ahorn.
   
 

© Jörg Brüggemann

 
 

© Grant Willing

 
 

Jörg Brüggeman:

Hi Grant,
I am looking forward to see what comes out of this metal ping pong. I have known your work for some time now and I really like it. I think what is fascinating about it is that it got accepted by the mainstream art world, although "not being accepted" is kind of a self-definition of the metal scene. Maybe after almost 40 years of existence metal will finally make its way into mainstream wether we are talking about the music business or general culture. However I suppose you were listening to that kind of music for a long time before you started the project. Tell me a bit about your metal background and where it all started for you. There is this cliché of metal fans that they start listening to hard music, because they are angry teenagers that need a outlet for their aggressions, but they stay with this music genre for the rest of their lives. They become devoted die-hard fans. Do you see yourself in this cliché and what were the first bands you were listening to? What are you listening to now?


Grant Willing:

I think I probably fall into this cliché; I mean I started listening to metal when I was about 13 or so I think, right when I started middle school.  At that time it was a pretty equal amount of listening to all sorts of punk, hard rock, etc. basically just "hard" music.  Then when I started high school was when I started considering myself a more true metal fan.  I was really into Motörhead, Slayer, Venom at first, a lot of New Wave of British Heavy Metal and Thrash stuff.  Then I remember progressively getting into the more extreme types of metal, starting with Death Metal.  I really liked Cannibal Corpse, Death, and Mortician, and that lead the way to Black Metal which I got interested in through Absu.  Now I'm still listening to a lot of Black Metal, I really like the Québécois stuff like Forteresse and Akitsa.  I've been listening to a lot of Fell Voices, Raate, Morbid Saint, and Bulldozer, too.

How do you fall into all of this?  Was your introduction to metal similar?  How much longer after being a metal fan did you start to think about incorporating it into your art practice?

 
 

© Jörg Brüggemann

 
 

© Grant Willing

 
 

JB:

Well, my starting point is probably very similar to yours. In 1991 when I turned twelve, we got MTV at my parents’ house. I remember that when I first saw the video of "You could be mine" by Guns N' Roses, I was completely overwhelmed. From then on I got more and more into what you called "hard" music, stuff like Metallica, Sepultura and Faith No More. In the late nineties I started listening more to Hardcore and the first wave of Emo, I mean bands like Mineral and Texas is the Reason. After that my music taste widened up. For ten years or so I didn't listen much to "hard" music. However after finishing my project "Same Same But Different" about backpackers in South Asia I was looking for something I could really connect to, because I was quite pissed of by the backpacker scene at the end of the project. I wanted to continue with the mayor theme "globalized youth cultures", but I also wanted to find something that offers more positive aspects then the pseudo cultural exchanges that the Lonely Planet proclaims. At that time a very good friend of mine became the manager of a young Metalcore band from Germany called Callejon. They took me on tour with them a couple of times, what made me realize that Metal is having a kind of a renaissance at the moment. Their fans are mainly teenager, they are many and they are from around the world. It all reminded me of myself when I was that age, but at the same time it all seemed to be so much bigger nowadays. After some more research I was sure that there was a lot to discover and to tell about globalized Heavy Metal culture and I thought that it could be a lot of fun as well. Obviously through that whole research process I started listening to metal again. I am still not a big fan of the real extreme stuff - Children of Bodom is probably as hard as it can get for me. But right now I listen to a lot of the old stuff like Iron Maiden and Kreator and I am fascinated by some of the new bands like Bullet for my Valentine or Bring me the Horizon. 

For my photography I need to take a position between sympathizing nearness and critical distance. My own "metal history" put me into that position straight away, because I was really into it when I was younger but lost track for a couple of years. When I photograph metalheads for this project I always feel this strong connection to my subjects, but at the same time I’m able to look at them as an observer. For me this is where it gets interesting in my photography. Your position is completely different from mine. You look at your subject from the inside. Please correct, if I am wrong, but it seems like actually you are not referring to metal music or culture itself, but to the themes that the music is referring to as well, like Satanism and occultism. It is like you are taking the same path as the Black Metal musicians but you come out with a visual output instead of a hearable. What made you go this path? What is it that interests you about Satanism and occultism?

 
 

© Jörg Brüggemann

 
 

© Grant Willing

 
 

GW:

Yeah, you're right about how I approach my subject matter.  It was these ideas that I was most attracted to; Paganism, Satanism, Norse Mythology, Nature, Winter, etc.  But when you look at all of these ideas separately, they are pretty disparate ideas.  It is Black Metal that groups all of these ideas together, and that's mostly how I became interested in some of the themes.  I can't really explain where my interest in Satanism and the occult came from, its something I just remember always being fascinated with throughout my teenage years.  My friends and I were all attracted to the iconography and the rebellious nature of it.  That's still appealing to me, but the older I become the more interested I am in how other people interpret this.  It is not that scary of an idea to me, but I do enjoy the fact that other people have such an intense fear or hatred in the occult even though they know very little about it.

Through listening and becoming more familiar with Black Metal, this is where I became more acquainted with Norse Paganism and mythology.  The only things Norse Paganism and Satanism have in common is that they're both anti-Christian and grouped into the idea of Black Metal culture.  Aside from that, these two ideas are very different but somehow have come to represent a general idea of "darkness."

With these ideas in mind, it is how I began to approach and interpret Black Metal.  My images are sometimes based off of specific lyrics, songs, or albums, but I try not to be too direct in my portrayal of these.  It is a mixture of gaining inspiration from the music and from the themes that make up the music itself.  For me they go hand in hand with my experience of both subjects and I feel it would be slightly impure to just make images about the music while not referencing the ideas and the other way around.

With a couple of exceptions in your images, you tend to almost forgo the music itself and only look at the culture surrounding the music.  In this regard, I feel our projects are kind of similar.  I feel like you are almost removing the characters in your photographs and recontextualizing them in a silent, metal-void place.  It is still obvious what the images are of, but they depict the metal fans in a somewhat analytical way that is more about who listens to metal rather than the experience of a metal show.  I feel like this is what you're talking about when you say you were able to take an observational standpoint; it is almost like you're trying to relive your teenage experiences through looking at this current wave of metal fans, but at the same time you're very much living it right now as well.  How do you feel about this duality in your work?

 
 

© Jörg Brüggemann

 
 

© Grant Willing

 

 

 

JB:

Yeah, this duality is actually what makes in general documentary photography interesting for me - telling something universal, that anyone can relate to, through a personal position. There is definitely a personal approach to the subject matter through my own interest in the music and my socialization in teenage times, but I try to look at it from a sociologist point of view at the same time. I would consider the project a success, if my father looks at the images and they make him understand this culture. He doesn't have to like it, but understand and respect it. But at the same time a metalhead should see himself in the work as well. Obviously plain concert or band photos can't do this job. So "recontextualizing the characters in a silent, metal-void place", as you called it, is one of the methods I chose to do so, because it helps drawing parallels from one metalhead to the other, when looking at their pictures, whether they are from Indonesia or Germany.

For me personally this is also a challenging process. What I enjoy the most about photography is the interaction with the people I photograph. Photography opens up a new world to me, which I wouldn't get in touch with otherwise. And sometimes something really great and unexpected happens through this interaction. This is something that is generally overlooked or worst, mystified, in the critical perception of photography. But I think you have to open up yourself and expand your own borders. A lot of the stuff I did in the last year seemed impossible to me before I started the project. I went on tour with a band, slept in an Internet café in Indonesia for one week and I went to Wackcne Open Ait twice. I also read a lot of metal magazines lately and I started to wear metal shirts again. It is like having some strange obsession. But don't get me wrong; it is not that I try to undermine the scene. That I identify myself so much with the scene is more a matter of respect for the people who make the music and the ones that love it. I surely don't want to make a photography freak show out of the project. There are millions of people in the whole world to whom this music means everything. I am taking this absolutely seriously.

The metal scene is very closed. It doesn't interact a lot with other music cultures or even mainstream culture. However recently metal is gaining more and more attention. There have been some interesting photo projects about metal, like Peter Beste's “True Norwegian Black Metal”. Since a couple of years at least in Germany the cultural pages of major newspapers are writing metal music and concerts reviews. At the same time so-called "true" metal fans are complaining about the sell-out of the scene. They say the rebellion got lost on the way. Metal culture seems to have moved a bit more to the middle of society. Do you have an idea why this development is taking place? I am asking this also, because your project is the first I saw that deals with metal culture in its greater sense and at the same time has received a certain amount of acclaim in the art world.

 
 

© Jörg Brüggemann

 
 

© Grant Willing

 
 

GW:

I think this sort of "subculture" music scene moving into mainstream happens to almost anything anymore.  Our generation's "mainstream" is really just made up of so many subcultures that it hardly even matters who or what is considered edgy anymore.  This kind of thing happened with punk music the last 20 or so years.  I'm not sure why its taken metal a bit longer to catch up, but it seems to be on its way similarly to punk, hardcore, etc.  While these musical genres are transforming a bit and widening, there is always going to be that original, underground, and darker side to the music as well.  I don't know if it's a good thing or a bad thing that genres can be spread so wide as to accommodate anyone from the original, die-hard fan to the young 15-year-old kid buying band t-shirts at Hot Topic.

I'd like to think that my series works in a way on the fact that its not completely pinned down to just being about Black Metal.  I think in some ways a project like that, like Peter Beste's, can be alienating at times.  That type of a project is obviously going to appeal to metal heads, like me, and will have some kind of shock-appeal to people that are not entirely familiar with the scene.  However, it could potentially leave a lot of other people lost in understanding the motivations behind the creation of the work; what the work is truly about and if it goes farther than just documenting something that seems cool.  I like how your work can avoid that separational aspect of overly specific work in that its general within a somewhat specific scene.  It is the kind of work that anyone who enjoys metal or has interest in can look at and understand.  But on the other hand, do you ever wish that you narrowed down your scope into something specific as a single band, a single festival, or something like that?  How do you feel photographing a lot of different, anonymous, bands works within this idea?  Was it conscious for you to portray an essence of the music aside from something overly specific?

 
 

© Jörg Brüggemann

 
 

© Grant Willing

 
 

JB:

This is actually a question I have been thinking about a lot recently. It all depends on where I want to go with the project in the end. You are right that an overly specific approach will only attract metal heads and this is actually not where I want the project to go as I explained earlier. I think that this mainly will depend on the editing, when everything is already photographed. But as I am only half way through the phase of taking the images I am still not completely sure what will work best in the end.
 
One idea would be to mix everything in the editing, the different countries, different genres and different bands, which would put an emphasis on the idea of a globalized metal culture, I think, but would not leave enough space to get deeper into any of these specific themes. This is the idea I had in mind when I started the project. So yes, in the beginning it was conscious to portray only the essence of metal or at least my idea of it. However the more places I photograph the more I feel like it could also be a good idea to edit everything in different chapters. Because actually I have photographed very specific themes within the project like the underground scene in Indonesia or the Wacken Open Air.
 
But might as well be too much information for just one project or one book, I might lose the idea of globalization on this way and I also feel like I would miss the chance of trying out new ways of editing and telling stories with photography. I just might end up in the trap that you have described when it is getting overly specific. Then the project could appeal only to people who like metal. Maybe it could also be a mixture of both ways. The medium of photography can be very flexible in its message and editing photos can be an art on its own. I am planning to take the last pictures at Wacken Open Air next summer. So there is a lot of editing work to be done next autumn, but I am looking forward to this work. I think it’s going to be very exciting.
 
You have already presented Svart Metal in form of a book and exhibitions. Is the project finished for you? Or will you continue with it? Are you planning any new work related to metal culture?

 
 

© Jörg Brüggemann

 
 

© Grant Willing

 
 

GW:

I can never tell if the body of work is finished for me.  I still have a lot of ideas revolving around it, but right now I'm having trouble finding the appropriate execution.  I keep thinking that maybe this body of work is almost like a gateway to how I feel about my own art-making practice as a whole.  With my work in mind, I feel like the topic of Black Metal can be applied pretty broadly and liberally; I don't feel necessarily tied down to the subject matter.  My work started in reference to Black Metal, but I think the longer I work at it the more it becomes separate from the music and more in tune with subjects that I'm interested in that also coincide with metal.  I've lately been thinking a lot about nature and one's relationship to craft and the environment- but in a more historical and folk sense of the idea.  When I put it like this it feels very removed from Black Metal, but in my mind and thoughts of progression, it seems right in line.

I haven't been making as much work lately as I would like, but I have been thinking a lot which is not a bad thing.  I'm sort of waiting for the right moment to begin physically producing work; I'm in a preparative mood right now.  Even though the work I'm thinking about right now is some kind of a result of Svart Metall, I'm also glad not to be focusing on creating work only for the sake of that project.

I think metal will always be a source of inspiration for me.  The way the music fits into culture is so interesting; no matter how popular metal becomes, I always feel it will retain that sense of an outsider genre.

 
 

© Jörg Brüggemann

 
 

© Grant Willing

 
 

JB:

Yeah, that is a thing that has always fascinated me about metal. It is not a fashion, it is a lifestyle. The 15-year-old who just discovered Iron Maiden is very likely to stay with metal for the rest of his life. And I think you are right, it will probably remain an outsider genre, but at the same time metal heads are insiders. They are part of a community where religion, social origin and nationality play no role at all. Metal gives them the feeling of belonging to a group - often for the first time in their life. I believe that mainstream culture starts to understand and appreciate this. The dirty corner in which metal will probably remain is still part of the bigger house we all live in.
 
I am looking forward to see where this will take you and your photography. I really enjoyed our little metal ping pong conversation. Keep on doing such great work... and stay brutal!

 

Jörg Brüggemann and Grant Willing