How do you make an image count in times of Instagram? Make them as elaborate and unique as you can. Artist Robert Bartholot says he is not a photographer, his camera is merely a tool: “It’s about the image, not photography.”
As with everything else in this world, digitalisation has its pros and cons. A pro: I can publish this article without having to move from my desk or hammock and still reach a worldwide audience.
Before digital, you’d either be part of an editorial office (for a print publication or a broadcaster) or you’d literally spend hours at the copier to put together your fanzine (probably the analogue equivalent to a blog) – and then, your audience would be very limited.
A con: since copying and pasting is no longer a matter of hours at the machine but rather a matter of a click, we are being exposed to an endless stream of information, at every moment of the day.
We are being bombarded with images. What’s a picture worth these days? And why bother making them yourself if reposting the ones of others brings you just as many likes?
Robert Bartholot: never being boring
Because someone has to. Otherwise we’ll be drowning in endless repetition and, eventually, die from boredom. The artist Robert Bartholot is one of the people who make sure this is not going to happen. The elaborate compositions he photographs are far from the random Insta-snapshots that are out there in abundance.
Bartholot gave me two hours of his time and this is the essence of we talked about. Take a glimpse at how creativity happens – picture by picture.
I’m not a photographer, I’m an artist
I took my first picture (header image) in the beginning of 2009. I didn’t even dare to ask someone to model for me, so I photographed myself and assembled everything later in photoshop. That was in 2009, still in Madrid. Later that year, I moved to Berlin.
I don’t necessarily see myself as a photographer. The camera is more of a tool to capture an image that I have in mind. It’s about the image, not photography. I’m not ”painting with light“. I never studied photography. I studied art history, long, but I never graduated.
I worked as a media designer in an advertising agency for a while. All we did was cheap CD covers you’d later buy in drugstores. It had to look cheap so people would recognise it as cheap. That was my apprenticeship. It was horrible.
“I simply like the grotesque.”
Later, I went to Madrid because I had met a photographer, Álvaro Villarrubia. I was waiting tables in Zürich at the time. I thought, Spain? Photography? Why not. That’s where I learned about picture editing. He pushed me into doing something myself. I was hesitant for a while but when I did, I really liked it.
Business went bad during the economic crisis. I worked as a cleaner for a while. That had to come to an end and so I went to Berlin. From then on, I simply introduced myself as art director and photographer. Today, I see myself as an artist.
I’m not looking to capture reality
By Álvaro Villarrubia …
… by Robert Bartholot
I think there are two things that interest me. On the one hand the clean and artificial. On the other hand, I like the confusing.
However, at the end of the day it’s about the composition. I never meant to capture reality. But I don’t know why that is. I just like it.
As soon as a magazine comes out, it’s old
These are all collages. Everything is photographed separately and photoshopped together later. It’s a pain to do but I kind of like that sort of work. I think that’s my background in illustrations and graphic design.
If you look close enough you can see that it can’t possibly be real – look at the shadows. But it works aesthetically.
Editorial shoot for Architectural Digest
When product is involved, I don’t see any lasting value. As soon as the magazine comes out, it’s old. I see it as art when there’s no product – or when the focus is not on the product, let’s put it this way.
I don’t feel the need to prove a point
I have even done a wedding once, or pictures for passports. It sometimes makes me feel like an impostor because I’m not a real photographer. But mostly I get booked to deliver the kind of stuff you see on my website.
Typical colours for Bartholot
When I do commercial work for clients, then I don’t feel I need to prove my point. It’s a service that I offer. If I don’t like it then I won’t feature it on my site, it’s as simple as that.
My clients like the colours that are typically being associated with my work. When I do my stuff then I sometimes tend to do less colour, more grey, crème, that sort of thing. That’s where I find my balance.
I give too much importance on how things are being perceived
I do Instagram because I have to. Social media is not my thing. I look around but I don’t like to present my life. I’m too insecure for that. I’ve tried again and again, but I can’t find a language.
Bartholot’s Instagram feed
I give it too much importance, how things are being perceived. It needs to look good in the stream as well. I think it looks crap to have a couple of making-ofs and then completed pictures. I do that series-of-three-thing, so the stream looks good. And I’m not using Facebook anymore, it’s great.
I’m old enough to see the repetition
When information wasn’t this accessible, I was so much more interested. I went to Zürich to buy a copy of i-D or The Face because you couldn’t get that in Konstanz, where I grew up. And then I’d look at every page a hundred times. Now, they’re shoving it in your face wherever you go. It’s boring.
Playing with gay clichés: Vetements
Maybe it is because I’m old enough to see the repetition. When I look at Vetements – I love it, but it’s been done before, by Gaultier or whoever. Deconstructed, sleeve off here, on there, oversized. Obviously in an updated version. Did you see the “Schwulette” in their last show? Genius.
But the ideas come back. How many Doc Marten’s revivals have there been now?
I might be slowing down myself
My work and the way I get to live my life is more important to me than hype and success.
Look at the likes of Lachapelle, for example, who speed from one shoot to the next for five years. Can you produce that much work that is still good and has a certain gravitas? I sometimes think I’m slowing this down myself. I think I’d be bored by that.
Sometimes, yellow is just a splash of colour
It often happens that people project more meaning onto an image than I intended. But you can’t control that. Some people are scared by it. Some people hate yellow, „How could you?“. Everybody brings their own, sometimes most absurd attitudes and emotions towards art. Especially when the pictures have a religious touch like these.
Drapings with no deeper meaning
They were for the 15th anniversary book of the Offf design festival in Barcelona. It was supposed to look like a bible, as if the art and design world were some sort of cult. I did this together with Serial Cut, a 3D design studio from Madrid. The brief: anonymous portraits of some sort of divine entity.
Anyway, I simply had to produce twelve pictures and I had to find twelve ways of draping the fabric. We just gave them yellow objects in their hands, which has no deeper meaning at all. It was just supposed to be a splash of colour.
Editorial for Architectural Digest
Memories from ze “Hobbykeller”
(These pictures remind me, the interviewer, of a video I had posted on Facebook: an 80s hit by Frida, formerly with Abba, called ”I know there’s something going on“. I remember that Bartholot had liked the post, when he was still on Facebook. I tell him.)
I loved Frida’s red hair, the little braids, everything. And the video. I came up with a performance for it which I did with the straight kids in the „Hobbykeller“. (A room in the basement where members of the family would pursue their hobbies. If you grew up in 70s’ and 80s’ Germany, you’ll know.) It kind of started on the floor and then we rose, arms in the air, that sort of thing …
And see, this is also a product shoot, but it’s not so much about the product. I prefer that.
If you want to see Bartholot’s work on stage, there will be opportunities in April and May, should you be in Berlin or Leipzig. The artist designed the set and did the costumes for a production called Wonderwomen.
It’s a performance by two female body builders: „an attempt to re-discover, re-invent and re-claim the female body“, according to the presenters.
Bartholot: „I was worried this could become an attempt to out female body builders as freaks. But the performance is about showing an audience that would usually turn up their noses at this sport that female body building is not a freak show.“