Bonjour Tristesse – The Leica camera Blog

The photographer Jo Fischer considers that there is some beauty to be found in everything, if you are willing to open your eyes and see it. The photographs he took in Daaden speak with sensitivity, poetry and emotion about the ordinary things that surround us. Featuring instances of everyday life, the pictures give meaning to the unremarkable.

What took you to Daaden?
Daaden is a small town in Hesse. My car was in a garage there. Originally, the repair was supposed to take two days, but in the end I was stuck there for six. I was the only guest at the hotel. At breakfast, I was treated to German Schlager music, along with a plate of sliced meats and yesterday’s bread rolls. So I abandoned breakfast, grabbed my camera and set off. Because the place had absolutely nothing to spark my interest in the slightest, that is precisely what I photographed.

Why Bonjour Tristesse?
This is an expression I heard somewhere and it fits my little series. When you hear the word tristesse, you usually think of something sad; maybe rainy, grey, bleak and desolate. Because I’ve been exploring this theme for some time already, I’ve developed a new perspective towards the meaning of the word. In my mind, tristesse is everything ordinary with which I’m confronted in my homeland.

How did you discover your motifs?
I was sitting in the hotel and observing the sad-looking breakfast, the standardised furnishings, while listening to Roland Kaiser’s Santa Maria. I felt completely alone in that moment, and somewhat helpless, as though I’d gone back to the eighties. As I went up to my bedroom, I noticed a broom leaning against the stairway wall: it looked like an installation. It was the first thing that I photographed. In my room itself, in the daylight, I suddenly saw the dullness that I would have previously run away from – the old tube television, the lacy curtains – in a new way. It became clear to me that I am a part of the whole, a member of a community in which I have been socialised. Strengthened by this thought, I stepped out of the hotel door, and saw the scenes like backdrops built especially for me.

There isn’t even one person in your photos…
When I was stuck in Daaden, I felt like Sean Penn in U-Turn. No way out. In fact, I only came across people when I went shopping or at the petrol station. It was July, and as far as I can remember, extremely hot. Because I was taking pictures during the week and the locals were probably working, I had the whole place to myself.

Looking at your pictures, Tristesse also has something beautiful for a photographer.
There is some beauty to be found in everything; you just have to be able to see it for yourself. Maybe a painter hasn’t brought the right colours, and the landscape he wanted to paint doesn’t correspond to the one he imagined. He can either interrupt what he is doing and go all the way home, getting angry on the way; or he can work with what he has on hand. You can draw something positive out of every situation.

How important do you find spontaneity in photography?
If I’m not on a specific job, my photography is mostly spontaneous. I also need to have the feeling of falling into something, because then I have to deal with whatever is occurring, and things are always happening that you simply can’t plan. That’s precisely why I travel most of the time; my photography thrives on that, and it nourishes my soul.

How does the Leica M help you in these spontaneous moments?
The Leica M is my daily cam; I always have it with me. It’s small, discrete and delivers very convincing picture quality. Most of the time I use the Summilux 35mm f/1.4. My camera is already very patinated, and no longer looks expensive. This allows me to be more relaxed, when I travel to certain countries.

On the one hand, your pictures look like snapshots; on the other, they follow a certain composition…
The snapshot composition. It’s a real art form that few photographers master. I don’t always manage to do it, as I’m a beginner in that regard. I’m not a technician and I don’t make any rational decisions – I only let myself be guided by my feelings. I need an anchor in my pictures: something that moves me to release the trigger. It can be many things. A lilac-coloured car beneath a green tree; a bush on a street corner; or a mark on the floor.

You usually work mostly in black and white; why did you opt for colour on this occasion?
Black and white represents absolute clarity for me: it reveals the key statement in my pictures, without colours distracting from it. When I was in Daaden, I didn’t for a moment consider not using colour. In my opinion, it also wasn’t necessary to avoid it in this case. In fact, to do so would have taken strength out of the photos.

What does documentary photography, picturing reality, mean for you as a photographer?
As long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by documentation. Moving or static, that doesn’t make a difference. But, what then is reality? It can only be something that I see and capture in a particular moment and place. All the outer circumstances flow into it and become part of what you see in the picture. In my opinion, a photograph is something that can hardly be grasped; where everything the photographer feels can be found. In these moments, I am completely free. Once again, I’m a child in a colourful room with dozens of toys. I build my own world.

Jo Fischer was born in Berlin in 1970, and grew up as a child in Kuwait. After training in carpentry, he first founded a band, before opting for photography when he was 38 years old. His first solo exhibition was held in 2010 at the heliumcowboy art space gallery in Hamburg. It was followed by exhibitions at the Millerntor Gallery and Deichtorhallen in Hamburg. He has been a Leica photographer since 2012, working with the Leica M and the SL2. Find out more about his photography on his website and Instagram channel.

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