Encapsulated Memory Souvenirs: An Interview With Reinfried Marass

Reinfried Marass, born in Vienna, Austria, in 1960, has cultivated a culturally rich existence, brimming with anecdotes of worldly adventures. Erudite and refined, his mission in life revealed itself as photography, classic photography, seizing beauty and clarity through a monochrome hue. Brought up in a nearby town, Neulengbach, famous - or infamous - painter Egon Schiele lived and worked there with muse, Wally.

I attended primary school next to the courthouse, and I remember very well when the class was brought over to the tiny Schiele Cell - a cell that still exists and still serves as a small Schiele museum. If you like, you can call this my first contact with the arts. Although I've to confess, at the age of seven years or so, I had no idea what our teacher was talking about!

The following decade, I was in a type of engineering high school, but, on the side, I always tried to find something fancier to waste life. I was looking out for an activity that didn't carry the label of a 9 to 5 job, something that wasn't classed as 'work' - more like some fun to bring you over the day.

And a definite anti-9 to 5 pathway? A career in sound, where, at around 14 years old, an image of a guitar hero whirred around Reinfried's conscious, along with the tempting lyrics, 'money for nothing and chicks for free'. However, a music teacher equipped with a blunt nature eventually attested that he had no skill, zilch, zero in music or rhythm, and the fantasy vanished as quickly as it had arrived.

Later, at the age of 17 years, I discovered writing; I thought that I may have a talent for it. I wouldn't have been the greatest word-slinger, but perhaps a good storyteller. Some people still agree with that today, at least. But parents usually try to get you into some bread-and-butter, something safer so that you can earn some serious money. So my writing wasn't supported as an idea for a career.

School was out forever at 18, and three impatient months necessitated bridging until the army would call him in. So, what does a young man ready and willing to see the world do? Hitchhike his way down to Egypt and Sudan to sample the scorching climate and the wonders of the African continent: that should suffice.

In Central European regions, you mostly have to chase images by driving and walking around and around, spending hours and days thinking about what could be a nice photo. Streetlife is boring: nothing happens; thus, you find yourself capturing churches and castles and landscapes and lonesome trees and other pretty boring postcard-like stuff, just to delete them later again. African countries are more inspiring in a visual way and images must not be forced - they simply are there and jump up right in front of your cam; be on alert and ready to hit the shutter.

Photography did not strike gold with the inquisitive traveller, and he did not bother to take a camera with him as he had no interest in the subject. Some of the frames, although never taken by himself - are still etched firmly in his head. Upon his return, his interest was stimulated, instilling freedom for Marass to tell stories. Not in words, but with pictures: visual tales.

For the first few years, photography was a hobby, and I was mainly focused on my career as an engineer. In the end, my early images didn't survive; years later, all my dia-positives were burned by my ex-wife. The art market discovered photography as art. Ok, there's still a dispute about if photography can be art, but it doesn't matter much because it is now possible to make a living by selling photographic work as fine art prints; this ignited me to go pro.

In the period before, photography was mainly a job, and to gain money one had to work on an assignment. Strictly speaking, one got paid for the time involved, not for the photographic result. Now, it is similar to other creative genres. And I can do - in a photographic sense - what I want when I want where I want and how I want. Sounds good, but it comes with the drawback that you never know if you will make money.

He perceives himself as a photographer rather than an artist, maintaining that the word art in itself can sometimes intimidate people on the street. Self-taught, he does not believe that photography can be learnt in schools. It's inside you or not. That's it. Maybe this is valid for some other creative genres: technicalities can be developed, but true creativity comes from the heart.

If awarding labels, our head-strong chap selects 'traditional'; he produces still photographs with an analogue touch in a digital world. His process of image-making is still the same, yet some tools have changed, especially in post-processing.

The darkroom now is digital, and it is easier to alter an image. Not always an advantage because, very often, it is overdone. Of course, I have to use computers- there is no other way to develop digital shots - but I do not use software to manipulate or fake them, or to camouflage a lack of skills.

In the long run, you can not camouflage lack of talent with software, filters, or other technical gadgets. Sooner or later, it all comes back to the basics of photography and image-making, or photographic seeing. Call it whatever you like. The one and only filter where people never seem to get tired of might be black and white. A photograph must reflect the truth - this is the unwritten contract between the photographer and the viewer. Credible. No lies. No fakes. Pure, raw and honest.

Reinfried sampled many cameras and numerous lenses and, when starting, decided that he must own large quantities of them - ranging from super wide up to mega-telelenses - preparing for any shooting in any situation that arises. However, it didn't take long for him to wise up and recognise shots were gone with the wind before all the gear was out of its bag.

I guess it is a necessary process one must walk through to find out that all this stuff doesn't assist one in taking good photographs. Quite the contrary, it distracts you. Today I prefer to work the most with a simple Leica rangefinder camera with a 35mm lens attached. Fewer buttons, fewer lenses - less equipment at all - and one can focus on the most important thing: to box this damned little picture.

The best camera is the one at hand when needed - not the shiny one kept at home on the shelf. Small equipment assists in that. Before a photograph can be discussed, something crucial must happen: the image has to be in the box! A lot of functions are the direct opposite of functionality. Simple operation supports this task. Therefore I prefer to work with minimal equipment. Then I can keep my focus on the subject in front of the camera.

It was not a step back but rather a step in the right direction. By seeing, scanning and framing the world around himself and focusing on a single lens range, Reinfried ends up with fewer photos taken but is rewarded with more keepers. Less is more. Otherwise, he can overcharge himself by thinking about what lens and crop will be the best for the frame; he admits that he is no longer a slave to getting it all.

He bases his photography on two processes. The first: Visualisation, where he develops an idea, and the photograph is complete in his head before it is captured.

You then assemble all the pieces necessary to set it up and shoot it. Doing so, you do not take a picture of something that's already there; you create it. In that way, the result is staged; you have modelled it. This process takes a lot more time, effort, preparation and therefore is more demanding, but the result is more rewarding for the photographer because it is more creative. And you can express whatever you want, just like a painter who is free to show on the canvas whatever comes to mind.

His second and diverging method is to let the image find him, as seen by the lens. Walk around, be on alert, be able to observe and be open-minded. Let the image find him. Snipe and snap and run. A stand-up example of this is street and travel and landscape photography.

You can not create and stage a landscape by adding some mountains, lakes and dunes. It already has to be there. A painter can, but as a photographer, you have to follow some optical and physical laws. Sounds a little bit less effortless compared to Visualisation, but you have to bring yourself to spots with interesting motives, which is the real challenge in this process.

I did take classic cars a lot. Too much. My portfolio is car heavy, and one might think I'm an automotive photographer. I always have been in touch with classic cars due to my engineering background. I do automotive photography mainly because I've brilliant access to it. And because they are a great makeup for females (or vice versa?) Classic cars and beautiful women - the beauty and form of the classic car, complemented by an equally beautiful woman.

Female grace, beauty and lifestyle combine with timeless cars to create images that are sensual with an atmosphere of the golden era of movies to imply a sense of elegance and mystery. In my photographic work, women add fragrance and spice, a slice of life, and storytelling. They add a touch of style and beauty, drive you back to past automotive eras. I frame women, not automobiles - women are the allure that vintage cars accentuate.

Initially, he worked in colour photography only, with no interest in black and white: it seemed outdated. Why use it when the colour photo carried so much more information? He familiarised himself with image composition as time moved on, overlaying both processes mentioned before, becoming one of the basics of his practice.

The positioning and relationship of points, lines and areas are influenced by the German Bauhaus and Wassily Kandinsky's rules from point to line to plane. Beyond that, to some extent, I use Fibonacci Harmonic Levels for composition. By reducing a photograph to black and white, the eye can easier catch the formal composition - it is not distracted by colour and, therefore, too much information.

Sometimes black and white are unbearably poignant. Colour is employed to cheer up sad souls, separate forms, open up perspectives and break the clasping of lines that are too close together. Marass' promotes colour to be the main subject in rare moments but feels that black and white fine art print is neutral to match any interior; artwork with a dominant colour has a selective air.

I do not strive for the perfect image. I prefer ones with some imperfections; they are more simpatico. Perfection is boring and dishonest if we believe that photography reflects life, so my elusive favourite photo would be slightly imperfect - this shot covers it at best.

A photographer, Reinfried states, should be able to interchange categories, not concretely mastering one style becoming recognisable - for themselves or viewers - winding up stagnant in the process. A photographer should remain unpredictable and promise suspense.

I value artists and photographers who can cover various genres over the ones who do the same things again and again. In my opinion, any good photographer should be able to shoot a landscape as good as fashion, as good as sports or action, as good as street scenes. Whatsoever. A photographer should be able to tell a story in a single frame or via a photo essay. Doing work in colour or in black and white, whatever the Sujet calls.

Shooting editorials is equivalent to professional work on an assignment or producing commercial work alongside artsy projects utilise the same methods that a photographer can adapt. For me, a particular style does not exist - just photography. In art, Picasso is a good example: he initiated or adapted his work to most art movements of his era. In photography, the astonishing work of Ernst Haas could be mentioned as he fulfilled many requirements noted above.

Article by Beverley Knight