By Michael Bachhofer
Archival Pigment print
Michael Bachhofer lives and works in Vienna, Austria.
How did you get into photography? Are you self-trained or did you study?
I started when I was a child; I do not really remember when exactly it was, but I remember my first camera; it was a Kodak Instamatic; it is still waiting for me in my cupboard in my parents' house, but... Later when I was 13 I got my first SLR - a Chinon - with which I also did my first macros by putting a plastic tube I found in my father's workshop between the camera and the lens. Then years and years went by where I do not remember what exactly happened but there are around a hundred photo magazines in the attic from this time period. As soon as I started studying I engaged in scientific photography and during this time I also started doing panoramas and IR photography - both analogue. My fist university photo course was at the institute for technical physics at the Graz University of Technology. This was no fun, but I learned some very basic but crucial things about photography. Later at the University of Vienna I did photo courses in biology - very technical - and in social and cultural anthropology, much based on analogue laboratory work. Robert Davis was my first teacher who pushed me in ways of aesthetics. I have to mention the courses I took at the TU-Wien from Christine Hohenbüchler, Inge Manka and Otto Mittmansgruber. I always wanted to study arts, but those courses where the trigger to really do it. Especially Otto´s course about conceptual photography 'flashed me' and formed what I´m doing now. I never took any photography courses at the Angewandte, but made huge improvements during my time at the Tokyo University of the Arts.
What are you looking for when you step out into the day or night with your camera?
I normally do not carry a camera with me if I do not already know how a photo should look like. Sometimes but seldom I take a camera out for experiments - when I had an Idea but do not really know if it will be possible to put it into reality. Typically I already know what I want and how it should look when I take the camera with me. But most of my work is done in my lab.
Do you impose any technical limits when you’re taking photographs? For example, do you shoot in a special format, or limit yourself to black and white, or colour? Why?
No, I try to get off limits. I´m limited quite a lot by physics, for most of my projects, especially in micro photography, so I do not need any artificial limits.
Are your photographs shot in an instant or slowly composed?
Sometimes I do it intuitively and very fast. I imagine something and I know or feel how it needs to be done and normally this works out quite well. I call this the Kendo or Ki effect. Still, some of these photos take weeks until they are finished. But during this time I already know how it will look and that it will work out. I´m calm and the whole process is like being in trance or meditation.
Other works are a struggle where I need to fight for every small part of it's aesthetics. I have something that one could call an Idea, but I fight with it until I know it is finished or at least I´m on the right track. I know this when I find myself staring at the photo for several minutes instead of doing any work. In these moments I cannot work. It is like falling in love with the photo, so I want to spend time with it and I do not want to share attention with anything else. I´m completely attracted to it. This also happens with those Ki effect photos and more or less with all photos that I show publicly.
How has new technology affected the way you work?
Without new technology most of my work would not be possible at all, but I always try to connect the traditional with the new.
If I would start to explain how new technology is employed to overcome physical problems in my photos it might take the rest of the day, or even more. I´m quite technology based and dependent, but photography always was.
What is distinctive about your approach? What is the link/theme between your photographs?
I come from systems analysis and modelling where we combined different views of several experts into one model. This is what I´m doing now within arts. I combine hundreds or thousands of photos to form something more 'holistic'.
I try to perceive something that normally cannot be perceived and by perceiving it perception itself will be changed. At least for me it works. I guess that everybody who ever has seen one of my huge butterfly wings would perceive butterflies and perhaps everything else differently.
What is distinctive in my approach? Hm.., I create photos that normally cannot be done or where the observer or photographer needs to occupy or take a specific position that normally is impossible. That pushes the border of reality. I´m an explorer.
I do not think that there is anyone else who takes and later combines tens of thousands of photos into a single picture. My biggest project so far was called 'Every Second Second'. I took a photo every second second on my trip from Vienna to Tokyo. I went by train and ship, so in the end more than five hundred thousand photos were taken.
There is always a hint about the story of production that can be seen in my photos. So the photographs document themselves - to a certain degree at least. This normally leads into a moment of ugliness that is very important. I don´t produce perfect images although at first glance they might seem to be.
Are you more drawn to interior or exterior spaces? Why?
Depends, but in the last two years most of the time I spend in my lab. I need a constant environment for my photo micrographs. An average photo consists of let's say 10.000 single shots and it takes about 5-7 days just to shoot them. Some take one or two months until they are finished. Such things are not possible outside a lab. But I´m constantly developing technologies that might help me to do my photos faster and to do them outside. I love those photos that I create outside, because they give a sense of freedom. Sometimes I feel quite imprisoned in my lab.
What is the sense of space you want to convey in your photographs?
I don´t know if I´m in a position where I try to convey space. I guess that I more or less explore space for myself. Space - time interrelations is one of my main topics, perhaps not in recent work, but it is something that is always in my mind. I´m interested in how time transforms or better forms space - for instance in 'Hidden World'. Another thing is small space. When do we start talking about space? When does an area, like a butterfly wing, become space? How small can something be photographed to still perceive space.
Please describe where you live. What inspires you visually about the place?
I live in a flat share in the heart of Vienna where I have two small rooms, one for sleeping, the other one is my lab. I just have one room and have slept in my lab until about half a year ago, because I have needed the direct and permanent connection to my work, but one gets insane in such a situation. Sometimes I only slept when my body completely broke down and I constantly had the feeling that I wasn't working enough because I never could separate myself from work.
Now I do not have any photos or images in my sleeping room, just a few plants, my stereo, a hammock - that's mainly it. My plan was to have no unwanted influence on my thoughts and visions. On the other hand, my lab or studio is packed with all my stuff that is not in the storage. Lots of technical stuff, cameras, computers, boxes, cables, tools, paper,... I don´t know what else - an empty baroque frame on the wall and one of my favourite works 'La Vie the Boehme' a work I constructed out of Aki Kaurismäki´s movie, which is still packed and waiting for hanging. I guess the golden baroque frame is quite important as an inspiration, but I do not really know.
Have you received any awards for your work?
No, not until now. Perhaps the problem is that I do not apply too often for such things. I was nominated for an award for my masters project.
Have you had any major influences in developing your photographic style? What other artists (visual or otherwise) and photographers have inspired you?
I´m not sure if I could say they influenced my style, because there where many more, but artist like Jan Dibbets, John Hilliard, David Hockney and Jeff Wall besides others, definitely had a great impact on my photographic work. It sounds a little bit awkward to name those very famous ones, but I really do appreciate and love their work, although it doesn't totally satisfy me and that´s why I do my own.
Are there any websites/magazines that you look at for inspiration? Do you visit galleries – if so, which ones and why?
There are no specific websites that I look at for inspiration but I´m spending quite a lot of time in the internet doing research when I start a new project. Most of my inspiration comes from movies. I love watching movies. I´m a movie freak I guess. Some of them I watched more than 20 times. I believe that movies also influence the aesthetics I use for my photos.
Besides I also like to go to museums, but I very rarely do it. It is similar with galleries. I normally never go to openings. I´m a shy person and I´m afraid of situations where there are more than five or seven persons.
Do you associate with any particular movements/collectives contemporary photography?
No. We tried to form some kind of 'ArtScienceSociety', and I still try, but it is difficult. The plan was to form a collective of artists, scientists, philosophers and interested persons. We do meet, we talk, we very seldom work on joined projects, but it somehow is not possible to form a real collective.
Besides, I do not see myself as a photographer. I see myself as an artist and scientist, and my main medium is photography. It is the one I feel most comfortable with in most cases, but I employ whatever is needed.
Do you ever work together with a writer on special projects?
Not really with writers, but this sounds very intriguing. Unfortunately I do not know any writers anymore. Where have they gone?
Besides of having graduated from the Tokyo University of the Arts in Art Anatomy and in Photography, and having graduated with distinction (MA June 2013) from the University of Applied Arts Vienna - Institute of Fine Arts and Media Arts, Department for Art & Science, Michael Bachhofer graduated and passed with distinction at the University of Vienna (Mag.rer.nat. equal to MSc in Biology / Ecology) and at the Graz University of Technology (in Electrical Engineering).
Selected exhibitions in museums and art institutions:
Stadtmuseum Neuoetting/Germany - Das Glück liegt auf der Straße -
Der Urbane Raum/Urban Space
University of Technology Vienna - Wunderkammer 2014 / Cabinet of curiosities 2014
Artos Foundation, Nicosia/Cyprus - X-Dream
Ausarten, Vienna - Das Exponential (during Vienna Art Week)
Künstlerhaus, Vienna - The Essence 13
[hu: fak off] space / Aula of the University of Applied Art Vienna - observation_1 (solo of kino_observateur)
Künstlerhaus, Vienna - The Essence 12
Kunstraum Wien Mitte, Vienna - Art & Science Ontologies
NHM (Naturhistorisches Museum Wien), Vienna - Vienna Art Week