Woman Crush Wednesday: An Interview with Birthe Piontek
By: Riley Ryan-Wood
MUSÉE: You have said before that "Lying Still" is an experiment in exploring the relationship between the photographer and the photographed—did you learn anything about the nuances of that relationship?
BIRTHE: Yes, I learned a lot about vulnerability. Being in front of the camera made me feel very vulnerable, but at the same time it was a powerful experience that became a catalyst to express something that I wasn’t able to see or feel before. It was like giving a stage to a certain aspect or emotion that needed to be seen in order to be understood.
In all my portraits, whether self portraits, or pictures of family or strangers, I always want to create intimacy, which I think is an important ingredient for a powerful image. Turning the camera towards myself helped me better understand how it feels on the other end of the camera, and how intimacy can only develop if the subject really opens up and accepts to be vulnerable.
M: The project explores many questions on various topics—illness, sexuality, death, intimacy. Do you feel like your creative process lead you to some coherent answers or to more questions?
I definitely didn’t get any final answers, but working on this project felt like digging deeper and deeper into those questions. It lead me to the understanding that there probably aren’t any coherent answers to these topics, at least none that could be generally applied. But sharing the project and getting feedback showed me how universal my struggles and inquiries are. To realize how we are united by these questions and our attempts to make sense and create meaning was a very encouraging experience. Not having all the answers isn’t a bad thing, it just means more food for thought, more exploration and more material for future projects.
M: With the inclusion of the found press images of the 1950s and 1960s, do you intend to imply that this collective experience is eternally evolving or that it is actually quite static in time?
I think it is a bit of both. We will always have a collective experience and struggle with issues and challenges that are part of being human. Sickness, the demise of our mortal bodies, loss (of our health, a person, a relationship); these are ongoing topics–unless we find a cure against dying and change. But I assume that even if we did, we would encounter other questions and challenges. We are connected by these experiences and questions. I don’t think the core of certain questions changes, but what changes is the way we ask them. Or the way we are willing to look at them, and to be aware that they are part of us.
Images (in sequence): Birthe Piontek, Acrobat, Halloween, Bathtub, Bruises, Escape, Hysteria, Mirror Ball from the Series "Lying Still," 2010-2015
Many of the found press images in the project address the representation of women, the collective identity of women and womanhood itself. These topics will continue to be relevant, despite the role and representation of women in society having significantly evolved since the 50’s and 60’s. But there is still a lot to be addressed and worked at.
The WCW Questionnaire
How would you describe your creative process in one word? Intuitive.
If you could teach one, one-hour class on anything, what would it be? The art of walking like a marionette or how to make a fool of yourself on a dance floor.
What was the last book you read or film you saw that inspired you? The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit.
What is the most played song in your iTunes Library? "Reckoner" by Radiohead.
How do you take your coffee? With milk.