Made in Germany - An Interview with Lothar Troeller


By Robert A. Schaefer, Jr.



Robert Schaefer: Have you always been interested in art?  What got you specifically into photography?
 
Lothar Troeller: When I was 7 I got my first “own” Agfa 35mm camera and I started taking pictures of my family. I also inherited my grandfather’s self-constructed darkroom equipment (magnifier with a condenser lens under a wooden light box) and then I used a 3x4 camera for glass negatives as the lens and printed even more beautiful portraits. I was inspired by the pictures my father took with a Voigtlaender Bessamatic SLR on our family vacations to the Alps and other European countries and the albums he prepared in leather bindings.

RS: Tell me about your background.
 
LT: I was born in Aachen, Germany, and graduated with a Masters in teaching music, math and photography. This led to taking workshops/ lectures with Helmut Newton, and a letter exchange with Henry Cartier–Bresson. A couple of years ago I discovered what I thought was a pattern in Cartier–Bresson’s pictures. He has in a lot of his pictures people or objects grouped in pairs, like two swimmers in a lake, people walking in pairs etc. I wrote him about this and asked if he intentionally chooses his pictures accordingly. I wrote him and said to myself, let’s see what happens. He wrote back: “I can see, I can watch, I can tell stories, but I can’t count.” This was his humor, and the humor you see in his pictures.

RS: When did you come to the United States for the first time?
 
LT: I came at Christmas in 2000 to visit the photographer Linda Troeller who later became my wife. We had met before at the Summer Art Academy 2000 in Salzburg, and I adored her as a teacher and photo artist. I made good progress with my photograph projects in her class. She asked the class if anyone would like to participate in her new project on the “Erotic Lives of Men”. I was the only one who volunteered… In the class I was in a role-play with another person on the topic and then she and Marion Schneider, the writer doing interviews, took me to the Alps area and photographed me in a session where I showed how I felt about my first and strongest erotic experiences. I felt comfortable with Linda shooting me naked and it was exciting. I stayed on a couple of days longer so I could meet Linda when she had extra time and took her to the Hotel Sacher for their famous breakfast and Sacher torte (cake).  She had invited the class to come by her studio in NYC if we ever visited, and I asked her if she meant it. She said yes and also suggested that I might assist her when she had her next assignment in Germany. So, the following Christmas I emailed her that I would be visiting NYC during my vacation. She arranged to pick me up at the airport and for me to stay with her assistant, Derek.  She also invited me to a number of photo gallery openings and to her favorite photo collections around the city.
 
RS: At that time did you think you would ever live here on an on-going basis?
 
LT: I got involved with Linda and looked for a job.  However, in the summer of 2001 I read an article in the New York Times about the teacher shortage in NYC and since I have a German masters in math, I thought it would be worth investigating. This led me to apply in Vienna for the Fulbright, and I was chosen.

RS
: Do you see your photography as being German?
 
LT: Yes. In the German school of photography there is a cleanliness of style and distance from emotion that has influenced me. It is still evident in my initial approach to subjects, but I now have added an intimacy of vision which I learned from Linda
 

RS: Which artists, photographers, painters, etc. have influenced your work?
 
LT: Henry Cartier–Bresson, Helmut Newton, Wolfgang Tillmans and my wife, Linda with whom I studied at the Summer Art Academy in Salzburg, Austria.
From Bresson I was influenced to shoot only black and white for the first twenty years. Tillman’s inspires me to push further in combining the everyday world with still life interpretations. From Linda I learned to put more emotion into a picture…

 
RS: Has living in New York made your work American in any way?
 
LT: Not yet.  However, there is so much diversity in America, an opportunity to combine some of these cultural influences in my work may be just around the corner…
 

RS: What do you feel has been the main influence on your work by living in New York and/or the United States?

LT: I am more exposed to technology here than I was in Germany. I have learned a lot from attending the PhotoPlus East events at the Javits Center and enjoy utilizing the newest digital camera equipment and up-to-date software programs.
 

RS
: Your wife Linda Troeller is a well-known photographer.  Is it difficult to have your partner involved in the same art form as yourself?

LT: No. We inspire each other and give feedback on ongoing projects. We are not rivals, rather companions.
 

RS: What is easy about your life together?
 
LT: We attend the same festivals. We enjoy each other’s openings at galleries and we have the chance to share projects.
 

RS
: You live at the Chelsea Hotel.  Has this had any influence on your work?

LT: Through living here with Linda I have had the good fortune to make a lot of new friends and receive invitations into the art world.

RS: What is currently happening with your work and what are your future plans?
 

LT: I am working on the Linda Book which I have shot for the past five years. I brought my edit to the Portfolio Review in Arles this year where I received some useful critiques. What I learned there was to show my own personal view. I have ended up with two types of expressions...one is “about Linda” and the other is “about my intimate view of Linda”.  I am in that stage of evolution that is very tough to break through, but on the other side is where ‘the work’ is solidified and my thumbprint sits on it.  I know I am close as a curator from Brazil working on a photo festival to feature, “Family and Relationships” asked me to send the Linda project when it is finished.


Robert A. Schaefer, Jr. is a founding member of Photoworkshop.com, and has been a fine-art photographer for over thirty years. His work is displayed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York as well as the Bibliothéque Nationale in Paris, France. In 1999—2000 he had a 25-year retrospective of his work at the Huntsville Museum of Art in Huntsville, Alabama, his home state. His exhibition, Two Sides of the Coin—which deals with his German family and the Holocaust—was held at the DeFrog Gallery in Houston, TX in March, April and May as a part of Fotofest.  Currently he is part of a group exhibition called “Amendicons,” which looks at the crisis in the Middle East.  It was at the Makor Gallery, and opened on Thursday, September 8th at the Haven Art Gallery in the Bronx, NY (www.amendicons.blogspot.com). Schaefer writes about photography for Double Exposure, Fotophile Magazine in New York City and The Photo Review in Pennsylvania. He has taught at The New School and given workshops at Pratt Institute in New York and is currently on the faculty at New York University.

You can contact Robert Schaefer at rasjrpro@earthlink.net or visit his website at www.schaeferphoto.com.