Alex Bernatzky (b. 1990, Johannesburg)
Currently in Berlin
What kinds of things do you most enjoy photographing?
I’m not going to pretend to have any high ideals for my photography. I mostly just photograph my friends or the places we go together… Okay, I lied, here comes the “pretension”: While my friends are my primary subject matter, what I think I am constantly in search of are moments of pure unfiltered expression. We’re so used to putting up this façade that I think there is a spark of magic that happens when we finally let it drop. I try to capture those moments as a reminder that behind the posturing there is something genuine in everyone.
I also have a bit of an obsession with the remnants of discarded, forgotten and broken things — that started by noticing a pathway in my garden only lead to a brick wall. It has redoubled since moving Berlin and seeing so many discarded CRT TV’s and what’s left of peoples bicycles after everything that has not been chained down has been stolen. Every time I see one I am compelled to stop and photograph it.
Describe your photographic style.
My style is mostly spontaneous and candid, but as I become more interested in abstract concepts, and trying to capture them through photography, I am forced to become more thoughtful and deliberate.
Photography is a lot about the journey. How has it influenced your personal life
and the way in which you view the world (around you)?
Photography has actually only just come into prominence in the last three years of my life, but it’s amazing how much it has affected me. As a person, I am quite chaotic and often I just bounce from one moment to the next without really taking stock. However, because my camera is completely 100% manual, from advancing the film to cocking the shutter, I have to slow right down and shift into a more methodical mindset. As a result I become infinitely aware of my surroundings and I start to notice the smaller moments happening around me. Some people do Yoga and meditate; I take photos.
I am also generally extremely shy and introverted, and social situations are often quite overwhelming for me. The camera – and photography – serves as a tool to engage with situations while still maintaining the safety and distance that the camera naturally puts between you and the world around you.
Photography is also about capturing a moment in time. What is your approach to a
shot, and your approach to a new body of work?
Generally my approach is to completely embed myself in a situation and then be patient and just wait for the moment to happen — and hopefully be ready for it when it does. It’s by and large a spontaneous process. That being said, I have started work on two new series. For these, I am shifting towards creating more of a planned approach and have begun by writing a story with the same themes I want the photo series to have. I believe strongly in stories, so I think one of the best ways to tell a visual story is to begin with a written one. I approach my design work in very much the same way.
Is photography your professional career? Or do you work in another field?
Photography is most definitely not my profession, nor do I think I ever want it to be. I am currently a masters student, and a freelance writer and designer (film doesn’t pay for itself).
What gear do you shoot with? Specifically camera arsenal and film stock.
I shoot on a Konica Koniflex TLR, a Rolleiflex TLR (as backup for when the Koni is feeling temperamental) and a Polaroid SX-70. Film stock-wise it’s primarily Kodak Tri-X 400 or Ilford HP5 these days. For colour it’s Kodak Portra 400, but as soon as Cinestill deliver on their Kickstarter and bring their films to 120, I will be shooting a lot of Cinestill 800T and 50D as I love the way they render colour.
Growth is important for any artistic craft. How do you stay motivated and
enthusiastic about your work?
Because photography is largely a therapeutic process for me, it is usually the madness of stress that motivates me to go out and shoot. Once I am out there it is the serenity of the process that reminds me why I take photos.
What are your influences? Please list other photographers you look up to or
things that generally inspire your image-making process.
In terms of photographers, I think my biggest influence and inspiration has to be Billy Monk. I think the level of intimacy he achieved with his subjects is something I can only dream of achieving. Another that I greatly admire is Roger Ballen. The way he is able to straddle a line between still life and portraiture in his work is awe inspiring. I also absolutely adore the macabre surreality of his images; you are never quite sure if what is depicted can or should actually exist. He is able to construct and portray these heterotopic spaces on the fringes of society in a way that few, if any, others can.
However, beyond those two and a few more, I actually try avoid other photographers as the line between inspiration and aspiration can very quickly blur into the realm of imitation. This is one of the reasons I avoid even dipping a toe into commercial photography as I feel it is fraught with photographic trends and your work quickly begins to become so much like everyone else out there. Instead I look to film, architecture and art for inspiration – Edward Hopper, Playtime by Jacques Tati, and Frank Gehry’s dancing house in Prague, spring immediately to mind. But, most importantly, the city of Johannesburg. I have lived in a few places throughout my life but Jo’burg will always be home and my main muse.
What else do you enjoy? (Hobbies, etc – Any other creative exploits or interests?)
I have an extremely restless mind and fidgety hands, so as a result I have a myriad of little projects in various stages of non-completion. Right now I am currently teaching myself to knit for a lighting project I have in mind. I am also teaching myself kintsugi which is a Japanese ceramics repair technique using gold infused lacquer to bind the pieces of broken pottery. Although cooking has to be my all time favourite hobby and creative outlet, alongside photography. There is little I enjoy more than feeding friends and family.
Any tips for aspiring film photographers?
Don’t get caught up in the fact that you can’t delete botched shots, just be more considered and decisive. Go out there and enjoy yourself… and meter for the shadows.
What lies on the horizon (any plans for series, exhibitions, travels etc)?
And what do you hope to achieve in the future?
Up until this point my photography has been an extremely personal thing, and something that has just been for myself and my immediate friend group (and whoever follows me on Instagram gets a taste too, I guess). But, I am slowly shifting towards putting my work out into the world in a more real, substantial way. I am in the conceptualisation stage of two zines that I want to do and, now that I am in the process of learning how to make darkroom prints, an eventual exhibition is the ultimate goal at this point.
All photos by Alex Bernatzky
DEAD TOWN™ | Film-only Photographic Showcase ©2017.