The first series of photographs by Daniel Gebhart de Koekkoek, which I saw was “Tiroler Abend”. At first the story made me smile. Idyllic performances of Tyrolean folklore in the Sandwirt Restaurant in Innsbruck. Pictures of people in national costumes preoccupied with playing and dancing. The background consists of naively painted mountain tops. The candlelight makes the shadows of the dancers look demonic. No smiles on their faces. They are focused, as if the music is just a pretext for a more important mission with unclear and secret purpose. Every moment something can happen. Something that has nothing to do with the folklore event. Tension, mystery and national costumes. The viewer perceives the dancers as heroes of a cult. I was almost convinced that in the last frame the ghosts from Twin Peaks will appear. Of course this did not happen… The cinematography of these photographs is truly amazing. A very simple story that introduces a maze of smaller stories with a mystical ending.
The cycle probably brings back some memories of Daniel Gebhart de Koekkoek. He was actually born in the Tyrol but now he lives and works in Vienna.
Then, I spontaneously decided to meet with Daniel. The motives of our meeting were vague - like those of the dancing and playing Tyrolean “puppets”. I was curious to see the man who succeeded through a few frames to suggest such a cinematic impression.
We talked on the phone and we arranged to have coffee. Then we decided to eat because we were both hungry. Daniel met me in front of the restaurant with a bandage on his hand. I understood it was an injury from skating. And that’s funny because instead of talking about photography, we started discussing injuries. I shared my experience with fractures of hands. And that turned out not the only thing in common between us. Daniel likes my favorite music as well - Koudalm, Leitstrahl, Wolfram, Twin Shadow, Fever Ray, Arcade Fire, Herbert Pixner...
I asked him about his work and his latest project.
“I have a hard time working on free projects because I’m also a self employed full time photographer and try to make a living out of it. So it’s not easy to concentrate and work on free projects on the side. But I have many great assignments and I’m working hard to get in contact with good clients and magazines who approach me for interesting topics that fulfill my desire for shooting real projects.
Recently I spent a few days in the mountains of Italy to photograph a small town called Viganella. They put a mirror on top of their highest mountain to reflect sunlight to their town. Without that mirror they would not be able to get any direct sunlight for about 80 days per year. It was a great story with many nice pictures and a lot of interesting people we met. Sadly ‘brand eins’ refused to publish the story because it was told in another way they expected it to be. But ‘Datum’ will bring it maybe as a nice photo essay in a few months.”
He told me that recently he had shot series for MQ, and I wonder how he dealt with only one hand. Daniel smiled and made me realize that was not a problem for him. He’s been through far more extreme things. Later on while discussing his pictures of California and Nevada, he told me about a terrible night in the Death Valley.
“During a trip through Death Valley we got stuck in the sand after not thinking about any consequences and only raced as fast as possible to the dune to get a picture before the sun went down. In the middle of nowhere we spent a night walking in the dark between rattle snakes, looking for some civilization. The next day we walked the other direction and met a farmer by accident who took us into the next town. 911 was not working this night in that area because of a technical breakdown. Anyhow we survived and also took our shots of the big dune. “
That big dune is a part of the cycle “The days off”. In this series, very ordinary landscapes from different parts of the world become a heroic painting - beautiful, but scary in the timelessness and tranquility in which they are sunk. Lonely mountains, sea shores and areas of human activity, which seemed to have survived after a mysterious, global catastrophe. The light is unusual and intense.
There are of course people, but they are extras - “stuck” on the landscape. Our free days are presented as a trip to the secrets of the everyday life. There is a neo-romantic side of all this. Daniel felt that I definitely like this type of photography and decided to formulate its essence.
“A friend once described his feeling to my body of work like the silence before the storm.”
For him, the shooting locations are very important. I wonder where he feels best when he works.
“I would really love to photograph people in white hot springs and geyser water in Iceland. The light must be amazing to photograph in Iceland. I’m a big Scandinavia fan and have to fly to Iceland soon. And about people I would like to photograph - I would enjoy to photograph Björk while being over in Iceland. But before that I’ll fly to Finland this summer and spend a few days at a small house on the lake. “
It’s interesting to understand what inspired him.
“I spend a lot of my spare time looking at other photographers’ work. It often does frustrate and motivate me at the same time. Also I enjoy to collect photography books and prints of photographers I admire. But since I shoot for magazines a lot I also look at many magazines and can spend hours in book / magazine stores. And of course I get a lot of inspiration from good movies and reportages on TV. “
Daniel likes to do portraits. People in his pictures are in direct interaction with the environment which they are photographed in. On one hand he is not seeking dramatic confrontation between the person and his world. On the other hand – he does not like too much narrative and illustration. The paradox is that everything is logical and at the same time seems very unusual.
For example in “Inemuri” - a series about businessmen as they practice “Inemuri”, a soft sleep or sleeping whilst being present. It is a socially accepted practice and is respected in Japanese working culture.
“Pillow Fight” is another series in New York during a mass pillow fight. The “heroism“ of this series claims to be a document of an important public event which of course contrasts with the nature of the game. This photo-reportage makes the fight with pillows into a document-monument.
Daniel summed it up:
“My work is somewhere inbetween reportage and portrait. I’m very curious and love to get to know new people and cultures. Mostly I like real and grounded personalities. I would rather like to take a portrait of a nice farmer than a famous rockstar. So the repetitive themes could be: real, grounded, hearty, everyday life. “
He likes to do portraits, and to my question: “Still life or Portrait?”, he said:
“Portraits. But in portraits I prefer still life.”