Yoram Roth from CAMERA WORK speaks to PHOTOFAIRS

© YORAM ROTH, Emilie at the Wall. Courtesy of CAMERA WORK (Berlin)

CAMERA WORK gallery specializes in contemporary photography and vintage masterworks since its founding in 1997. Whether using fine art photography, narrative sketches or photo book projects, Roth's artistic approach is strongly conceptual and requires a comprehensive, thorough and precise process in the preparation for each work.

What brought you to photography?

I studied photography at Fordham, but I only returned to it after I had achieved success in business.

Can you talk us through the process that goes into shooting a series of work?

It usually takes me a while to really understand what a series is about. I begin shooting a certain style, and after about six months I see where the work is actually taking me. 
When I plan a shoot, I start with a mood board of images that I find in books, on the internet, or in museums. I have creative meetings with my team wherein we draw sketches for the images I want to try to shoot. From these sketches, we build the sets. I select the models, and I schedule my team including a stylist and hair & makeup person for the shoot. On the shooting days, I compose the shot and set the lighting, but do talk to the models about what we are trying to achieve. We try to shoot the picture that we originally sketched, but I only consider those starting points. Where we end up is usually driven by a creative dynamic between the model and myself. I find the best shots are a creative synergy between everyone on set.

What are you currently working on?

I’m working on a parametric series, which gives photography a whole other dimension. It’s about combining traditional nude photography with modern architectural concepts. While the Brutalism series was an exploration of the human form within Brutalistic set elements, I have extended the photograph with architectural elements in the parametric series. If you look at the work of Zaha Hadid or Santiago Calatrava, you discover shapes that wouldn’t have been possible 20 years ago, because they’re based on complex computing algorithms. 
In the parametric series, I use such technology to build my sets, and then I create the image. But rather than simply making a print, I actually use modern 3D-printing technology and CnC forming robots to create sculptural pieces that integrate the elements from the actual sets. The finished piece goes beyond the photograph, goes beyond the image and becomes an object. 
The sculptural aspect of the work requires an additional layer of thinking about form and composition and lighting because of its expanded spatial relationship to the viewer. I’m fascinated by technology, and along with some of the contemporary approach, I try to revisit spatial concepts set forth by Paolo Scheggi and Lucio Fontana. Those are all big names to reference, but that’s where I’m finding inspiration these days.

That production process must be very special. Can you explain that a little?

For the Brutalism series that I showed in Shanghai over the last two years, I printed on two different types of material (acrylic and paper) and have them set within steel frames around specific crops of the images. 
For the Parametric series, I create a three-dimensional surface that is actually a continuation of what is in the images. The pictures are still framed in metal, but not steel anymore. Now I use aluminum with black chrome. The key difference is the ultra-high density foam that gets shaped using by production robots. 

You do not work in editions. Can you speak to why you only produce unique works?

Well, the idea of working in editions arose out of the fact that there were limited prints available from late photographers, so it became a kind of way to set prices for living photographers by limiting them. Simply put, in the 1970s people started collecting prints from photographers who worked in the 1920s. But they were dead or had stopped working, so there were a limited number of prints still available. Then the first color artists started making multiple versions, but they were still very hands-on in the process. They actually made their own prints in dark rooms. Artists like Warhol also made multiple versions. It was a commentary on the earliest form of the commercial-mechanical revolution. Products were being made by machines in large numbers, why not the art as well? 
But now we just do it in the photo world because it’s become a tradition. There is no real reason for it. In a medium that is reproducible, it is an arbitrary way to create value. If you can simply hook up a computer to a good printer and crank out another copy, where is the art in that? So every artist needs to make a choice and decide why and how much they will reproduce their own work. 
The production process, time, and costs for my work are such that they are not easy to reproduce. I create unique pieces. There is real value in that. 

What excites you about being in Shanghai?

I think China is incredibly exciting in terms of the development and boom that is going on. Shanghai is particularly sexy because of its flourishing art scene. There are substantial cultural differences, and I find that people look at my work with fresh eyes here. I am successful in Europe because viewers recognize the work within the context of art history and the treatment of the nude figure. Some of my earlier work was an homage to the Baroque or drew on poses from Pre-Raphaelite painting. But Chinese viewers aren’t affected by that, they see very different things in my work. That is really exciting.