Field Trip: a conversation with Martin Kollar

Field Trip: a conversation with Martin Kollar

In every act of looking there is an expectation of meaning. This expectation should be distinguished from a desire for explanation. The one who looks may explain afterwards; but prior to any explanation, there is the expectation of what appearances themselves may be about to reveal.

John Berger “Appearances” in Another Way of Telling



The question of realism has latterly been a recurring focus of the work published in the recent series of features on this site. In a recent interview with David Campany, the photographer, curator and critic argued that “over the last three centuries or so, realism has always been complicated and provisional. In modernity realism is a moving target. Maybe photography, or those with vested interests in it, thought they could freeze realism the way the shutter freezes action. The hegemony of the mass media magazines did that for a while. But their stranglehold on the conventions for realism is over. This makes form much more of a live issue than it once was. Realism does not have a form that can be taken for granted. We must fight for it in the midst of things.”

Martin Kollar’s book Field Trip, is one part of the gargantuan project This Place, curated by photographer Frédéric Brenner, which focuses on the contemporary photographic representation of Israel and the West Bank by twelve internationally renowned photographers. Field Trip is a salient example of a recent reformulation in modes of realism in contemporary documentary photography. It is a body of work which — in keeping with One to Nothing (Irina Rozovsky) and Elementary Calculus (J Carrier) pays close attention to the profound impact of religious and political conflict on the landscape of Israel and Palestine, while simultaneously refusing to consider the identity of those nations exclusively in such terms.

Rather, Kollar seeks in Field Trip to find a photographic language through which to express an invisible, and yet pervasive tension that characterises the strange normalcy of the Israeli landscape. Through a series of loose, observational and yet conceptually rigorous images, he dissects the the nation’s carefully constructed landscape, focusing on a oscillating relationship between the banal and the absurd, the comical and the truly tragic. Somewhere at the midpoint between a herd of docile cows, and an explosion on the far horizon is the still unsettled question of which forces will govern the shape of the future, and thus the evolution of this nation’s identity.


All photographs are inherently selective, and Kollar’s early adult experience of the normalcy of the Cold War, and the demise of the Eastern Bloc attuned him to a mixture of “[t]ension and a sense of physical and psychological danger” that “hung in the air” during his year in Israel. His photographs make this sense visible, and visceral, in metaphorical and literal terms. But more than this they question the interplay of diametrically opposing extremes in the everyday experience of this landscape and its culture, taking in its colourful exuberance, its emptiness, its technological abstraction, and its ever-present militarisation in a photographic essay that simultaneously constructs an irreverent form of realism, while ruthlessly interrogating it.

In his afterword to the book, Kollar writes that “there are things in life that we are destined to never fully comprehend, that we can’t prove or refute or avoid.” As a survivor of the autocratic Soviet regime, he is likely sensitive to the incomprehensibility of vast forces of conflict lived individually on the small, basic level of daily human comings and goings. His images do not pretend to special knowledge, nor do they cater to a factional interpretation of the wider conflict. They in fact seem so impromptu that they render their subjects as sudden, and bemusing discoveries in a setting too intricate and complex to properly simplify.

The Spanish photographer Joan Fontcuberta, recipient of the 2013 Hasselblad International Award (and another artist, along with Kollar and Carrier, recently published by MACK), recently argued that “[r]eality does not exist by itself. It’s an intellectual construction; and photography is a tool to negotiate our idea of reality.” Kollar’s photographs address themselves to the manner of that construction, as much in political and cultural as purely photographic terms. They do not pretend to any photojournalistic intentions, and would be of little service to the daily dissemination of facts, but they enquire in poetic and elliptical ways about the multiplicity of truths at work in this strange and ancient place.

in Israel the landscape is layered with multiple narratives, its meaning altered depending on who is telling the story” – from Chicago by Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin (steidlMACK, 2006).

The following conversation is in fact the second attempt at an interview with Martin about his book, following an earlier conversation in November of 2013 which was subsequently lost on a faulty hard-drive. As the discussion begins, Martin and I had been talking about the strange nature of revisiting work that has been published for some time, drawing comparisons with film actors on press junkets for movies they have often completed months, or sometimes years before. The discussion branched out from here to consider more broadly the impact of the end of year best book lists, and their tendency to compress the half-life of work that emerges around the end of the calendar year, before moving on to reconsider the specific qualities of Field Trip itself, and the various complexities that it engages.

A Conversation with Martin Kollar, 30th January 2014

Martin Kollar (MK): …Basically I didn’t impose on myself any calculation about the reaction of the audience. In the past usually what I experienced was that I would have very interesting discussions about the work, but it took a really long time. So I released a book in 2007, and then somebody would contact me – like you – two years after that, which was quite interesting… And in this case, I think it’s just because of Michael [Mack] and their organisation and distribution and everything. It’s very quick, and actually I almost sense that it’s over, you know? With Christmas, and..

The Great Leap Sideways (TGLS): …Really? No, no, I know what you mean. There’s a big crescendo with the end of year lists, and then the New Year starts, and it’s as though everybody’s thinking about the list for 2014 now. One of the reasons why I don’t do end of year lists on the website, and one of the reasons why I don’t commit to only publishing work that’s been published in the year that I’m working in is because of that… Because I think that good work takes time to understand.

And also, you can’t wait forever, but sometimes these really interesting resonances and overlaps open up, but you need to give it time to find them. [Field Trip] has obviously been very widely seen and discussed, and to whatever extent I can tell as someone on the outside, it seems as though it’s been very successful. But I really do think there’s a lot going on in that book that you made with Michael, and I think it’s worth talking about…

MK: You know, it’s funny – I’m sitting in Bratislava, working on other things now, kind of slightly disconnected from things, and I have no idea what’s going on. You know, when you tell me ‘I’ve been talking to somebody about it’, it’s like ‘what?’ Interesting. You know, so basically you have no idea that people have even been reflecting on it…

TGLS: Yeah, well, they have from what I can tell you – I mean what do I know? For me it’s been clear that in every instance that it’s come up in conversation, it seems like a number of people have seen it and they’re impressed by it.

It seems to me that maybe that’s a healthy thing to be sort of outside of that, when you’re making other work, new work etc? Because there is obviously a commercial pressure to the photobook industry, and there’s a commercial pressure to fine art photography, and if it gets into your head ‘am I being talked about? Am I being talked about enough? Who’s talking about me?’ it becomes difficult to be sincere in relationship to the work that you’re actually trying make?

MK: Yeah, yeah, yeah! I know. That’s why I’m here actually. It’s really true because when I was in Paris I wasn’t able to do anything, or when I lived in Berlin. And when I’m here I really somehow feel as though I have to work or I’m going to somehow die, you know? Because when you’re living in a big place that’s completely saturated, saturated by other people’s work, by completely different ways of trying to get things out – suddenly you can really feel like, ‘why should I even do anything? It’s been done, in a way.’

TGLS: That’s always the worst. I hear that from some students, this kind of sense of ‘why should I do that, it’s been done already?’ And if people thought that way, no one do anything, because in one sense there’s nothing original except who you are, so if you decide that because someone else has done a project about their father, or about Israel, or about shopping, that you can’t do it, then why do you get out of bed in the morning?

MK: You can’t, but you have to find a way. It’s the most painful thing. And once you have it, then you basically have to throw it away because you can’t always use the same pattern. It’s almost like the torture never stops…

TLGS: Maybe a good thing to ask is, with a bit of distance from the book being finished and released, but now with the show coming up on the horizon, how does the story of the book look to you now, and what kind of a sense do you have of the story that you were able to tell?

MK: In terms of the decisions, or about the final object?

TGLS: Yeah, in terms of the final object. I think it has a very inventive and original tone, and I think that you managed to talk about a lot of complicated issues without being overly weighed down by them – without being weighed down by factions of left and right, and so forth. I think that that, by itself, is already an important achievement, so I wonder how with a bit of time now since you’ve finished it, what you think about it?

MK: I could start really from the first moment, when I decided not to stand on any one side – I didn’t want to stand on either the Palestinian or Israeli side. It was strange that that title Field Trip came to my mind very late, but somehow it was present from the first moment. I just didn’t want it to be the work of a specialist on the conflict, or whatever.

The second decision that I’m really happy about was that I decided only to work on one side. So when I decided to work either in Palestine or Israel – in this case it was Israel – somehow, that excluded me from the factions of the conflict. I think that really helped me just to be free, at a certain point. I had the problem that people would always ask me with which side do you sympathise? I realised, the more I worked on the project, that I’d like the experience of the work to be tied to the future. So when you think about what kind of an impact all this might have on the future, as a sort of speculation, and when you get some kind of confirmation about their reading of the future from the way they are preparing for it, suddenly you get out of all of those obvious troubles. Even though you cannot..!

TGLS: I think you can in a sense, because, and this is obviously something we talked about before, but, there’s such a heavy history to each ‘standard’ position on the conflict in that region, and how one should understand its importance to the identity and the state of Israel and Palestine. But the weight of that same history can sometimes make it very difficult for people unfamiliar with the place to imagine a way out of it, or a way past it, or a way to look at it that could at least hypothetically not be influenced by a factional interpretation of one or other point of view.

I think that one of the things that’s very interesting to me about the pictures is that from the very beginning, from the cover image and then from the image on the rooftops with the radio aerial, they kind of imagine that something new might happen here, or something new might be being built here, and it begins with this question of what might that be? How do people’s ideas, and people’s bodies relate to their thinking about what could happen in the future? And because it starts from that premise, I think the book manages not to be a victim of history, and that’s a very good rhetorical strategy. I think you have the right to do that as a storyteller.

MK: I think so. I think we talked about this before also, but… When I was invited to make work in that place, and you and I had this discussion about how everything has been done already. Obviously I don’t think so, right, but what I had noticed was that people were reacting to some obvious things, somehow. There are some people who make this really great work – they take pictures of the Eiffel Tower and their concept is just great, but in some other work it looks just idiotic. But it’s very rare that there are people who can do this, and I was thinking why would people voluntarily opt into the trap of trying to photograph a solution to the conflict? I just really didn’t want to do it. I would often be annoyed seeing that. But when you don’t have this, you are just completely lost because you don’t know what else might exist..!

TGLS: Right, right, because our imaginations are in some sense organised by the perspectives that we keep seeing…

MK: Exactly. And then, when you see this huge pile of a kind of obvious approach, and you turn your back and there’s nothing, it’s like facing a hole and you feel lost. Maybe I just should turn back again… I know it’s sort of a very childish way to present this way of thinking about the work, but it was somehow important to repel or resist that. I had no idea why somebody would go there and do something that in some sense I had already seen and already know. I think that this might happen for different reasons – it might be that somebody just wanted to contribute to that, or – I don’t know…

TGLS:…I mean I think it maybe depends on what you think your obligations and responsibilities are. Some people do go to make work in Israel and in Palestine with a quite justifiable desire to make pictures that speak in the language of the argument they want to contribute to, or that address the reality that they feel is not being properly represented, or that is in service to somebody else’s uses – you know, pictures that are helpful for somebody else? And the minute that you, by participating in Brenner’s project, give yourself the freedom to not be obligated to do those things, but instead to say ‘well imagine that I could do whatever I wanted here? Imagine that I could think of this place as though it didn’t have that history, and then try to think what would somebody who came here without any idea of its history think?…’

MK: …I don’t agree with you, because obviously you know that this place has history – you are aware of that, you know? It would be too much, somehow.

TGLS: Yeah, clearly!

MK: Obviously you have a respect for the history of the place, you slightly understand the history of the place – a little bit, you know? You have a very rough mosaic that you might understand.

TGLS: Well, no I wouldn’t want to make you think that I was suggesting that you neglected that there was a history to the condition of the landscape, or the condition of the people living in it. I suppose what I was saying is that there’s something – maybe it comes from the title of the book, and it’s so difficult to identify because it’s visual and not verbal, but there’s something in the pictures that suggests you were arriving and it’s not clear why things are this way, but they are this way, and the photographs are trying to imagine what that might add up to in the future. It’s as though the pictures begin chronologically as if the first day was day zero, not day whatever the date, whatever the month whatever the year. You know? That’s what I’m talking about.

MK: Yeah yeah, okay I get it. You know, also what I liked – coming back to your very first question, and I’m really happy about it, and it’s kind of problematic. The work is from Israel, but not necessarily. It’s like from any western type of country in a sense. Whatever you’ve seen there, you could see in some way on some level in the States or Russia or Slovakia, with different…

TGLS:…regional expressions?

MK: Exactly. But this is how the western world is operating. I’m always profiting from the advantage that… I mean, well, not many people from our generation or even not many people in this world anymore remember the Second World War, which changed everything somehow in the 20th century. And then there were many small conflicts, but there was one large conflict that was invisible, which was the Cold War, right?

I don’t know how it was in the States, but here it was extremely present – the presence of the Cold War was tangible, you could sense it. And when it vanished, suddenly the idea evaporated. Like when somebody dies in front of you, you just know the moment when that person is dead. This is what precisely was the advantage for our generation. I mean, I was 18 when the Eastern Bloc collapsed. I could just sense it somehow, and without this experience I think it would be very difficult to work in Israel for me, which I tried to write about in some clumsy way in the book. This presence or tension in the air.

I mean you know that also from living in the States, but from a different perspective, because you’ve been living in conflict since forever.

TGLS: Yeah, yeah. I think it could be just my interpretation, but it’s important to embrace whatever subjectively in your history is going to influence how you see a different place. Your experience with the demise of the Eastern Bloc is obviously central to your sensitivity to the thing that’s in the air, that’s immaterial or invisible but still tangible. And I think one thing that occurred to me – I don’t know if you saw much of the coverage, but when the Boston bombers were being hunted down in Boston last year, the change in the landscape of the areas of Boston that got militarised was profound, and the images looked bizarre. They looked utterly incomprehensible, to see these incredibly militarised vehicles and foot soldiers effectively take over these neighbourhoods…

And that was an image of the landscape that Americans of this generation – like you say, people who don’t remember the Second World War or Vietnam – had never seen before. It lasted very briefly. It was a very short period of time. But it was a profoundly atypical reality, and I think maybe it’s interesting to imagine and to think in some sense, like some of the pictures in Field Trip do, to think of taking that atypical thing and asking well what if this was normal?

MK: It is. It is, actually. It is normal. Still it’s not visually present, but it’s already here. That was sort of a crack in the system where it became naked for a few seconds… I perfectly understand what you’re talking about. Then you have to find that balance between what is protection and what is oppression? It’s a super super thin line. Exactly. You are maybe sensitive to that, but maybe for some people it was perfectly normal. Perhaps they have a few guns themselves. That’s also what you see in Israel – the presence of weapons and so forth. It’s almost like a cliché, so you try to avoid it. I even tried to avoid it so far that I had the guy with the invisible gun…

TGLS: Yeah… I love that portrait.

MK: That was the idea – to show it, but not to show it. It’s not my favourite picture, but I just really wanted to point towards a militarised society in a way.

TGLS: But I think, you know, you do that in different ways with different emphases very successfully. I have this picture open of the boulders that suddenly make the road very narrow, so that you can’t travel too fast … Those details are tremendously important beyond the specific circumstance of that road. It doesn’t matter to me that I know which road or where it is. It’s the fact that there’s been this very carefully constructed obstacle, which could allow someone to hide behind it, that just suddenly changes your sense of what may be happening in this landscape. To talk about photography for a second, it’s about that very difficult task of making an invisible thing visible, you know? That so much of what affects our identity and our sense of where we are in the world isn’t actually easily expressed visually, or can’t be identified in relation to one object, but it’s still pervasive. For me one of the great successes of the book is that it makes those immaterial or intangible things perceptible, and it makes them present.


MK: I’m always asking myself, and maybe this is a question for you. Do we understand those scenes because we have those keys or codes to understand how things can be minimalized? This is obviously connected to conceptual art, and conceptual art presentation, so that you have to know how to find a way to deal with the structure of an image. My question is, if you were to lose it – maybe in 100 years from now, people might have different problems or ways of understanding things. So basically this is just this idea, which I think is from Foucault, that from the point of our present you cannot look at a historical moment the same way as the people who lived them.

TGLS: Exactly. Yes, there’s an ancient Greek philosopher who said that you can never step in the same river twice.

MK: Yes, exactly. But this has also a slightly different tone, because that’s connected to the notion that you can try to redo something again and again and again, and you cannot. But what I’m saying is rather that when you have those codes we’ve been talking about, and that particular understanding of images and of this invisible tension – which basically is in us, it’s not in the pictures – then you have a sort of semi-full image, which you’re loading with your own ideas and emotions. The question is whether you would have a different knowledge about that place at a different moment in time, because as I said, the work is asking about this place at some point in the future. In the future everything could be completely different… It’s almost like a road which is leading to nowhere…

TGLS: I think what’s exciting about it is that, on the one hand, for me one of the things that defines our contemporary moment – and by our I don’t mean just people like me who happen to be living in America, or people like yourself from Europe – is that we’ve been profoundly influenced by cultural globalisation. I think one of the things that that has caused is a certain anxiety about meaning – a certain lack of confidence that what I say or what I mean is what you hear, and what you see. Because we’ve suddenly been made aware of quite how quickly we can be brought together with people from so many different places, and so many different histories.

And I think that’s inevitable – I think it’s just part of what happens when, in an accelerated fashion, all these different cultures and histories are thrown together in these different public spaces, and some of them are obviously virtual, but a lot of it ends up in the real world. And I think that that anxiety has to do with us being the recent beneficiaries of this enormous transformation that’s happened, in technology and in culture, in such a very compressed period of time. Who knows, once that becomes normal in fifty years or a hundred years, that anxiety may have disappeared – if we’re all still here, hopefully. It could all look very different.

There’s obviously been a large amount of work produced recently using archival photographs, and I think that this point that you make is true: we can never look at these images with the eyes of the people who were contemporary to their making, and we have to acknowledge that. Sometimes perhaps we pretend that because we know history that we can have the same sensibility as the historical moment depicted in an image, and that’s not true. And even for those people who were alive during the Second World War, you know, they saw it with the eyes of children or young adults, they didn’t see it with the eyes of people who’d had fifty years of experience. So we have to acknowledge our own arbitrary, and subjective and partial perspectives. And I think to the extent that contemporary photography is acknowledging that, I think it’s a good thing. I think it’s important to do that. And then we’ll see what happens – over time, we’ll see which bits of this work that everybody’s making will last.

MK: That’s super interesting, you know, and actually it’s a nice hypothetical question. When you think about it not from the point of the author, but from the point of somebody who might consume the image. That’s quite interesting to see. I don’t know why, but I always have that in my mind somehow. Maybe it’s everybody’s question, but nobody talks about it, but it’s really interesting for me to ponder whether this work is like a future archive or not.

TGLS: I suppose in a sense, because you’re part of this big project, then by default it kind of is a future archive. Just because it’s very rare that something like this happens – that so many different artists are brought together to address, at least in some broad sense, the same subject matter, over a relatively compressed period of time. But I think the archive in general, in very big terms, is an inevitable problem for artists and critics and curators and educators to deal with, because we just keep accumulating stuff. And because we have to figure out how to look at it. It does ask a question of the future, you know? What will people think when they find this stuff? What will it say about who we were, and what was important to us, and what our particular failings were, and what our hopes were? It’s great to look at work from the 1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s now, and to think about those questions for us now, and it will be great for people 40 years from now to do the same thing.

MK: Exactly. You know, but what I was speculating about just now is this tension we were talking about, and whether this is transferable or not? It was the same for me in Israel. I was able somehow to put it into the pictures, and that was something I was very curious about – if it was possible to transform it into the pictures and just put it to the audience. I’ve been told yes, so there is something strange that out of simple casual images, almost like snaps, that you still get a sense of tension, which is quite nice. But also what was interesting is that, with the first book I made which was a sort of funny book, where I was playing with comedy in images and trying to insert it on the second or third layer, to include a sense of lightness but not on the surface, and this is obviously an extremely difficult thing. So with this work I wanted to deal with a different set of emotions, and was curious if it’s possible, and apparently it’s possible, but in this case it’s less obvious what kind of emotions I was able to transfer or to deliver basically. You understand?

TGLS: Absolutely, and I think one of the intriguing things in September when you have the group show of Brenner’s whole project will be how much of that humour and emotion people can recognise in your pictures, having seen all of the different kinds of pictures around them, you know? I think that contrast will help to maybe draw those things to the surface more.

But for me certainly, there are layers to the individual images because of the figurative language of the work. So this thing about concealment and bodies being penetrated, and people being in a some state of a trance… Because those dynamics are established early in the work, it means that other images that occur later on are invested with all these different layers of meaning. Some of them become comical – for instance the image of the dog on the bed. But then also you reserve for yourself the right to use a nose very differently later on…

But maybe a lot of this has to do with the way that you photographed – you know, the images are both formal and spontaneous, and the spontaneity of them is really important to communicating that sense of something humorous and complex and almost mysterious… Something difficult to figure out…

MK: This is actually, since I first discovered photography, something I’ve understood. I also appreciate other people’s work on this level. What I mean is that I like very much when there is ambiguity in any sense, like: the pictures are serious and funny; they are precisely composed and spontaneous. Precisely what you’re saying. And as many of those contradictory things that you are able to infuse into one image, makes it both more confusing and more fascinating. So when I think of all the images I like in photography, they have this quality – it’s like ping pong, you get something, then you another idea that is in contradiction with this. You somehow get lost, but you’re still inside of the same picture.

TGLS: Yeah, I think it’s inherent in human nature, but as we get older we start to convince ourselves of our own sophistication, but if you think about babies or young children, and the distance between when they’re laughing hysterically and when they’re crying, and how quickly it can shift from one emotion to another and then back again… We’re contradictory by our nature, and the proximity between hatred and love, or frustration and excitement is really very small – the difference can sometimes be almost invisible. And I think it’s very tempting with this sort of subject matter to pretend that those contradictions don’t exist, and to want to be very clear, and oftentimes there’s a responsibility to be clear, but not in this circumstance, not in the making of this kind of work. So I think that one of the reasons that the work is rich and will get more interesting over time is because it acknowledges that those contradictions exist, and that it’s important to talk about them, or at least to represent them.

MK: Yeah, yeah, and what you said about those emotions which is quite interesting is that – it’s not like operating in a line, but it’s more like a three dimensional ball where you can end up wherever. One is still connected to a central core, but when you look at a globe, extreme left and extreme right are just next to each other. In that case perhaps the short-cuts between those points are boring or dangerous, or not even interesting to play with, but then you’re only left with very direct results that confirm that this is this, and that is that. It works for mathematics, but maybe not for art.

TGLS: My suspicion, and I could be wrong here, but I get the sense that your experience with cinema and with making films yourself is enormously influential to the way that you think about the individual image, and I wonder whether that matters? No one wants to watch a film twice that tells you exactly what you’re supposed to think the first time, right? So I wonder for you what’s the relationship for you between film-making and photography as you practice it?

MK: Well I know it’s not very polite, but if I reverse this question then what’s the relationship for you between philosophy and photography?

TGLS: Yeah, that’s a tough question to answer. I mean, I think I got interested in the two things at the same time. I was an undergraduate, I was 18, and I really did discover them both simultaneously. And they were both about asking questions about what the world’s like, and how did it come to be that way, so it always felt to me like I was asking the same questions in a different vocabulary.

MK: Yeah, I understand. Coming back to your question, I always knew that I wanted to be a photographer. I mean I don’t know how, but I just knew that. When I was younger, I just knew that I’m going to do that. It was easy. And then, when I was 18, basically I got lost, and I had no idea how to make it happen. That was the problem. I knew I wanted, but I didn’t know how to make it happen – as though it was so close, but also a million miles away. So I started to study cinema. Many of my friends started doing that, and I sort of followed that crowd, and I got in, and I had some good professors who made me understand that when you’re able to read a movie, it’s almost like being able to pilot a fighter jet, because it’s so complicated and so fast – it’s so special. Then photography is just like riding a bicycle. So once you can operate such a complicated machine, then just to come back to riding a bicycle is really just such a pleasure. And that’s exactly the difference between cinema and photography – because cinema is so complex, and I’m not saying that photography is not, but it’s more accidental. Most of my friends here are film-makers, so I’m always getting references from cinema rather than from the art world, and that also creates a certain way of looking at images. Many times, there is a certain selfishness to thinking for them about how much they can take from a particular picture for a film, because they don’t care about the specific images…

TGLS: …yeah, they care about what it can do in relation to the overall film.

MK: Exactly, so for them it’s rather like a source of inspiration, and for me it’s just like a way of looking at images from a different point of view than I’m used to from professional photographers.

TGLS: Yeah, I often wonder when they do location scouting for a major film, what the photographs look like – especially if it’s a good film, if it’s a really well photographed and well made film in which all the elements contribute something important, I often wonder what were the location shots like? What still images contributed to this thing that now is a motion picture?

MK: I think it depends very much on the relationship. You always have to negotiate. I’ve worked on films where the crew is relatively small, and from the US perspective is like an ultra low-budget movie with fifteen to twenty people on the set, which is like a third-unit team in a film. So when I started I worked as a second unit cameraman, and I realised that it very much depends on the relationship between the DoP and the director. There are some directors that are extremely dominant, that are very much obsessed by image and the meaning of the image, and then the DoP is operating very much more as a worker, as a tool.

TGLS: As someone who takes dictation?

MK: Exactly. And then there are directors who are completely interested in dialogue, and some give you more space and some less. It depends very much on this relationship, and then out of this the look of the location scouting emerges.

TGLS: So for you, is it a pleasant change to go from being part of a crew, and maybe working for a director in a very narrow way, to then working for yourself with a camera going out and making photographs? Do you enjoy that contrast?

MK: Actually, it’s like this: it always takes me some time to get used to working alone, and then you start to love it and enjoy it, and then you slowly slowly get tired and lost and you start to hate it. You just cannot wait to work with people. Then you start a [film] shoot, and on the second day you say ‘no, no, this is the last time in my life – I hate to negotiate, I just don’t understand why they don’t see that this is the way…’ Basically it turns into a battlefield at some point, and then it’s over and you think you’ll never do it again. Then you go out to photograph and it starts over again, so it’s like a process of going from love to hate to love, in both directions.

The conversation turns to a forthcoming project that has not yet been completed, in which Martin has made images of something that could conventionally be understood as ugly and difficult to look at. Since the work is not yet public, I’ve elected to exclude that part of the discussion also, but in concluding our conversation Martin linked this new work back to Field Trip and his ways of thinking about making images in Israel

MK: This is what I really love, that you look at something and you think that it’s impossible to look at, but there is some kind of magic that allows you to pass through that, and in the end you are able to even smile at something that is superficially not acceptable. So basically exactly what you were saying, it’s about finding a way to be always dealing with those lines of maximum possible difficulty – to try to walk on the razor’s edge and not to fall down. I think it’s all about this balance – it’s not about going as far as possible, but just to find a way of not only emphasising one axis, so that you are able to balance the work with different ideas or emotions or ways of reading. I think this is the ‘trick’, and I think perhaps this is also the case with Israel and my previous work.


With many thanks to Martin Kollar for his patience and generosity, and with many thanks also to Brian Ulrich.
Artist(s): Medium: info[at] Site:

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