Sebastian Weiss studied Civil Engineering at the Technical University of Dresden and worked as an art director in advertising agencies before turning his focus on architectural photography, both with his own original work and editorially as photo columnist for AD Architectural Digest Germany. Through his lens, the aesthetic and individual aspects and qualities of the public domain become the stage for the interaction between everyday life and the built environment. With a strong graphic presence and the subtle simplicity of minimalism he explores forms, patterns, textures, and colors from the diverse urban landscape of both landmark architecture and trivial buildings. His images have received distinctions from international competitions such as PX3, IPA, Arcaid Images and he is represented by Tappan Collective in Los Angeles.
Pygmalion Karatzas: Mr. Sebastian Weiss, thank you for accepting the invitation to discuss and show some of your work with us here at arcspace. Could you tell us about your background and how you started being involved with photography?
Sebastian Weiss: Mr. Karatzas thank you for your invitation and for your interest in my work. Already while studying civil engineering at the Technical University in Dresden, I was inspired rather by the creative viewpoints of a building than by its constructive aspects. The analytic involvement with these two poles guided me to the University of the Arts in Berlin to explore the field between technology and design. I experienced the “initial moment” for my photography in Berlin, where I began to explore the city’s architectural changes in a photographic way. At that time, a vast number of interesting buildings were erected, which changed the city’s face deeply. The heterogeneous architecture in West and East Berlin, with its origin in the time of the Iron Curtain, in combination with the architecture of other cultural epochs, excited me strongly. Since then, my passion for architectural photography evolved.
However, I’ve been working for a long time as a creative employee / art director in several advertising agencies, before I finally realized that I would rather visualize my own ideas with architectural photography. Since 2013, I have been a photo columnist for AD Architectural Digest Germany, and in 2017 I became a professional member of the BFF (Berufsverband Freie Fotografen und Filmgestalter e.V.), the Professional Association of Freelance Photographers in Germany. Nowadays, I am a Hamburg based architectural photographer.
PK: Could you describe your overall photographic vision and approach?
SW: The photographic encounter with a building feels to me like a meeting with a strange or unknown person, there is curiosity and tension, but also respect and restraint. In the developing interaction, which seems sometimes a bit like a “conversation”, I try to fathom the traits, peculiarities or secrets that make this “individual” so unique. In doing so, I avoid dictating or directing the dialogue. The “person”, to stick to the metaphor, is always in the foreground.
Sometimes the rapprochement takes longer, but sometimes it happens very fast and I immediately find a convenient basis to work on. I remember shooting at a Parish Church in Blönduós, a small city in the northwest of Iceland, designed by Dr. Maggi Jónsson. The trip was planned since a long time and well prepared. Although I knew what to expect, I was pretty uptight about it. When I saw the building from afar, my heart opened straightaway. Usually, I do not choose buildings by their popularity or the name recognition of its architect. It could also be a completely trivial building, like a supermarket or parking garage that has a charisma.
PK: Could you tell us a bit more about your series ‘Dramatis Personae’ in Paris? What attracted you in these buildings? How long have you been working on the series? is it an on-going project?
SW: In general, I perceive the city as a “theatre of life”. Everyday dramas, comedies or cliffhangers are performed on this stage and we are all part of this “public performance”. When I visited Paris in 2016, there were some very expressive and characterful buildings and I felt that I was within a public performance. I examined who the protagonists are on the stage of the city. It is not about good or bad characters, but actors, who embody their role authentically and memorably. Against this backdrop, I began to document the architectural ensemble of the city according to the most important actors from my point of view. The metaphor “dramatis personae” derives from this idea – the cast of main architectural protagonists on the stage of the city, which in turn provide us with an appropriate space for our daily performances. Up until now, I have finished three series within this ongoing project and I am currently planning the fourth sequence.
PK: Which are some of the influences on your photographic work and in what ways have they affected your approach?
SW: Well, I think the background of my civil engineering studies and the exchange with many architecture students, as well as my longtime job as a designer have shaped my photographic work. I have some knowledge about construction, but I look at buildings more from an aesthetic point of view. Of course, constant architectural research, traveling and exchanging ideas with other people are also affecting my work. What drives me is curiosity and the desire to develop myself; a self-reflection of my own work is also very crucial. Sometimes, I get inspiration also from other photographers whom I admire, even if – or maybe just because – they have a different style in approaching architecture. I adore for example the work from Joseph Schulz, Brigida González, Adam Mørk, and Serge Najjar.
PK: Which photographic gear and post-processing workflow do you use and what are your thoughts about their role in the creative process?
SW: After having tried different photographic systems, I have made the decision for Canon equipment. Currently, I am working with an EOS 5DSR as well as several optics and tripods. By choosing Canon, the post-production was in my opinion greatly simplified, and the post-processing activity is substantially reduced. During the shootings, I take care to photograph a nearly finished picture, which requires only a small effort of post-processing.
PK: Has your work as photo columnist for AD Architectural Digest Germany affected your personal approach and perspective towards architectural photography, if so, in what ways?
SW: No, I would not say that my cooperation with AD Architectural Digest Germany has affected my approach, as I have the freedom to pursue my very own perspective after all. AD gives me completely free rein in the choice of my motives and the topics of my series. Maybe my earlier works were a bit more minimalist than they are these days. Nowadays, I often allow the buildings more room to evolve.
PK: You are also active in social media platforms like Instagram and Behance. What is the value (and possibly pitfalls) in your opinion of such online sharing outlets for your work and artistic photography in general?
SW: Since 2005 I have tested various social media platforms to present my work to the public. Because of my limited time, I have decided on only two and focus 100% on Behance (since 2012) and Instagram (since 2010). I also use Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook, but these networks are secondary to me. To be successful and visible on the platforms, a high level of interaction with the community, as well as continuity are important. I reach much more people through the viral power of these platforms than with my classical website. I present my work on these platforms to get more visibility, but I also use them for inspiration, research and customer acquisition.
PK: Tappan Collective Gallery based in Los Angeles is representing some of your work. What are your thoughts about the photographic art market nowadays and the business aspect of the medium?
SW: I consider myself primarily as a photographer and not as an artist. In that sense, I do not want to stick my neck out too far when judging the art market. Photography as an art form is established, but still quite young and certainly has a lot of potential. From my experience, it is very difficult to be perceived in this environment. Digitalization and technological advances have led to the result that virtually anyone can photograph today and immediately share these images with their environment. Basically, that’s a great development! But in this flood of photographs, it is not easy to be perceived. Above all, the single image loses value in this mass of images. I am all the more pleased when there are people who recognize a good photograph and are ready to pay money for it.
PK: Since 2016 you have been participating and receiving awards in international photography competitions like Arcaid Images, PX3, IPA, among others. What value do you find most positive from such participations and distinctions?
SW: The positive feedback I get on Instagram or Behance make me happy, no doubt about that. The high number of followers on Internet platforms is great, but does such a number reveal something about the real value of the work? I do not think so, and that’s why I started participating in international competitions and introducing my photography to professional judges. I use the competitions as an indicator to find out what value my work has. The participation and awards help me to classify myself in a global context and are an orientation for me, where I stand with my photography.