Greif Alumni: Q&A with Heiner L. Beisert


We periodically invite our alumni, artists we have featured in the past, to share their new work and projects with us. Heiner L. Beisert’s work was first featured in our Guest Room curated by Holly Roussell. Heiner Lukas Beisert is a German visual artist, commissioned photojournalist and fine art photographer. Born in 1999 in Crivitz, he has been defining his approach to documenting spaces and the environmental portrayal of cityscapes, ever since he was gifted a camera at the age of seven. His works consist of a thematically unique amalgamation of a wide plethora of aspects intertwined with political criticism. The portrayal of existential dimensions through the visual recreation of human solitude and mortality in the context of modern performance societies delivers innovative perspectives on the matter of contemporary photography. He currently lives and works in Rostock for galleries and numerous papers in the German northeast, as well as Poland. Heiner L. Beisert is a co-founder of the Polish photography publishing house and artist collective „RUST”. We caught up with Heiner to discuss the publication of his new book “Love Me For Less”.

Der Greif: Hi Heiner, thanks for sharing your book, “Love Me For Less” with us. Can you tell us more about the concept behind your project and how it relates to the narrative of being human in the Anthropocene?

I highly appreciate the opportunity and thank you for showing continued interest in my work. LOVE ME FOR LESS works with the concept of out-of-body experiences and the phenomenology associated with it, something I found interest in after being involved in a car crash years prior. When it comes to how I conceptualized said idea, things got more complicated I would say. The reason being not only that I had little to no idea how I would be incorporating theory that led me on, like Marc Augés work challenging the concept of non-places just to name one, but also because the idea of settling on a long-term project frightened me. So when I developed the visual language displayed in my debut book nearly half a decade ago I was very much fixated on the idea of coming up with a continuously and ever-evolving recipe if you will, a recipe that allowed me to find a way to express the discourse I have been carrying inside of me as a visual meditation, that on the other hand also left room for me and the conceptual foundation to breathe however. Naturally, I believe that if I were not to address the out-of-body experience directly as I do, the viewer won't necessarily make out any connections to the theory on their own but can still connect to the photographs in a way that displays the stark contrast in which the industrialized topographies of today's age reveal themselves to us. The Anthropocene as I view it is inherently caught up in this rift that forces us to.

You mentioned you were inspired to create this body of work after a car crash in 2020. How did this experience influence the direction and themes explored in your project?

The car crash took place just over two years before that but I actually did not feel like dealing with the matter until that year. I for one did not feel like I wanted to deal with the fragile state of things and on the other hand, was not entirely sure what this impactful event meant for the whole topic of perception in my work. It did make me aware of the ongoing process that drives life experience and that therefore correlates to the photographic memory of oneself however. Lucky for me was that I had already decided to make the work from the standpoint of an inner meditation so having all these thoughts ruminating inside of me did a lot of good for me and certainly helped the process of diversifying how I wanted to go about the project — whether that being recreations of own visual experiences or else.

The idea of the out-of-body experience (OBE) and its scientific aspects played a significant role in your research. Could you elaborate on how this phenomenon influenced your artistic approach and the visual elements in your work?

So whilst the accident encouraged me to extend my philosophical and meta-physical knowledge and look for theory on near-death experiences, it has to be said that this surely is a field of theory that provides you with trustable and academic sources as well as equally much pseudo-scientific work. And whilst you get the latter en masse, I tried to search for similarities and patterns in what people affected by near-death and out-of-body experiences describe and what I was witnessing when going through that crash. LOVE ME FOR LESS is the condensed result of that research. Whilst I even tried to recreate the car crash itself, none of the photographs ever turned out how I envisioned it and therefore did not end up making it into the book.

The questions of what lies beneath our consciousness and how we can access the hidden structural array of chaos guided your creative process. Can you share some insights into your exploration of these themes and the discoveries you made along the way?

Before I started making work for this project, I embarked on another journey that was my series IN THE MIDST OF BEING which revolved around my own struggle with mental health and eating disorders. The mechanisms of how I produced this body of work actually proved successful to me and so I decided to engage further and allow myself to try and understand what really there is that constitutes my own perception. I knew that there must be something different from other people, but how would I be able to showcase that and translate it into a photographic process? The only answer I have gotten so far and that might as well only be true for me, but there really is not anything else more helpful than just making the work. I did find out that a lot of this series just came to life through the archival process of going over the negatives again and again and I did find out that I managed to transport what I wanted to transport in the photographs themselves but found myself limited in ways of explaining things to myself. I am not sure if that is because I'm self-taught.

Heiner L. Beisert, From “Love Me For Less” by Heiner L. Beisert

The title "Love Me For Less" carries a certain ambiguity. Could you explain the meaning behind it and how it connects to the overall concept of your project?

I always felt like this project was the manifestation of an inner monologue in a visual, and now physical form. So something indeed intimate and personal. A purpose that I felt was worthy not only because I am firm believer in making work about things that actually concern you, that you can speak from experience of, but also because I felt like I owed myself to be at peace with how the state of things in my practice is when it is so easy to be overly hard on yourself for everything in photography. Most things really just need time to be properly looked at and judged. So whilst maintaining my focus on out-of-body experiences, I also wanted to create a title for this work that people and also I myself can find purpose in after engaging with the photographs. I set out to find a title that conveys a sense of belonging whilst allowing a broader access to the work which really is pretty personal and intimate. What better name I thought than LOVE ME FOR LESS, something I once saw tattooed on a woman's neck back when living in Saxony years ago. Something I actually can not tell you if I have really just dreamed it or saw her in real life. I can recall this encounter so closely and can see it clear as day in front of me but whether that was just a dream or not, I am unable to say.

You mentioned the importance of capturing the abstract interactions between humans and their environments. Can you provide examples of these interactions and how they were visually represented in your work?

I have actually had people tell me that certain portraits I made throughout the years draw a lot from the aura of the 1970s black and white fashion photography in the former German Democratic Republic, especially photographers like Sibylle Bergemann for example. This I find very fitting for the approach of the time is something I take great interest in, even if ideologically charged in certain publications. A great number of those photographs from that time place people in a setting that transports a sense of easiness and melancholy, in an exciting contrast to the chimneys and urban fabrics of post-war Germany. At the time revolutionary, today undoubtedly a classic, I try to develop this concept further and showcase my perception of growing up in East Germany. By now the Cold War has ended, and time has passed but exploring the feelings of sorrow, disconnectedness and anger remains to us — all while drawing comparisons between the people I display and the soil they stand on. I, therefore, like to give the portrayed people in my photographs a lot of room and information around the subject. I like to have them create a dichotomy in which the place reveals the portrait and the other way around. Seldom do I not follow this procedure. I even go so far as to say I go about portraits as I go about landscape work.

The quote about the human eye being blinded by the mind emphasizes the complexity of perception. How does photography help you navigate this complexity and ensure the preservation of sanity in capturing moments through your lens?

That is indeed a phenomenal question that I just talked about with another photographer. I then said to her that with this quote I wanted to highlight the importance of a photographic dialogue, or maybe more so underline my understanding of the complexity of human perception and how this varies so much. I firmly believe that, at least for me, there is hardly something as interesting as talking about photography in a way where it allows us to compare the way we perceive reality. That I find incredibly valuable and calming of sorts, for it opens up a realm where photography can act as a touchstone of reality and the contents it tries to convey. Whilst I am fully aware that dealing with the photographic medium as evidence of human interactions and their respective environments is by any means an at the very least debatable statement, it nevertheless provides the canvas on which a collective perception could be decided on. In other words: I believe it is fairly calming to exchange thoughts about how one engages with reality and being reassured one is not imagining things. And while photography is therefore not so much a promise, a proof of things and how they will endure, it allows for making ideas visible.

As a photographer, what message or emotion do you hope to convey to your audience through "Love Me For Less"? How do you want your work to resonate with viewers and provoke their thinking?

This is something I have thought about a lot, especially because the body of work is so intimate. But because that is the case, I am pretty sure I will not be able to recreate that in detail for whoever is looking at it. And I start to believe that I do not have to. I want people to connect with the photographs in a way that they themselves can reflect on perception and abstract categories like time and space — which are dominating my work. I would like to have people go back to LOVE ME FOR LESS and look at it as a reflection of my own truth. What is left to do, is to see how much that really lines up with your own impression of what the world consists of.

Der Greif: Can you share any discoveries you made about yourself through making this work?

A discovery I made was surely that it became more evident to me that I am not a photographer who for the most part is able to make work very condensed and in a short time frame, plan things out, and adhere to a prewritten game plan — although I wish I was at times. Most of this body of work came alive through the archival experience of going through the negatives and a certain distance, whether that would be time or space, that allows for seeing with new eyes. I would say it's been a tremendous learning curve when it comes to dealing with my own patience and finding out what the inherent pace of this work is.

Der Greif: Lastly, can you tell our community what's next for your practice?

For now, I plan on taking some time off of the strict project-based workflow I taught myself over the last years and just go out and take photographs and see what develops, for I have not missed anything more than this which I hardly ever had the time for. I might as well have more time for the project that is RUST Publishing as well, for we already have exciting projects lined up for next year and are steadily working on expanding our portfolio and looking for new artists to collaborate with.