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An Interview With Gerhard Aba

by Paul

Die Kriegerin Norithime
Die Kriegerin Norithime
P.: First tell us something about yourself and your background.

G.: My name is Gerhard Aba, 47 years old. Living in Vienna (Austria). After High School I made a degree in glass and porslin painting. I started my job carrier in this field and from the very beginning photography was playing an important role for all procedures there, in particular renewing and documenting as well. After some years and additional qualification processes I became a photographer in the Viennese museum for applied arts, the "MAK", where I was working then for 10 years. After that I entered the area of press photography and worked for several agencies (e.g. Associated Press) focusing on war photography. My photos from the Balkan and other crisis regions were published in many newspapers and magazines. It is a heavy job and at the moment I put more attention on more quiet and less dangerous sectors of professional photography, e.g. performance photography.

In parallel to my job carrier inspired by my artistical background, I developed my photographic artwork. I discovered soon the specific aura of unusual models (see the short story of "Kleopatra" in the files of the Metamorphosis Gallery), did a lot of work in the fetish sector and was drawing growing attention upon amputee models. This became more and more important for me.

P.: Are you an amputee devotee, and if yes could you tell us more on the matter, like how and when did you discovered that you were, and how it evolved since then?

G.: I would like to explain my situation with a little story. When I was 20 years old, I met a girl with wonderful big eyes. I like eyes I have to say. I was so fascinated by these incredible deep and dark eyes that it was clear for me at this moment: I will get her. Then I discovered that she was wearing a prosthesis instead of her left arm and her left leg. But it had happen, We felt in love and became a couple for eleven years. I saw that she was fully attracting me as she was (the best what can happen to you in your relationships) and this wonderful girl helped me in an exciting style to become familiar with her beautiful assymetric body. This influenced deeply my view on women attraction and beauty for my whole life. She was my first amputee model (You will find a picture of her in the Metamorphosis Gallery, but I never will tell you which one it is).

I took the fascination of an assymetric body with me when we seperated because I fell in love with another woman. In my further relationships, beside "abled" women, the amputee women played an important role being strong partners as well as wonderfull and erotic models in my artwork. Until today no one of them classified me as a devotee. Why should I do it myself? Only because it is usual in our society boxing people? I am rather sure that I don't fit into boxes.

Sometime people ask me if it was really first time that I took notice of my openess to asymmetric bodies. May be not, but I was not aware of it. I don't remember an earlier situation in which I was attracted to an amputee.

P.: What is your opinion on the devotee community? I mean do you have an active interaction with the community and how do you feel about it? What are their reactions to your work.

G.: Since I am showing this part of my artwork to the public (on TV, on the Internet, etc,...) I got many contacts with people who are open to the amputee phenomenum, interestingly enough, not only men but also many women. I have seen there is a big interest in my artwork and I got a very good feedback to the photos which I have presented to the public in the last years.

My opinion about the "community"? Many nice and interesting people, some black sheeps, a new public sector on the web and I hope most of them will not allow to put them into the box.

P.: To me your work is very significant, and for many reasons. First it simply is good artistic photography work and I sincerely hope that it will make its way through the world. But also, and to my knowledge, your are the first to focus your work mainly on women who are amputees. And not only that but in a way that makes no doubt that the amputation is the actual actor in the scene. Obviously you want to make sure that those who look at your work sees the women, their beauty, but more important I assume, their beauty as amputees. Could you tell us more on this?

G.: Well, together with Franz I would say: we need another view on beauty, we need another language for normality, we need more awareness for unusual bodies and we all have a big need for authentity. This I want to show with my photos and this is the basis for our Metamorphosis Gallery.

Right, there is a lot of photographers who have made pictures of amputees and some of them - we have donated some short texts to them in the group - are very important for creating public attention for unusual bodies. Photographers like Graffenried, Beinstein, Crickmay and others have broken the tabou by not hiding the differently abled people and open the chance for others discovering their beauty.

Saudek and Witkin draw a lot of attention on unusual persons and I am doing it since more than 20 years now. It is enriching not only my artwork but my whole life. In a small german text in the Metamorphosis Gallery I have described enthusiastically my work with amputees. I never had as fascinating experiences with other models on the set by making impulsive, open and authentic photos as with some amputees. I learned that if they are aware of their situation it is very difficult for them to lie and not being authentic. So they choose openess and a lot of them identifies this experience as an act of liberation. One of them (a picture of her is also in my folder in the group) told me several times: "You made me a woman again". And indeed, I also will never forget the first shooting with her.

Many of my models have been mysterious, unique, proud, strong and selfconfident. Some of them had an archaic aura - I say like a godess.

Krücken sind meine Begleiter
Krücken sind meine Begleiter
P.: Speaking of Joel-Peter Witkin, I remember a portrait he made of Vera Little. Do you know Vera Little and her work? Are you in contact with her?

G.: We admire Vera Little and her work and we are happy to see her among the members of our group. We have posted a small text in German about her and her work in the files of the group. She is working on very interesting projects which fascinates us as we have also some plans for activities on several levels for the future. I wish there will follow more contacts and possibly some collaborative steps together.

By the way: her interview in OverGround is very impressive and the information there was important for creating the text in our files when we started our group some months ago.

P.: Appart from the website, have you exposed your work to the public yet, and if yes what are the reactions you received from people that are a priori no devotees?

How did it started and how is it like to work with those wonderfull women? I mean it must be quite something to get them into accepting to be portrayed and staged like that. I assume your pre-production work is tremendously important and difficult at building a trusting relationship between them and you, even more difficult as your work seems to be more focused on fetishistic erotical scenes. How do you find them and how do you convince them to work with you? Also do those women know that you are a devotee (if you are) and how do they react upon learning about it?

G.: It was a good idea to start the webactivities with a Yahoo Group because of its interactive approach. We will continue this journey. The next step will be a homepage for advertising activities focusing on my work at the whole and on my artwork as well. Beside this Franz and me are planning a bigger project for 2003.

In autumn 2002 ,I will have an exhibition in a Viennese galllery, the SMArt Café, once again putting the interactive aspect on the top (we will post the details in the group).

All in all, I am encouraged to expand my activities in the pulic because of the welcome of the people around. One example: when I showed all my artwork to the owner of the gallery who is organising the exibition in Vienna she was deciding to my surprise that we should focus mainly on the amputee photos.

Since my relationsship with an amputee woman I have ongoing contacts to the amputee community in my region. Beside this, it is usual for a professional photographer to have permanently an eye on potential models for business and artwork whereever he is, at home and abroad. Nowadays some women who are intersted in contacting me have used the internet.

P.: I see that you are actually part of a group of artists who are also interrested in producing art focused on the subject of women who are amputees, but the others I've seen on the Metamorphosis Gallery are either using the ES technique, amongst other photographic effects, either using drawings or paintings for their work. Could you tell us more on your partners and their work?

I know that your subjects are all real women with real amputations and I believe that you don't use ES (Electronic Suregery) Techniques. My personal opinion about ES is quite radical: like many devotees, I don't like it and for good reasons. Mostely, I don't have any interrest in what is fake or faked. Most of the time it's very poor work, while sometimes it's well done and hard to spot. In this cases I feel betrayed as a devotee and as a man. Also I find it hard to accept the alteration of someone else's body image (and someone else's artistic work as a photographer for that matter) without her or his specific conscent, which is almost always the case. But seeing the work of your partners my opinion on the matter is evolving. This is because it really is a work of art. What is your personal opinion on the matter of ES?

G.: I would like to start with some comments on the group in general. Franz and me agree upon the role of the Metamorphosis Gallery being a growing mosaic of texts and pictures; on one hand: thoughts, ideas and experiences, on the other: photos, paintings, drawings and other arts. On this basis we developed the group since the beginning of the year and we are happy that very soon some friends became active partners in building up the group. We will not rely only on the amputee topic and the role of the newest active member, related to casting, is an important step forward to a broader view on the metamophosis.

The main aspect of all postings is the message connected to the approach of the group. As I said earlier, our group focuses actually on terms like authenticity, new social language, social competence, unusual beauty, different body image, assymetric bodies, etc. All contributions, all artworks, has to fit into this environment. An important aspect of all artwork is not only showing contents but also including Verfremdung (I think there is no English word for it) to stimulate awareness and disposition of the viewers for the content using several methods and different styles including what we call in French terms collage and montage.

The result is, in nearby all our works, different from what is meant by the term ES. Electronic surgery on the web is violating photos and in many cases persons behind them.. ES is a lie, we all in the group try to meet the truth.

Und sie tanzte nur im Sommer
Und sie tanzte nur im Sommer
P.: Your work, and to some extend the work of your partners in the Metamorphosis Gallery, is very encouraging and not only for the devotee community, but also to the amputee community that have now the opportunity to realize that the beauty of a woman (and a man also I assume) who is an amputee is not only in the words of people from psycholigical assistance (if any exists) or in the words of those of us devotees who are so often perceived as weirdos and sickos, and presented as such by many amputee activits, mostely men for that matters. Now they can wittness the fact that amputees are beautyful also in the eyes of the artists, those of us who have such a particular perception of the world and render it in quite personal manners, but which is undoubtedly a perception of a reality that truely exists. What is your opinion on this?

G.: I told You about my situation in finding models. Many of them did not only work once with me and a lot of them like to return to the set from time to time.

The most important part of my work is indeed the preparation on the set. In any case I have to develop an open, relaxed, erotic and authentic climate which creates a trustful atmosphere and allows an active composing and realising of the photos. Nearly all my photos tell a story, told by two persons, the model and me. Snapshots are rare, I think their time in artwork is over and most of them have to be accompagnied by texts (see our "reportages"). I believe that my emphatic and quiet style is very important for the activities of the models and the whole feeling on the set. I am not a despot.

I am often surprised and delighted, how creative, active and selfdriven the women are handling the situation on the set. Many ideas come from them quicker than from me. A great experience for both of us, exciting moments in which electricity is not only in the lamps or flashes but filling the whole location.

Each photo is not finished when it is done at the location. My finish is done in the studio and all photos are really finished in the head of the viewer.

Art has been in all times important for the disposition of the society and its ideas and feelings for normality. In all periods you find artists who were harmonising reality and others contradicting normal life. All in all, the latter were the more important ones. The same today. Artists should be people, who don't accept the public lies and predictions and who focuse in their genre on a better perspective for all human beeings.

P.: I, the devotee community, and hopefully the amputee community, can only thank you and encourage you to continue in this direction and surprise us with the quality of your work. If you think there might be valuable comments you want to add to this discussion, please feel free to do it.

G.: I have seen in your questions that it is very important for the future of our group to find continously the balance of words and pictures. The photos are international in a global sense, the texts are at the moment mostly restricted to the German speaking regions. It is difficult enough to find good answers for our topics in the mother tongue and we have often the feeling we are just at the beginning. Related to that it is then much more difficult to express our background in a foreign language.

This means that this interview which is in English was a big challenge and a great opportunity to switch to the lingua franca of our days and to explain my work in a foreign language. We face the danger of a lot of misunderstandings, but never mind. We know you and all our other friends being open for ongoing discussions and collaborative clearness step by step.

I would not like to finish without saying that the collaborative aspect was also driving these answers. They were created in a discussion with Franz, the other moderator of the Metamorphosis Gallery, done from the very beginning in English and not in German with an English translation.

July 2002


Note

In addition to the Metamophosis Gallery, Gehrard Aba has now open a website Photo Museum dedicated to his work when one can buy his pictures online.
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