Interview with: Karin Apollonia Müller
Interview by Daniel Augschöll and Anya Jasbär
1. In 1995 you moved from Germany to the United States, specifically to Los Angeles. How was it like to work in this area for the first time?
Los Angeles seemed unpredictable and unfamiliar, monotonous and anonymous – exactly what I was looking for in my investigation. I bought a beat up Chrysler New Yorker; when I closed the door and started the car it would tell me to fasten my seat belts and tell me that my oil pressure was low— most of the times the only voice I would hear. I drove around the city with my doors locked, looking for out interesting vantage points, sneaking into apartment buildings and trespassing on rooftops. I would stand on the roofs with shivering knees looking down at the city and marvel at how things came together. I felt I was on a stage and detached from the world.
2. Could you tell us how your condition of stranger, outsider, living and working in Los Angeles, changed from your first work Angels in Fall to On Edge? It seems like the photographs aren’t that detached anymore, despite your distant point of view. Like Tim Atherton said, “It feels like Müller has become less the visitor and more the settler or immigrant. Still not at home, but more at ease.”
When I was making the photographs for Angels in Fall I felt like a stranger, and I embraced this feeling, I wanted the view point to be that of an outsider and have a sense of the detachment I was experiencing. After a while I did begin to settle into this country, becoming more familiar with the culture, history and language. But I never felt completely at ease, there were always misunderstandings, miscommunications, and a sense of foreignness. I am more familiar with Los Angeles, and maybe that comes through in On Edge.
3. In Angels in Fall the people are a constant apparition. They are there, immobilized, far away from us, almost becoming part of the landscape. In On Edge they aren’t just part of the landscape any longer; they seem more actively involved, even if almost invisible. Could you tell us something about the significance of people in your photographs? Do you feel this difference between the two bodies of work?
My interest in photography has been the investigation of people, their relationship to landscape, to their environment, to their space. In Angels in fall I observe the space and eventually discover a solitary person, disrupting the vast open space. In On Edge I find locations, where the person becomes the (usually invisible) perpetrator.
4. The use of color in your photographs is remarkable. Could you tell us a little bit about the importance of color in your photographs, especially in On Edge and Angels in Fall?
The color palette in my photographs is a product of the particular light I am always searching for – it is a certain type of diffused light that seems to evoke things which are beyond visible. My mother would often call me asking why I was staying in Los Angeles for so long, and I would reply that I was waiting for the perfect light. It is rare and difficult to catch. Sometimes I would have to wait for months for the “decisive moment” of light.
5. When we look at your photographs we feel attracted by the beauty of light and colors, but at the same time we are consciously afraid by the threatening force of nature. It’s like your photographs are a contemporary manifestation of the sublime. We feel scared but at the same time attracted.
Traditionally nature was the source of feelings like fear and wonder at the same time; has the city replaced nature in this role? Do you agree with this identification of contemporary sublime?
In landscape the Sublime is exemplified by William Turner‘s sea storms and mountain scenes and in paintings by the violent dramas of Henry Fuseli. In 1756, Edmund Burke defined the sublime as an artistic effect producing the strongest emotion the mind is capable of feeling.
The emotions (you talk about fear and wonder) can be embodied by the majesty of nature but also by the grandeur of a city. I think the city did not replace nature in this role. The relationship between man and this world has always walked this line between wonder at the beauty and terror at the sheer power of nature. It is easy sometimes to forget either, I would hope my work could remind the viewer of this. – Maybe that’s contemporary sublime?
6. We often have the impression that the human made constructions in On Edge could fall apart from one moment to the other. Looking at the photographs we experience some kind of suspension, vulnerability. Do you think that the book form, and thus the sequence, emphasizes this aspect?
Every aspect of a photography book should contribute to communicating the themes and mood of the work; otherwise the book is simply a catalogue of collected images. On Edge is concerned with the vulnerability of the world, with respect to constructions and de-constructions, transgressions and fatuities, accidents and incidents, menace and dismay. This for example is reflected in the design by including a translucent dust jacket that protects the book whilst susceptible to damage, much like humanity’s fragility.
7. Some photographs from On Edge are like an interlude. I’m referring to griffith’s diptych or battle and power. What happens in those parts of the book? What is, in your opinion, the narrative meaning of these interruptions?
Interludes are important. They are poems, whispers. They offer pause and reflection. They surprise with new allegoric aspects. Regarding battle and power I would suggest an epilogue, a concluding sequence. At the end of the book is a coda, I like to call Eden—which may be a place we can return to.