or a coherent artistic concept informing the work.
And advice about writing a short text to accompany the images?
Just say why you have made the work and please, just tell it simply.
What projects are you working on now?
Right now I’m curating a show of 15 photoprojects, with a publication, that will open at the Cortona Photo Festival in Italy. I’m also enjoying curating a show for Fotohof of Marion Kalter, a French-Austrian photographer based in Paris. She has been working for 40 years – but its not the usual kind of ‘retrospective exhibition’ – it is really fresh photography.
Fotohof will be presenting and exhibition of the winners of The Solas Ireland Awards – what’s the background to that?
Fotohof has developed an exhibition format that has focused on artists of a single country – in the past, we have curated shows of Italian, Polish, Dutch, Belgian, French photographers, for example. In our more and more globalized world this concept is intriguingly problematic – but still, I think photographers from Lithuania are different from those of the US – though it is of course very diverse, I think there are characteristics specific to each, and the question of a visual language coming through particular cultures is very interesting to me.
What kind of work do you hope to see in judging The Solas Prize?
Surprise me! Show me images that I’ve never seen before! This isn’t to do with the work’s exhibition history, and it doesn’t rule out older work – so long as there is something new, technically, conceptually, or in the photographer’s approach – so long as it is fresh!