Thomas Wunsch, a German photographer, started working in the field of photography at age 17 when he moved to the USA and became a member of the Kodak Young Photographers League. When he opened a photo studio in Hamburg, he devoted himself to fashion, still life, and portrait photography (he took pictures of Barbra Streisand, Sir George Solti, Frank Zappa, Yoko Ono, Ethan Hawke, and many other international celebrities). He also had his first two solo exhibitions in Hamburg at Galerie Palme. After he moved back to the USA, Thomas Wunsch worked as a still photographer at a movie production company for many years.
Thomas Wunsch started taking abstract photographs in the year 2000. These photographs were exhibited at the Huantie Times Art Museum in Beijing, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Seoul, the Overbeck Museum in Bremen, the Staedtisches Museum Schloss Bruchsal, the Okgwa Museum in Gokseong, the Huaxia Art Museum in Zhengzhou, the Museum in Wehener Schloss, the Museum Boppard, the Museum Villa Irmgard, the Haus der Kunst in Munich, the Goethe-Institut in Frankfurt, the Goethe-Institut in Freiburg, the Goethe-Institut in Phnom Penh and numerous galleries throughout the world. Thomas Wunsch took part in group exhibitions also showing the works of Ai Weiwei, Robert Indiana, Thomas Ruff, Walker Evans, Stephen Shore, Sherrie Levine, and Nam June Paik. His photographs are published by the distinguished German record company ECM as LP and CD cover as well.
Thomas Wunsch is curating photography exhibitions in Germany and he has been teaching “Creative Photography” at the Anglo-American University in Prague. He has also held lectures about photography in Germany, the USA, China, Cambodia, and South Korea and he is a jury member at the "Moscow International Photo Awards" and the "London International Creative Competition".
More than 40 books featured his photographs including his most recent ones "Enemies of Reason", "The Impertinence of Beauty" and "Wages of Sin". Thomas Wunsch is a member of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York, a founding member of 360 Minutes of Art, a member of Fine Art America, a member of the World Photography Organisation, a member of the American Photography Association, a member of the Aperture Foundation, a member of the Martin Parr Foundation and a member of the International Center of Photography, New York.
Thomas Wunsch is a photographer who captures the inconspicuous details of life in his works. He notices details such as an ashtray at a train station, the pattern on a rusty barrel, the texture of wet pavement, or reflections in a window, that most people dismiss. His works capture more than just an object but the moments the objects were found. He visualizes time in space by using long exposures and physical movements creating an impression of looking at consecutive frames of a movie film fading into each other. In his works, spaces lose their contour and seem to disappear. After scanning his works, Wunsch fills in the in-between spaces on each photograph by extensive digital alterations. Coincidence is a key quality of his pictures that enables him to explore the myth of the ordinary. He is also a gentle and discrete observer, authentic yet not voyeuristic. He is also an aesthete whose attention to detail and sophisticated processing result in highly distinctive photographs.
His photographs depict many different subjects. By making those subjects abstract - beyond recognition - he confers them a special aesthetic value. It is in these pictures that viewers encounter a kafkaesque symbolism and a very different kind of emotion. Viewers can get a sense of time, space, movement, security, or a lack of those qualities. Rather than offering a fixed view of the world, Wunsch leaves his images open to imagination and interpretation. He allows the viewer to become part of his work. His underlying concept is “What you see is what you get.”
His photographs are like mind maps that tell a story of their own. One is reminded of short stories or novels or fragments of memory whose parts are put together like a puzzle. Each photograph displays its own charm. Some show very fine shades of grey or color, while others show very strong contrasts. Thomas Wunsch prefers the square format because it is more democratic. In rectangular pictures, he says, the larger dimension always outweighs the smaller.
We are looking forward to getting to know you more as an artist. The first question we would like to ask is, what is ART to you?
Art is my EVERYTHING. It’s my whole life. I have been so immersed in art - going to exhibitions, creating art, having exhibitions, reading art books, watching documentaries related to art, filming art history documentaries, etc. It is really EVERYTHING for me.
It is amazing that every moment of your life is so closely related to art. I imagine that being so immersed in art, you would have a lot to communicate to the viewers of your work. What do you wish to communicate through your artwork?
When people ask me looking at my works, “What is this a picture of?”, I often jokingly respond, “It’s a company secret.” I might have 30 people standing in front of my work and interpreting it all differently, and no one getting it right. But, those 30 different interpretations are very important parts of my photographic concept - including people from different educational backgrounds, different wishes, thoughts, into the experience of my artwork. Perhaps, this is what I would like to communicate to viewers - the possibility of embracing our differences through the beauty of art.
It is so valuable that you embrace the interpretations of each individual and that becomes a part of your work. When and why did you decide to follow your path as an artist?
We have to go back 20 years from now to when I was working in my studio doing commercial work. All of a sudden it hit me that I should try to do something artistic with all the art history and photography knowledge I have. I thought maybe I can combine these two. And this is how it all started. I was lucky because in the year 2000, when I took my first artistic pictures, ECM, a famous record company in Germany, started to use my photographs for their CD covers. I was very honored to be chosen by such a renowned record company, especially because the head of ECM was known for always seeking the best musicians, best compositions, the best studios, and best covers. So far, I have done 62 covers with ECM. I am their second most published photographer. When I was starting, I didn’t know where it would lead me to, but I had immediate success with the record company followed with my exhibitions by people’s demands. Everything fell into place quickly and I was able to quickly transition from a commercial photographer to an abstract photographer.
How was your transition from working as a commercial photographer into a fine art photographer?
Timewise it was from one day to the next. I had to adjust because my commercial work was done in a studio with big flashes. For my fine art photography, I took all my photographs outside. How I worked and work today is I start by walking around in the city and exploring and searching for an object for my abstract photograph. Once the picture is taken, it goes through digital processing in which the original photograph is considerably changed.
It sounds like your studio expands to the whole world. What is the main subject matter in your artwork?
Yes, that I have grown out of my studio, but I am not a landscape photographer. It is difficult to find what I am looking for in nature. I realized that things that I find in nature cannot be altered through digital processing. Trees look like trees and stones look like stones even after digital processing. I am drawn to an urban landscape - to the things that are broken, scratched, man-made. Things that are just made and in perfect condition, do not have the patterns that I am looking for.
Could you tell us what the process of art-making looks like for you?
It is an interesting process because when I take pictures of the objects that inspire me, I don’t know how they will turn out to be after digital processing. So, I have to process every single picture to see if it is a good one, and only very few turn out to be very good. I take thousands of photos every year and at the end of the calendar year, I look at all the pictures that have gone through the processing and I select the good ones. And usually, about 50 survive out of thousands.
What are you looking for when you go through thousands of photos at the end of the year?
I believe that a good photograph should include two things: Patterns that work with each other and colors that work with each other. So I prefer to include different patterns in my photographs - thin and thick lines; small and large dots; black and white dots, etc. all in the same picture. It gives the viewers more things to see and discover. I also prefer to create pictures that are square meters in size so that you can see all the details very clearly. It is rewarding to see when people discover new details in my work. After months, years, people discover small details that they have overlooked before.
I always find something new in your work and it is fascinating. Taking so many pictures and going through thousands of pictures sounds like a lot of work. What motivates you today to move forward as an artist?
My goal is to create new works that look completely different from all the other photographs that I took in the past 20 years. So I’m always in search of new patterns, colors, for new ways of putting a picture together. At one point when I start repeating myself, I might have to stop, but that has not happened yet. And this is what motivates me - to find more patterns and colors that are unlike the ones that I have created before.
I look forward to your future works with new patterns and colors. Looking back to your artist life, what has been the happiest moment and the challenging moment?
The happiest moment was when Waterfall Mansion and Gallery said, “We would like to represent you.” That made my day. That made many of my years of life very very happy. As an artist, I did not have many challenges. I know that not everything is going to turn out as I would like it because there is always another person that I will have to work with, deal with, and be in contact with. Others can say no to my ideas. But I can live with that really well. So I did not have many challenging moments in the past 20 years.
It’s wonderful to hear that you did not have many challenging moments. Did COVID-19 impact you as an artist in any way and looking into 2021, what changes do you expect? Any challenges or excitement?
The first impact was that I could not travel. Last year, I was invited to Cambodia for 7 weeks to do three photography projects with Goethe Institut (German Cultural Institute). I was hoping to visit them again in November, but it had to be canceled. So looking into 2021, I hope I can visit Cambodia and also travel for my exhibitions planned in Germany. What I hope to get back in 2021 is traveling!