Like waiting for the proverbial London red buses, sometimes they come in twos at once, and here is my second Featured Artists post in a week! Whilst still fresh from my visit to the Leica Oskar Barnack Award in Wetzlar last week, I thought I’d write about Valentin Goppel’s (b.2000) winning series “Between The Years”. Valentin was awarded the LOBA2022 Newcomer Award of a Leica Q2 and 10,000 Euros and I’m so glad to have met with him and listen to his answers at the press conference.
“Between The Years” is a photo project that started out of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 when many nations and cities, including Germany declared lock-downs on its population. Valentin photographed the daily lives of his friends and explores how the pandemic affected them, and himself, and how their future had been effectively put on hold, the affects of uncertainty from normal activities to one of boredom and routine.
“If I can’t do justice to an objective truth, then maybe a subjective truth. So, in the end, I tried to capture by own perceptions of recent years, with all the means that I have in front of the camera.”
SL : I read that you used a Pentax 645D camera for your series. How much did the format of the camera influence the way you photographed?
VG : The Pentax is a very slow and bulky camera, it affected my approach by its sheer impossibility to do proper snapshots. So it slowed me down, making me be even more concentrated on finding the right way to break down the scene.
SL : How much harder (or easier) was it to photograph your friends and family, as opposed to strangers in the way you did, as an observer and a participant.
VG : Knowing that I can only picture my own reality, taking pictures of my friends was a lot easier than photographing strangers. It was especially helpful- because picturing my friends showed me I was not alone with the hardships of the pandemic. The only difficult thing about photographing the known surroundings is to still see them as special.
Over the last 2 years, I have seen many photo projects on the effects of the pandemic – the isolation images, vacant urban scapes, lonely figures shot through windows. or experimental self-portraits. “Between The Years” is a young photographer’s attempt to ‘square his circle’ and come to terms with the rising pessimism for the future especially in the youth of today. By being a participatory concerned observer in his series his images become subjective and at times, some of his pictures were staged or reenacted. I find this approach interesting – many photographers often stage still life or fashion portraits – but this series poses an important question about what is essentially and artistic environmental portrait project as opposed to photo documentary work. Valentine acknowledges that :
“I have doubts about the possibility of photography being objective. Knowing that my perception is very subjective, and that claiming to photograph a work that universally captures the experiences of an entire generation is something I can’t possibly live up to, I eventually distanced myself from this claim. The project quickly became more subjective; in the meantime, it has primarily become a way to process my own feelings from these recent years. Luckily, many people also recognise themselves in it.”
Valentin’s series has a closeness to it, the portraits are intimate and also casual but well composed and lighted, and the LOBA jury loved it. I concur.