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André Lichtenberg interview -

Alex: You grew up in Brazil and now live and work in the UK, how do your origin and your current surroundings influence your work and the imagery you decide to capture?

Lichtenberg: I was born in South Brazil, from a family of mixed European background. My grandparents were of German, Austrian and Portuguese descent. I grew up in Porto Alegre, a large city, and remember being attracted to architecture and the urban environment from an early age. We also had occasional trips to the seaside and hilly countryside and I really enjoyed those landscapes. My father used to draw romantic European scenes in a very realistic style - mostly rural landscapes involving alpine style mountains and lakes. We had some of his framed drawings decorating the house. The mixture of urban architecture and romantic landscapes influenced me. The question of identity and migration is subliminally represented in The Licht Series. On the surface, the images show unusual landscapes illuminated by the moonlight with a noticeable light intervention. However, those images can be described as autobiographical self-portraits where only my traces can be seen, as I keep moving invisibly inside the frame holding a torch during the exposure. The images represent moments of self-reflection, compositions looking south towards the same sea used by my ancestors in their long voyages and symbolising my place of origin. These days I work and live with my family in Brighton. I have created many large-scale studies of London, observing in great detail the history of the city, the evolution of its architecture and modern urban life. The London cityscapes are formal and mathematical, and I experiment with photography, illustration and drawing. Brighton and the British South Coast, on the other hand, are represented with a more spontaneous, abstract and poetic aesthetic.

Alex: In your bio you state that your “projects investigate childhood patterns and memories,” I wonder if you could explain what patterns and memories this is in reference to? And if you have one memory in general that you feel inspired your career?

Lichtenberg: The patterns I refer to are the drawings that I often did as a child. Drawings that were very architectonic in style and often depicting places from an aerial point of view. I used to draw buildings and cityscapes from a bird’s eye view point, as if I were on the roof top of a very tall building, or complex motorway junctions as seen from a helicopter. All very unusual, when I think about it, as at that point I’d never been on an airplane or on a skyscraper rooftop. There was a sense of precision in those pictures; an almost mathematical precision. Math was one of my favourite subjects in school. One memory that later turned out to be pivotal in my career happened shortly after photographing the Vertigo Series, while I was editing the work and trying to make sense of those aerial images of London. I stopped at an image called “Neon Blue”, and the memory of those 90 degrees, bird’s-eye view drawings came to my mind. Suddenly it clicked that I had recreated what I was sketching at the age of 7 or 8. I chose three images with the same exact perspective and sent them to the a few international photography competitions. The images were selected for awards on both sides of the Atlantic. They were exhibited widely, printed in books and people started asking about collecting them.

Alex: You studied Civil Engineering in Brazil before receiving two degrees in the Photographic arts from the University of Westminster, what caused the change? And how large of a role does science play in your work?

Lichtenberg: I studied Civil Engineering for three years at University, until I realized it wasn’t really my passion. I decided to have a gap year and travel to Europe with my girlfriend and see the world. After spending some time traveling through Europe, we settled in London and I began to get interested in photography. Initially, I enrolled on an evening course to learn black and white processing and dark room printing. I quickly fell in love with the medium. I then applied to study Photographic Arts at the University of Westminster in central London, but got offered a place in the Photographic Science degree instead (obviously due to my Engineering background). I was able to learn scientific theory and methods that I could later experiment with and express artistically. Later, I decided to further my education and spent another two years studying for a Masters in Photographic Arts. These days, I love to experiment and blend art and science in my projects. I am very curious about experimenting with new processes and combining the precision of science with the freedom of art.

Alex: There is definitely an evident evolution in your work from your first documented photo series “Full Moon” to “Within II” I was wondering if you could touch upon your inspirations for each?

Lichtenberg: The Full Moon Series is a landscape project, romantic in nature and inspired by my father’s fascination with the moonlight. He often wrote poems and philosophical letters describing the night landscape illuminated by the moonlight. Sometimes the letters referred to fantasy landscapes in his imagination, sometimes describing the actual view observed from his large front room window, near the top floor of a tall apartment building close to the city centre. That view was, in his words, an urban valley, and it was documented and illustrated in one artwork years later. The artwork is called “Floresta, Brahma”, and it is the first image from the Within Series made as a large scale digital collage. My father was in essence a poet, a philosopher and an artist. In real life, however, he was a working father who had to earn a living repairing clocks and watches with his two brothers in the old family business. Going back to the Full Moon Series, I created a mental rule that, whenever possible, during the full moon period, I would go out at night with my camera and tripod and drive or walk until I found a scene that feels somehow right. The Within Series is a very different project. It’s more researched, planned and mathematical. The series was inspired by my early drawings of cities observed from above, and also by memories of urban blackouts that often happened during my childhood while playing in the streets of Porto Alegre with my friends. However, the project uses a scientific methodology during the capture of the images and later in postproduction. The locations are researched in advance and the final image is captured in lots of photographs of architectonic details that are later used in the form of a digital collage to build the large scale artwork. The project is very much about the process and it takes around a month to get each cityscape finished.

Alex: You capture architecture from almost dizzying angles in your “Vertigo” series? Where are you as the photographer positioned when taking such daring photographs?

Lichtenberg: The Vertigo Series is a project created from the tallest rooftop in London Docklands in 2008. To achieve those angles, the camera had to be placed outside of the building and point 90 degrees down. My head and upper body had to be physically off the building for me to compose the shots, but my feet were firmly and safely touching the rooftop floor.

Alex: You work for publications such as the Sunday Times magazine, London, and Le Monde, Paris. Do these commissions influence your personal work at all? Or do you keep work and pleasure separate?

Lichtenberg: Very interesting question and I’ll give you a long answer to try to make my point. My passion for photography has always been connected to the world of fine art, with experimentation and a creative exploration of the medium, which is what inspired me to study it initially. However, after I finished my studies, I was signed by a London agency representing advertising and editorial photographers, and spent several years creating travel and life style images for international clients. It was a fun period with lots of travel to exotic locations, but somehow, I was not fulfilled creatively and kept generating personal projects whenever time allowed. Eventually, I was invited by an up and coming London gallery to exhibit the Vertigo Series in a three artist show in a pop up gallery in London Knightsbridge, during the week of the Frieze Arts Fair. The show was called “You Are Here” and was very successful, with many of my images ending up in important international collections. That period solidified my transition from commercial to fine art photography.

Alex: How do you construct the images from your “Within” series?

Lichtenberg: Technically, the artworks are created as a digital collage, details of the large scale scene are pasted from individual photos and adjusted until everything becomes seamless. The process is executed piece by piece, in a slow and crafty operation, similar to working on a large painting or drawing. Henri Cartier-Bresson once said: “Photography is an immediate reaction, drawing is a meditation” - that statement made so much sense in my head and is quite helpful when trying to explain my process. In my practice, I often flirt with painting and drawing techniques. So, the construction stage of the Within Series is more about meditation and self-reflection than a simple photographic reconstruction of the architecture. It is about going within myself, about becoming a child again; it’s about memory, the thought process and emotions that occur while revisiting the cities once again, in a more detached way. The construction stage takes several weeks and involves mainly working in close up sections of the city. It really feels like developing a large and complex drawing. An important aspect of the construction is that the number of photographs used determines the final size of each artwork. There’s no physical enlargement of the final image. Each individual photograph from the collage is processed and used at its actual size.

Alex: What is your post-production process? What role do modern imaging tools play in your photographs? And how long does it take to construct the final image?

Lichtenberg: My work’s postproduction can change radically from project to project. In the Licht Series, for example, there’s basically no postproduction at all. The images are purely created in camera. Those images were photographed using very long exposures in remote locations illuminated by the moonlight. In a very basic description of the process: the camera is placed on a tripod, the image is composed and focussed, I calculate the exposure time and start a timer and the shutter. Then I walk within the area of the composed frame holding a small portable light creating a light intervention. When the timer buzzes, I manually switch off the camera’s shutter, and if I’m lucky the image is finished. It’s a very experimental and intuitive process. In the Within Series, on the other hand, postproduction plays a major role in the final image. The cityscapes in that project normally take about one hour to be photographed and about a month to be created in post-production. I like to use modern imaging tools to learn, experiment with and push the boundaries of contemporary photography. However, I also do believe that one can create any kind of imagery with old analogue equipment too. Ultimately, it is not about the equipment, it’s about the concept, the idea, the vision, the execution and or the process.

Alex: You have been the recipient of several international Prizes & Awards such as the (Aesthetica Art Prize, Renaissance Photography Prize and AOP Awards, to name a few) and exhibited around the world including: Museu da Republica (Rio de Janeiro - Brazil), Centro Cultural Sao Paulo (Brazil), London Photographers Gallery & Barbican Centre (London), how does it feel to have your work praised and exhibited in such prestigious art spaces?

Lichtenberg: It’s always an honor to be exhibited in prestigious spaces. I’ve been lucky to have had my work recognized and accepted in international awards relatively early in my career, starting when I was a student in London. That can really help one’s motivation and confidence when producing new work, as well as opening new doors, but ultimately it leads to the work being seen by a larger audience, which is very important. As an artist, you sometimes spend a lot of time on your own creating work that you believe is strong, but you’re somehow unsure of how other people will respond. Having your work accepted for an award or curated in an important show is such a fantastic opportunity. Recently, I had an image from the Licht Series used to promote the IRCAM/Centre Pompidou Festival exhibited as a 3 meters’ tall poster outside the Centre Pompidou square in Paris. It felt like one of my biggest achievements so far

Alex: Are you working on any new series you would like to tempt our readers with?

Lichtenberg: I am currently exploring with some night moonlit landscapes using a process similar to the Within Series. In simple words, I’m capturing night scenes in several photographs and later reconstructing them in the studio to achieve just one highly detailed large scale image. The concept is similar to the Within Series, but the execution is very different. The passage of time is more apparent here, as each individual photograph to be used in the construction of the larger scene is a long exposure. The process is challenging, experimental and somehow scientific, as it requires methodology both during capture and reconstruction. So far, the final images are incredibly rich in tonal range and detail, and yet hold a dreamy and painterly quality. I am very happy with the first results. I look forward to create more and have them exhibited sometime in the New Year.



André Lichtenberg portrait

Andre Lichtenberg’s images have a unique aesthetic quality created by his combining of dreamlike childhood memories with a highly technical and precise working practice. His artworks are either made using long exposures under the moonlight or constructed in his studio from hundreds of detailed architectonical photographs.

As a child André spent a lot of time experimenting with perspective drawing - his favourite subjects were art and maths. At university, Lichtenberg studied Civil Engineering, Photographic Science and a Masters in Photographic Studies. His landscapes and architectural images are often inspired by those early childhood memories and carefully crafted into artworks using techniques that fluctuate between science and art. His current project, Within Series, has been awarded two grants by the Arts Council England, selected for the Aesthetica Art Prize in the UK and exhibited as a major solo show in Brazil.

André Lichtenberg was born in 1964 in Porto Alegre, Brazil and currently lives and works between London and Brighton UK. He has worked with publications such as the Sunday Times (London) and Le Monde (Paris). His images have been recognised with several international prizes and awards including the Aesthetica Art Prize, Renaissance Photography Prize and AOP Awards, and exhibited in prestigious art spaces, including the Museu da Republica (Rio de Janeiro - Brazil), Centro Cultural Sao Paulo (Brazil), The Photographers Gallery and the Barbican Centre (London). In 2015, Lichtenberg was invited to collaborate with the Centre Pompidou/IRCAM in Paris, having one of his artworks from the Licht Series illustrating the cover of the festival catalogue as well as a three metre print displayed outside the famous Parisian building and square. His images can be found in numerous international private and corporate collections.


Dialogues With Great Photographers - Chapter 30

Photographer: André Lichtenberg
Interviewer: Alex LoRe