Stefan Rohner is an Ibiza, Spain-based photographer. He is a member of the photo agency Anarchy Images. He was inspired to create Ball Saal, a a cooperative gallery he founded with Andreas Hering. Stefan’s work has appeared at the Galerie Lichtpunkt in Munich. He has taught at the International Summer School of Photography (ISSP) at the Petersburg Photo Workshops. His latest exhibit is “The King is Coming,” a journey through Morocco.
Wayne: Can you talk about growing up in Germany. What was your childhood like?
Stefan: I grew up with my parents and siblings in a village outside the big cities, at the border of Lake Constance. The area has a beautiful landscape, but a rather conservative, closed environment. I very much enjoyed the journeys to Italy, where I went on holidays every summer—since my mother was born and raised in Italy, and I grew up bilingual—all the antique viewings, cathedrals, museums, sculptures and paintings. The feeling of the old cities with the warmth of the Italian people left an important mark in my youth.
Wayne: How did you get started in painting? What kind of exposure did you have to the arts, and when and where did your interest in the visual arts begin?
Stefan: At the end of my school studies I met a very interesting arts professor; he was a great inspiration to me. He opened my eyes to painting and sculpture, he also introduced me to the wonderful world of classical music. At the time I was around 17 to 19 years old. With him I made my first steps with brush, canvas and plaster. Later here on Ibiza I started working with wood, using a chainsaw and an axe, influenced by Georg Baselitz‘s sculptures.
Wayne: How did you end up leaving the Lake Constance area? What kind of painting do you do these days?
Stefan: At the age of 21, I moved from Southern Germany to Berlin, escaping from the conservative surroundings I lived in, escaping from the organized ‘everything has to have its order’ society, breaking out from my parents’ house, and going to see the ‘big world’ outside of the small, provincial town. Berlin was great: galleries, museums, independent arts, artists from all over the world. Everything I saw influenced me, sunk inside me. I started to paint a little more seriously. I loved the Junge Wilde movement: big big canvases, big brushes, quick and wild paintings. I loved [Rainer] Fetting, [Helmut] Middendorf, Salome, they had a huge influence on me. Later I found Anselm Kiefer and Georg Baselitz.
Painting was a way to find my own way, to find the sense of life. Why do we live? There must be something more than only the conservative values that our society instills in us as we grow up—at least better than those I grew up with. After four grey and cold winters I left Berlin and Germany. I came here to Ibiza for work reasons, but I kept on painting, still looking for the sense of life. Painting was very important to me. I turned to it whenever I felt bad inside, whenever I was depressed or heartsick. Later on in Ibiza, I became influenced by Soutine, Miquel Barceló and Bernhard Heisig.
I am not painting anymore. I feel more at peace inside, an important reason for this is my wife Carina [Berlingeri]. ‘Thank you’ to her! I also felt that when I reached the point where I knew how to do certain things, how to form a picture, how to compose it, how to express myself, I stop, I want to go new ways. One of those was letting go of painting and taking photography seriously. I had taken pictures when I was in Berlin—I got an old Nikon FM2 at a flea market—but I never took photography seriously until some years ago. Back then, I never developed any film myself, nor printed pictures, just looked at them on the contact sheets I got back from the shops.
Wayne: The Galerie Lichpunkt has said that you enjoy the encounter with the “living document.” How do painting and photography compare for you, especially for portraiture?
Stefan: I remember only painting two to three portraits ever. Most of the time I was lost in some abstract fantasy world inspired by music or by the work of other painters. For my human portraiture I need time: time to establish a relationship to the photographic subject, time to get to know her or him, time to build up reciprocal trust, get to feel secure, lose fears and shyness—on both sides.
Both the photographer and the one being photographed must feel good, feel free. It can also happen that at the first encounter no picture is made, that there have to be several meetings to establish the trust I am speaking of. Other times it happens quickly. Every person is different, has her or his own times, reacts differently to the camera. To me, as a photographer, the most important things are the emotions of the model; they have to be positive and open. If somebody doesn’t want to be photographed I respect that wish and don’t take pictures. No problem at all. So painting is a mere expression of myself and my feelings, photography on the other side is an interaction with the other human being in front of the lens.
Wayne: In explaining your photography, your fellow Ball Saal member Edward van Herk has said that painting taught you about “structure, grain and strong composition.” How exactly has each of those concepts translated into your photography?
Stefan: I love grain and structure. In some of my paintings I experimented with sand and plaster, giving more structure and making the surface more alive, more vivid. Strong composition to me has graphical order. With a well-ordered graphical composition you can create wonderful depth, space and room, have an interesting, three-dimensional photograph. This is one of the reasons I still do my black and white work with film, the end result on fiber paper is still an unique thing, structure, grain, gloss and depth, wonderful. It also is a beautiful feeling to hold in your hands a piece of art made all by yourself, from the beginning to the end, handcrafted, there’s no machine that can give you such a feeling. A strong character adds also a lot to a picture, we are all unique and beautiful human beings in our own way, I like to capture this uniqueness, one part of it, keeping that moment alive forever.