The gangly youths of Nadine Fraczkowski's photographs appear to exist in a different reality, outside the bounds of normative society. With her camera, Fraczkowski is able to tap into the naivety behind the often brutal facade of her subjects. Her portraits are intimate yet unapproachable, raw and unapologetic.
While she has become known for her long-term collaboration with visual artist Anne Imhof (including photographing Imhof’s recent show, Sex, at London’s Tate Modern), the Berlin-based photographer has also been avidly working on fashion editorials, portrait series and documentary style projects focusing on subcultures, fundamentalist religions, and the refugee crisis. A common thread weaving together these disparate projects is a strong sense of connection with her subjects; a desire to shine light on those on the fringe.
Have you always been interested in photographing people?
It was never a conscious decision – it just naturally happened. Now I have a clearer idea of what interests me, but when I was attending art school [Frankfurt’s Städelschule], I was kind of all over the place. I was photographing my daily life – friends, family, the many trips I took. That was also when I met Anne [Imhof]. We were in a band together and were already doing projects like video works, collages, filming everything.
How has your approach to photography changed between then and now? Has living in different countries, from Germany, France to the US, impacted the way you work?
During my time in France, even though it’s still part of Europe and felt familiar, I started thinking differently about things I'd taken for granted: my own culture, my German-ness, rituals, habits. Also language. Because I didn’t speak French in the beginning, it was interesting seeing how people would treat and react to me. It’s not something you become aware of until it happens to you physically.
It was when I was living in Paris that I became really interested in the Middle East conflicts and refugee crisis. The Arabic world and refugees are much more present there, so I made a few trips to Calais to photograph the camps. There was this strong urgency and desire to just go and show the world what was happening.
The second time I went, they had just evicted the whole refugee camp. I spent a day or two there because I wanted to actually talk to people, and get a sense of what it was like to live there. It felt more interesting for me to document the events preceding and following the eviction – the daily lives.
The moments you chose to capture, like kids running around wearing paper hats and a Justin Bieber poster hanging in the camp, gave lightness to an otherwise dark circumstance.
They do have a daily life. And even within this tense circumstance, there are positive moments in between. That was really touching to me.
Another project I found fascinating was the photographs you took in the US, especially your trip to Utah.
That happened during my month and a half long road trip across the country, from LA to New York. I visited the LDS [The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] Visitors’ Center in Salt Lake City and also this border town between Arizona and Utah called Hildale where the fundamentalist Mormons live. I specifically looked for places like these, with these fundamentalist religious groups.
I don’t come from a religious background, but I’ve always been interested in religious groups, cults and what makes people want to join them. I was very interested in the Manson Family as a teenager, for instance. I wrote my thesis on subcultures and how they happen, the codes, the semiotics from clothes, and what happens when you leave your system – do those codes get recognised, do people misread them? I find that very interesting.
You’ve also done a lot of fashion editorials, which appear to be on the other end of the spectrum from your documentary style photographs.
The fashion projects happened not so long ago, but they aren’t that different – if not almost the same – from my documentary projects. They’re all about the people. It doesn’t matter who is in front of the camera. I’m just trying to have a connection with my subject. There’s always something inherent to my subject that interests me in a personal way. And there’s no system to it. It’s very intuitive. I want to give a voice to these subcultures.
Do you take a different approach when photographing Anne’s performances? Because it’s quite spontaneous, the dancers are constantly moving around and you don’t quite know what to expect.
I really like the process because I know all the dancers well. There’s this interaction between the dancers and me in the midst of the performances. They trust me. Sometimes they hold their pose a little longer for me to get the shot I would want. And I’m usually running around for hours, trying to capture everything I can. It’s nice for me to freely move around and do my own thing. It’s a thankful way for me to photograph.
Has your approach to photographing Anne’s performances evolved over the years?
Maybe it has changed, but more in general, and not just in the context of photographing Anne’s works, because my life has changed. It’s a natural process. It’s like training: the more I photograph, the more I have a better idea of what I want.