Interview with Walter Pfeiffer
FT: What interests you in photography?
WP: The thrill when I pick up the newly developed films from the lab.
Nothing is more exciting and sometimes more disappointing because
everything turns out different than expected.
FT: Is your interest in photography still the same as when you started?
WP: As long as a beauty gets lost in my garden, the interest will still
be there. But as soon as it becomes a routine must,
we better let it be.
FT: Your themes are very free, very artistic; you exhibit in galleries
and art halls. Do you also do commissioned work or do you work
exclusively in a free way?
WP: Yes, but they must fit to my style of working in a certain respect.
I must also be free. Of course there are certain ideas from the client,
but they mustn’t be too restrictive. That has always led to the best
FT: What is your attitude towards commissioned work? Do you have
problems with it?
WP: Not at all. Until now, I’ve always had commissions that were
selected to fit almost perfectly to my way of shooting. But I don’t
want to be under pressure all of the time. I have to be able to
withdraw repeatedly so as to do my actual work. However, I must say
that it is sometimes very inspiring and I always learn things!
FT: Have you ever worked in the field of fashion photography?
WP: I just returned from Berlin where I shot a spread for the fashion
magazine ACHTUNG. I really enjoyed it, we did a casting and I was able
to choose the most beautiful beginners. Beginners, because it’s too
difficult for me to handle those with more experience. And of course
they have to be beauties with whom I immediately fall in love. In that
way almost nothing can go wrong.
FT: Are you interested in that?
WP: If it’s not too stressful, yes.
FT: I have been dealing with fashion photography for a long time, and
in the past years I’ve increasingly noticed that the models are becoming
more and more trivial and uninteresting. Just yesterday I saw a large
ad for a fashion magazine placarded in the city. It showed the cover of
the magazine, an incredibly well-dressed model but without any charisma.
A poor girl, with an unenthusiastic face dragged in front of a camera.
A piece of wood would have been better than the girl. Where do you see
the main focus in fashion photography? Are the clothes more important
than the model or vice versa?
WP: They are usually just clothes-hangars, without character, who just
do a job, the same is true of many photographers. It leaves you cold,
but sometimes something catches your eye, maybe because everything is
not that perfect and a few failures can be found that make the whole
FT: When browsing through magazines you see that many photographers are
currently doing the same kind of photography. There seems to be a sort
of code stating what fashion photography is supposed to look like.
You see it in the big magazines and it is copied all the way to the
small autonomous magazines. There’s hardly any room for experimental
photography or an artistic approach to photography. Why is that so?
WP: Maybe people are afraid of doing something wrong when taking photos
outside the usual code and then losing commissions. I personally do
what I think is right, and, after years of waiting, that proves to have
been worth it.
FT: Who in your opinion does good fashion photography?
MP: At the moment I can only think of Jürgen Teller, who in my view
is the most artistic, elegant and humorous.
FT: What photographer do you think is copied most?
WP: That’s hard for me to answer because I never copy, at the most
FT: What should really good fashion photography be like?
WP: Check Richard Avedon, Guy Bourdin, Helmut Newton, David Bailey,
Cecil Beaton, and other classics from yesterday, today and tomorrow.
FT: In my view a really good photo retains its character, even if it’s
used in a different context. For example, the way Comme de Garcons did
a few years ago in an advertising campaign in which they used photos
by Lewis Baltz, whom I hold in high regard. Your picture of the four
hands holding a knife is such a photo with an ambivalent character.
The picture was also on view in the exhibition at Baumet Sultana.
It attracted me like a magnet. How come?
WP: Because you have a good eye!
FT: Is it different than your other works?
WP: Not all that much.
FT: Did you assemble the picture, meaning that it’s always the same
hand and them assembled to one picture?
WP: Are you crazy? I never assemble anything, the most I do is soup up!
FT: The picture appears dangerous, but not really aggressive. What are
the knives pointed to? What is the intention?
WP: I was almost scared to death, because they always fiddled around
with the knives and I always had to watch out that nobody got hurt.
FT: What does the picture mean to you?
WP: It marked the end of a tough time with many changes.
FT: Why is the picture black-and-white? Would its message be the same
if it were in colour?
WP: I didn’t have a colour film at hand at that moment, but it wouldn’t
be good in colour, too many details would be distracting.
FT: When you slightly squint your eyes and only concentrate on the knives,
they create a form. Was that planned, was there a composition that you
came up with beforehand?
WP: I never think too much beforehand about what new and unusual
composition we could invent today, and I never make plans. Instead,
I’mconcentrated and let myself be guided and inspired by the given site
and the new situation.
FT: How did this picture originate, what was the moment like shortly
WP: I had seen the four knives at a friend’s and begged him to lend
them to me for a picture.
FT: What was the moment like shortly afterwards?
FT: Who actually held the knives?
WP: Four beautiful boys who could hardly be tamed (see above).
FT: What are you currently working on?
WP: I should go a bit easier, which is hard for me because I probably
did too much lately. But I hope to soon set off to new horizons again
with full energy.
FT: Will you remain who you are, or is there hope that you will secretly
become a Parisian.
WP: Sure, as soon as I’m given the freedom of the city.