© Oliver Sieber, DryBones, Osaka, from "Imaginary Club", 2008


1. For the project “Imaginary Club” you photographed people in clubs, concerts and illegal parties in Los Angeles, Toronto, Tokyo, Osaka, New York and small-town Germany. First of all, how did this project start?

Maybe 4 years ago? I am not really sure.
I have to admit that the topic of all my work is a bit the same. Words like individuality, the search for it and the development of someone’s identity is important to me.
I like to meet people who I usually do not see or recognize on the streets so I go out and look for them.

2. Could you tell us something about the working process? How did you find the places and people you have photographed? Did you have to do a lot of research for a project like this?

Whenever I enter a new city or country I need to find a place where I feel good. This is mostly driven by music. So I pick up flyers in record stores, search the web for concerts, and so it starts.


© Oliver Sieber, Tokyo, from "Imaginary Club", 2008


© Oliver Sieber, Bottropp, from "Imaginary Club", 2008




3. The atmosphere in clubs and at parties is usually loud and distracting. How did you manage to make such quiet portraits? How did you make the photos technically; do you have a portable studio-equipment?

I am observing a long time because I am a little shy and lazy but when I hit the decision to take a portrait I go and ask the people and then step out for a second with them ...that’s it.
There is no specific equipment just one flash.


© Oliver Sieber, Kai, Leipzig, from "Imaginary Club", 2008


4. In “Imaginary Club” you mix classical portrays together with black and white snapshots of exteriors and street scenes. Why did you choose to amalgamate these different photographs?

I did this before in my “Character Thieves” book where I wanted to give an impression of the area where the people live.
This was with a 4x5 inches in color.
After being in Japan with a grant and studying Moriyama and Araki and many more, I wanted to free myself from this heavy equipment and take pictures more relaxed and emotionally.

© Oliver Sieber, Tokyo, from "Imaginary Club", 2009

© Oliver Sieber, Istanbul, from "Imaginary Club", 2008


5. To me the project “Imaginary Club” seems to be like a counterpart to your previous project “Die Blinden (The Blind)”, where you’ve photographed blind people. Almost every portrait in “Imaginary Club” is set against a dark background; the depicted people wear fancy clothes and have original haircuts. The portraits of the blind, on the other hand, are set against a light background and the portrayed people seem almost naked. Nonetheless both “groups” have something in common; they share a certain kind of sensibility.
How do you think are these two projects related?

I am a visual artist, ..in the world of the Blind my work does not exist. Things like smell and hearing are very important to blind people and these are things you can hardly manage with photography.

I said that the idea of questioning identity is present in all of my work and mostly we communicate with visual symbols like fashion, haircuts etc., but not within the world of blind people.
They do not reflect each other visually like looking at others like in a mirror. In a certain sense they are a little more independent.


© Oliver Sieber, Princess Sakura, Toronto, from "Character Thieves", 2005


© Oliver Sieber, Toronto, from "Character Thieves", 2005


6. You seem very interested in Japanese Culture. First you did a project about costume players with a passion for Japanese cartoons (“Character Thieves”) and then you made another series called “J_Subs” with photographs made in Japan. What is it that attracts you to this culture?

In 1999 I worked on my first big series, which is called “skinsmodsteds”.
Here I was looking for people who still live in the sense of the first teenage youth cultures after World War II.
There was a big influence coming from Great Britain and I was interested to see how this was taking place in Japan. So my “J_Subs” series was released.

In Düsseldorf, where I live, I recognized that a lot of young people were crazy for Japanese culture. Because I like to see how different cultures have influence on each other I started doing a lot of research and that led to “Character Thieves”.

7. Your series “Character Thieves” is essentially about the so-called cosplayers, people dressed with costumes (often self-made) of Japanese manga characters. What led you to this project? How did you find the people, was it for example through the Internet or did you meet your subjects at manga conventions?

I guess that paying attention to youth cultures is very important for our future lives. Maybe the countercultures are increasing or maybe robots are going to rule our future lives or something else. The cosplay people are a vey huge group of millions of youngsters, but the adult world does not know anything about them.
They are so quiet somehow. The web space is very important to them.

In the sense of doing a photographic portrait, looking at the original character from Manga or anime is a good point to come a little closer to each of them.
So they try out things and want to find a community where they fit in and by observing them I become a part of that process. I like it very much.

To find them I was hanging in the Internet all day but of course I went to conventions to meet them in person as well.


© Oliver Sieber, Nara Shikamaru, Osaka, from "Character Thieves", 2006


© Oliver Sieber, Osaka, from "Character Thieves", 2006


8. Regarding the project “Character Thieves”, how did you accomplish to photograph the people in their own homes, private spaces?

Taking all of them seriously and with respect. They have to trust you. With some people it was easy and some other were more complicated to convince but in the end I’ve taken pictures of everyone I was interested in.

9. What are you currently working on?

Currently I am working on the "La Brea Matrix Portfolio" initiated by Markus Schaden, and created to reflect on one iconic picture of Stephen Shore.



Interview by Daniel Augschoell and Anya Jasbar