Back to Writing / 7-19-2005



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Berlin artists Martin Pelzer and Anna Phobia have developed a deep, aesthetic collaboration, and hold to high standards when creating their photographs. Most of their work thus far is in black and white, and they use traditional film to capture pure, clean compositions. They spoke with us about creating a concept and how they take it from life to film to paper to the web.

Sez G: Many photographers have preferred models and muses to shoot, but you two have developed a larger partnership, and all your work is credited as such. What's the creative process like for you as a team?


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Martin Pelzer: Well, Anna is not exactly my muse… or not only. We have been a couple for over seven years now, and we started our photography project together about four years ago.

The creative process usually looks like this: We talk about the ideas we have, the clothes we like, the models we want to shoot and so on. Anna usually takes care of the fashion if a model doesn't have her own. I take care of the location and all the technical details. I also develop and scan the images. Anna does the design of our website, while I do the programming and database work. Basically, she tells me how it should look and I try to make it happen! [laughs]

Sez G: Wow, then the end product is very collaborative. How did you two meet?

Anna Phobia: We met while we both were on vacation in Italy.

Sez G: You are based in Berlin, a city with a very rich, internationally renowned fetish community. What's your involvement in the scene?

Martin Pelzer: To be honest, I don't think we have a rich fetish community here. At least not yet. We do have a huge BDSM scene, but Anna and I are not very involved in that. The fetish scene is developing at the moment, and most of the designers and people here in Berlin are friends of ours.

I have the feeling that the fetish scene is growing, but there is still a lot of work to do. A good thing about Berlin is that the different groups here don't just exist in closed, private scenes. Berlin is a very open-mined city, and so are the people… once you find a way to deal with them. [grin]

Anna Phobia: In my opinion a "fetish scene" isn't something new in Berlin, but it has started developing in a new direction and is becoming more colorful and versatile than it used to be.

Perhaps it is something like the passing of generations, especially since Berlin hosts the annual German Fetish Ball and has some great new fetish fashion labels like TO.mTO and Savage Wear. Also, the parties in town seem to hearken back to the roaring twenties atmosphere Berlin used to have.

Sez G: Which came first for you...photography or fetish and bondage?

Martin Pelzer: I was interested in photography first…. Not that I started photography at a very young age, but I have always had an appreciation for images. Fetish came quite a bit later, to be honest, at the age of 20 or 21.

I don't know if was always a fetishist. I was involved in the radical left and anarchist scenes. With them, sexual issues aren't always handled without judgment. That was one of the reasons why I broke away from that crowd.


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Anna Phobia: I've always been very visual and had a passion for great pictures, so it was just a matter of time to combine it with my love for corsets, stockings and latex. I can't really say what was there first. Actually the two sort of appeared in me together, which let the idea grow to create something new with it. [smiles]

Sez G: Your work is very professional, but neither of you do this for a living. What are your "careers," and do they creatively inspire your photography? You're also both quite young, do you aspire to do this professionally some day?

Martin & Anna: We both are work for television as our day jobs. Martin is the technical director for a production company which does satellite transmissions, offers editing, provides stations with camera crews and so on. Anna is training and also does satellite work, editing, and sound tech. Our day jobs give us technical background and knowledge. Of course, they inspire us a lot since we're surrounded by music videos, films and all kind of images every day.

The main influence is probably that we really learn about composition and how an image must look in a very formal way to make a good picture. There are rules in composition that will always be valid, whether you use them for moving images or photos.

We don't think that we will ever go professional with this type of images. As you know, there is only a very, very limited market for arty black and white fetish images. It wouldn't make sense. With our day jobs, we are able to operate our project however we like, with the freedom to just say "No" when we are asked to do a shoot we don't like!

Sez G: Your color work is striking, but it seems that you lean more towards black and white. What makes you decide to shoot one or the other?

Martin Pelzer: I always loved black and white photos more than color. When I take a photo, I am not trying to reproduce reality (in regards to the image itself). That's one reason why I really cannot stand the amateur photos found on the internet over the last few years.

Black and white photography is abstract on its own, and when I do shoot color, I want to achieve the same abstraction, so I want striking and strange colors. Not every location suits that demand, and unfortunately, it is extremely expensive to turn a location with tame colors into a location with "screaming colors."


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Sez G: Speaking of your locations, you do a lot of shooting outside on desolate streets. How do you scout your locations and what time of day works best for you? Do you prefer public shooting to the studio?

Martin Pelzer: A few years ago, it was quite easy to find desolate streets or buildings here in Berlin. You could just drive through the city and see them. Now, though, it is getting more difficult because all of Berlin is being renovated. That's one of our main problems at the moment. Either you don't find locations that are suitable for a shoot, or the people who own that location want a lot of money to let you shoot there.

I totally prefer shooting in public, but I don't know exactly why. Somehow, it makes the images more lively. The lighting I need for the image is usually in the afternoon. I am of the opinion that not only a good model or good composition makes a good photo. It's also the background. I don't like photos with a plain black or white or gray background. That's why I don't shoot in a studio.

Sez G: Do you shoot film or digital and how much computer retouching do you do?

Martin Pelzer: I shoot film as long as I'm not doing documentary images. Digital will never have the same look as film, no matter how good the cameras get or how many megapixels they have. Film is totally different from digital, and I love it!

I don't do much post-production to the images. I correct the black levels and get rid of dust in Photoshop, but that's all. Every single image on our site can be classically enlarged exactly as it is on the website, and that's one of my maxims. Every photo I do has to be good on the negative. I do not enhance or correct it in Photoshop.

Anna Phobia: Hahaha, I sometimes retouch dark circles around the eyes, correct the lines of the lipstick and things like that. But that's like subsequently giving the model more hours of sleep. All together, I have to say that we don't really use Photoshop to compensate for poor images. We only polish them, as we would do in the darkroom while printing.

Sez G: Purists! When did you launch abwaerts.de and how has your approach to your art changed since then?

Martin & Anna: We launched abwaerts.de 4 years ago. At first, the fetish images were only one part of the site, and we showed some of Martin's other work. After a while, though, it became clear that people wanted to see the fetish work, not the other stuff, so the site became fetish-only after a few months!

I don't think the site itself changed our approach to our art. Of course we met a lot of interesting people through the website, and it also gave us the opportunity to show our images to a much bigger crowd of people than we would be able to without it.

Sometimes we think it's better to not get consumed by your online art, because the online fetish world is really good at hyping you as long as your pictures have cute girls in latex in them. It can be much more creative to read photo books, go to galleries, learn and discuss photography in "real life" with people whose opinions mean something to you.

Sez G: Ah, okay, but we're still going to hype you! What's coming up for you in the future?

Martin & Anna: There won't be as much "shooting by accident" like we've had over the last few years. Too often it was kind of disappointing for us to see that the pictures came out with a lack of preparation or ideas. So we hope to be able to do more organized shoots while going for more color and enhancing our skills with this.




You can learn more about Martin Pelzer and Anna Phobia at abwaerts.de.

Martin Pelzer & Anna Phobia - by Sez G