In the studio
Katrin Korfmann's (1971, Germany) work is on the cutting edge of photography, film, and installation. In her work, she creates tension between stillness and movement. In recent years alone she has exhibited in the USA, Poland, Canada, Germany, Sweden and China.
Korfmann finds inspiration for her work around the globe. She is interested in the places where people meet, of only fleeting, capturing the dynamics of social interaction. Railway stations, streets, public squares, for Korfmann, these places might be the start of a new work of art.
Korfmann’s artistic method revolves around taking multiple photographs of one place for an extended period ranging from 500 to 2000 at a time. She photographs locations that fascinate her from a higher vantage point, often using a crane. She then merges the photos into one photo, resulting in an overall image that just does not seem to add up. The people in the image are together, they are all there, at that particular place.
For the AkzoNobel Art Foundation’s 25-year Jubilee, Katrin Korfmann created a special edition inspired by the monumental work in the AkzoNobel Art Collection: an overhead view of the centuries-old leather dyeing workshop in FES, Morocco.
We asked Katrin about this special edition and about her studio life.
Where did you grow up and where were you trained?
I grew up in West Berlin. After the fall of the wall I moved to East Berlin and went to the Art Academy where I completed the foundation year. There was no photography course at the art academy in Berlin at the time, and I wanted to study abroad in London or Amsterdam. Eventually, I ended up attending the Rietveld Academy and after that the Rijksakademie
Is there such a thing as an average working day for you in terms of layout and activities?
As I have children, I get up early and then cycle to the studio for about half an hour ─ If I need to transport something, I go by car. My studio is on the outskirts of Amsterdam at the ‘Tuinen van West’. It is very pleasant to cycle through a green environment in the morning.
I do all kinds of things in the studio. Observing, sketching, photo editing, emailing, writing, meditating, reading, calling, receiving visitors, as well as a lot of research and communication for future and current projects. I also go to different locations for inspiration or to take photographs, and of course I spent time at the printer, Bernard Ruijgrok. One day a week I teach at the KABK in The Hague, which is now often online, so I can teach from the studio.
Can you describe your workplace for us?
Situated on the ground floor with open doors to the outside and a terrace in front with plants and lots of greenery on the property, it is the ideal space for me. Three large walls, full of works and sketches. Three large tables, two with computers and screens for me and my assistant, a sitting area with a sofa, table carpet and bookcase.
Part of the studio is separated by a wall. The room behind it I use for storage for some of my works, documentation and of course some random junk. I like visual structure and organization, so I am glad that the storage is in a separate place.
To create new photographs, you work with clean digital means. But the locations you select for your works also challenge you. Can you tell us how you work during your photo shoots?
When I am interested in a topic or location, research comes first. I visit the location and ask for permission if needed. Then I try to imagine what possibilities there are for the recordings and the final image.
If the location is abroad, I usually need an assistant on the spot who does this for me, because only when I am truly convinced that the location can be the starting point for a great image, I start planning the shoot with the equipment and assistance. I also need to monitor the weather, or I need permits and/or aerial platforms.
Can you tell us something about this work ‘Chouara, Fez’? How did you end up with this composition?
I was working on a photo series, called Back Stages, about artistic production, processes, events and actions that happen before or after the artwork, together with my husband Jens Pfeifer, who is also an artist. We worked on a photo series called "Back Stages" that engages with artistic production. Here, we capture processes that happen before or after the artwork is final.
Chouara is a 11th-century tannery in Morocco. Family run cooperatives have been tanning leather in Chouara for the best part of 1000 years. Located in the old town of Fez and still fully functioning, this ancient industry has become a popular tourist destination.
The basins depicted are filled with the dyes used by the workers. Although the site and its surroundings are beautiful, the smells coming from it are repugnant. The strong odor is caused by pigeon droppings that are being used to unhair the hides. The basins in which the skins are dyed are quite large, with some pots 1.50 meters in diameter
Once a week, all the dyes in the pots are renewed which results in color combinations that constantly changing. All the colors are made with natural materials such as poppy seeds and saffron. The tannery has been an independent self-sufficient business for hundreds of years, that also includes the many shops surrounding it.
Was it a challenge to make the work with those slippery and firmly scented paint baths?
It was really bizarre. The smell was a stark contrast to the beauty of the dye baths. For example, Jens balanced between the paint baths with the 6-meter-high tripod in hand, I controlled the camera from a distance. This way we started scanning the entire leather dyeing workshop.
The trick is to go on for so long that people no longer find you interesting, which results in them being photographed in their normal actions ─ without posing. There were times when Jens lost his balance on the slippery edges, he almost fell into the pot with pigeon poo once.
But in the end, everything went well. Our Moroccan assistants had previously been in contact with the cooperative of the dye house and translated for us. Nowadays, recordings in Fez are only allowed with a permit, so the police came, but luckily, we had that permit.
What are your plans for the coming period?
I am now finishing up my most recent project "Wastescapes" with the topic of waste processing and reuse. There will be a publication, an artistic research project and an exhibition that reflects on this series with collaboration as its main role.
My next project focuses on exploring other forms of collages by combining and reusing multiple shots of green spaces. A positive and utopian approach in response to the pandemic and polarization.
How do you feel about AkzoNobel employees having a work of you on their wall at home?
It is always special when the works travel to other people's homes. The work exists to be seen, it is activated by the viewer, and luckily everyone sees something different in it.
Korfmann studied Photography at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie and continued her research during her residencies at the Rijksakademie, both in Amsterdam, Cittadellarte Biella, Akademie der Künste Berlin and the Chinese European Art Center in Xiamen, China. She won several prizes for her work, including the Radostar Prize and the Esther Kroon Award. Her work is collected by many public en private collections.
Katrin Korfmann, Chouara, Fez (2021), 65 x 50 cm
vibrant pigment print, edition of 50,
special AkzoNobel price: € 600 without frame, € 200 with frame and artglass.
You can order the edition in the webshop.