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Der Greif X FUTURES: Interview with talent Peter Pflügler


Peter Pflügler is one of the talents Der Greif nominated to join FUTURES in 2023. Carefully investigating the traces of this silent, dark story, his images live on the brink of comfort and irritation, between love and pain. In his latest project and photobook “Now Is Not the Right Time” published by Eriskay Connection his imagery invites the viewer to look further and discover texts and images hidden between the pages. “Now Is Not The Right Time” is about the impossibility of secrets, about what we share when we hide, and about intergenerational trauma. It is a work about pain inflicted out of love, the complexity of silence and the inexplicable sadness of a boy.

Der Greif: Hi Peter! It's been a few months since your nomination for Futures. How have you been? What has happened since then?

Hi! It has been a fruitful and challenging year in many aspects. Futures offered a great possibility to meet artists, curators, and like-minded people in the field. In 2023, I published my first book, "Now Is Not the Right Time," which I have shown in quite a few places so far, including Arles, Paris, Jakarta, and Vienna. More and more, I realized how important it is for my practice to engage with the audience, start a dialogue, and share experiences dealing with secrets and the dynamics of silence, especially in a family setting. In "Now Is Not the Right Time," I worked on the silenced suicide attempt of my father when I was two years old. The focus of the project is on the effect the secret had on me growing up. I always somehow knew, but without having the information of the traumatic event, it was impossible to deal with it in a healthy way. My work is all about the question of how to break the silence, the idea that if we keep the dark spots in our history hidden, it will still trickle through to the next generation. It seems like it does not matter what exactly the traumatic event has been, the dynamics of silence and secrets are universal. This was the most important finding for me in the last year.

Der Greif: Documentary photography, in both its collective and personal manifestations, has the ability to bring us back to a lived trauma or allow us to experience it for the first time from the perspective of the audience. In your recent publication "Now Is Not the Right Time," you have utilized the combination of text and image. What is the role of words in photographic narratives?

Words and photographs are often difficult to combine, in my opinion. They vie for attention and communicate in different ways. Words suggest an image, while pictures suggest a context. In my case, they both serve very different purposes. My images reflect my life growing up: a state of knowing without truly knowing, representing my senses and feelings. Late in the process, I realized that this alone was not enough for me. It was crucial to provide the audience with the proper context, to explicitly name what had happened, and to break the cycle of secrecy and silence. We included text between the pages, such as diary entries and essays about my experiences, to give the reader a complete picture of what had occurred. To read this text, one must make an effort and separate the pages. This was a brilliant choice made by the designer I work with, Sybren Kuiper, and I am extremely pleased with it. In this way, I do not perpetuate the confusion. I aim to offer the relief of knowing.

Der Greif: What is your understanding of 'silence' and how does it relate to your photographic practice?

Silence is not passive. That was very important for me to understand. Silence can be an active creature, molding its way through the darkness, leaving traces that we do not understand. It leaves scars that seemingly appear out of nowhere, and then we are confronted with the fact that we don't know where these wounds came from. We think that there is something wrong with us, that we are the problem in the narrative. My visual language uses a calm, clear, partly staged approach. By adding elements that feel off,’ I am trying to let the audience question this calmness of the image. Photography is crucial in this approach, since it seemingly freezes the scenery, takes out movement, only suggesting time, and yet it refers to so much that happened before and will happen after, both in and out of the frame. In a way, I use silence in my work in order to break it.

Der Greif: "Now Is Not the Right Time" is intrinsically a narration of intergenerational trauma as seen through your experience. How does a personal experience become universal through the act of photography?

Everything personal is universal. That being said, this does not mean that it is easy to translate a personal/universal experience into an artistic project that is readable for an audience. One of the challenging aspects is the different starting point when looking at an image. As the creator and especially as a participant in the story, I have a long history of feelings, memories, thoughts, and ideas connected to the places, people, landscapes, and objects that I photograph. The audience most of the time does not share these experiences. That is why it was difficult for me to use archival images or even portraits of my family members. In the end, my solution became to photograph every scenery more like a metaphor for something else. I slightly staged and shifted the meaning and therefore hopefully created space for the viewer to interpret what they see in their own way. I somehow try to make portraits of objects and still lifes of humans. This helped me find a visual language that is not so much dependent on knowing all the backstory. In the end, every project has a unique solution to this problem, probably several different ones. But for me, it is very important to not question all the time if my personal story is universal enough. It exists, it shaped who I am, and it makes me want to share, that is enough, this is universal. But finding the right words, the right images, the right tone, the right form - that is where I struggled, and always will. And yet, failing and experimenting while finding this path brought me again closer to why I do all of this in the first place. Which is a beautiful side effect, isn’t it?