Author, Cordu N'Diaye

@cordsandcalamity, Staff Writer
London

The beauty of Witte's photography exists in the shadows: the juxtaposition of presence and absence, of light and dark and the apposition of nature and illusion often supersede the sexualisation of the naked forms he captures.

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PhotographyBeautyFine ArtPortraitFashionArchitecture

His work is more than just nude art, there's a pervading sense of Witte's own scientific fascination interwoven in his prints and the precision with which he approaches the presentation of his work is minute and exacting. In several of his collections, such as 'Psyche', one can almost see Witte in the role of a morphologist, examining the structure, shape and form of his winged subjects before pinning them carefully behind glass for your observation. Surely, if you ever had any doubts that photography could be a scientific art, Carsten Witte will cure them. Born in Hamburg in 1964, Witte studied at the Bielefeld University of Applied Sciences and worked as an assistant to photographer Alfred Steffen before
opening his own studio as a freelancer in 1989. He's done editorials for Vogue, Spiegel, GQ, Harpar's Bazaar, Stern and Elle among others but Witte does not have designs on fashion photography. He cites a young fascination with female beauty as one of his major early inspirations and the alluring and charming nature of his relationship with this narrative is a stand out feature of his work. His subjects, though naked, are never crudely exposed. Their nakedness is always an element of a story, a conversation composed in part by the photographer and completed by the observer. Take 'Intuition' for example. A series of photographs featuring models with anatomical skull details
graphed over their facial features, published with the by-line 'everything must change.' Each subject is highlighted by a different manipulation of contrast, captured between life and death or, alternatively, embodied by both life and death. One wonders whether these photographs capture the fleeting nature of beauty (a constant theme of Witte's), the omnipresence of death or attempt to grasp the fading whispers of life. Are they optimistic or sorrowful, ghosts or beings? Like the shadows Witte presents a simple concept and the mystery behind it is yours alone to solve.
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The Interview

What makes the female form intriguing to you?

Knowing that behind every beautiful form lies a certain story, guessing what this beauty does to their life. My mom once told me that I, even at the young age of 3, turned my head around to beautiful women passing by and just admired them.
I guess this hasn´t changed a lot since then. It’s never been a sexual desire, just admiration of the beauty. And it’s still a surprise, every day, to find it as interesting as in the beginning. Sure, today its paired with the search for inner beauty, far away from prettiness.

How do you capture that intrigue in print?

I am just a spectator; I don´t direct them when I want to capture them. Just spending time, observing them and opening up myself so that they do the same. Reacting to the moment. I would describe it similar to a dance. Just beauty, me and the camera. And it still surprises me [to see] how it will turn out.

Some of your collections, including Diptychs and Psyche, examine the reproduction of female erotica in nature. Do you think we create eroticism or merely observe it?

It’s a combination of observing and recognizing. With these two ingredients I create what I do. The "Psyche" project visualizes my attempt to capture this beauty on film for the age when their living beauty has faded long ago. Call it a collection of trying to stop time and hold the moment. In addition, this story contains Greek mythology and scientific interest. The way I exhibit the images is the way butterflies are presented in museums or private collections. Each in a frame, pinned behind glass. The "Dyptichs" project dealt [with] alegorations and juxtapositions of female forms with plants and flowers. In colour, in texture and their different shapes. And in their way to become ashes someday.

There is a careful balance between light and dark in many of your photographs. What is hiding in the shadows?

The shadows are the home of your personal fantasy. I love to give the shade a lot of room for the spectator to guess what’s in there. I like to provide a puzzle, not a defined solution or answer.

You’ve produced editorial shots for the likes of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Maxim and Elle. Would you say the representation of beauty in fashion celebrates or confines the female form?

There is no final answer possible. There are so many different ways to present fashion. Personally, I am not interested in fashion, I don´t care if the model is wearing a certain brand. To me it’s about whether it suits a story I want to tell. I guess, I am no fashion photographer at all ;-)

You’ve been a photographer for 33 years. How do you find new ways of portraying the same subject?

Over all the last three decades it was always more than just the female beauty that moved me. I started with landscapes, still do them. Portraits, architecture and flowers have belonged to my portfolio since the beginning.

It’s the variety which never bores me. And combining all these topics. And to find the timelessness in all of it. I don´t find new ways, it’s just an evolution of myself reflecting my interests.

What can we look forward to from Carsten Witte?

I don´t know what will come next. I will travel a lot this year, working on my architectural "Deconstruction" project. Kuala Lumpur, Sydney and Lisbon are on my schedule till mid 2016. I will move forward to create unique artworks, installations, along with my very limited fine art editions.

What would you say has been the most important modern development in the evolution of photography?

[Photography] became even more "democratic", another step what Kodak called in the beginning of the 20th century: ‘You press the button, we do the rest.’ Digital photography, the success of smartphones, the increasing technical quality and the falling prices of professional equipment allows almost everybody to produce photographs. And the need for curators to filter this mass is today’s and tomorrow’s challenge.

What is eroticism?

Last but good question: No words for that, it happens....