For Andreas Mass a trip to the dense, high and complex city of Hong Kong, effected the way he perceives urban space in a far more intense way than he expected. As he worked on the photographs that later would form his series ‘Invisible Horizons’, he noticed that how he was framing his surroundings triggered an intruiging shift in his spatial perception. His deep love for finding an interesting composition and his strong sense for aesthetics form the base of the beautiful depiction of Hong Kong.
What attracts you to photography? Do you like the sense of adventure? Or does it offer you a different perspective of the world?
I’m constantly finding new aspects of photography that I’m attracted by. I began shooting with the simple curiosity for the medium. Having tried many different directions, I finally arrived at urban landscapes, this resonated with me the most. With time I realized that photography has different effects on me, depending on my mood and the situation I’m in.
Of course I feel a sense of adventure when I’m walking through an area/city/country that’s new to me. And this in itself offers a ‘different perspective’ because you are free of expections and more easily amazed by what you see. However, what I love most is when I can use photogaphy as means of meditation. This happens when I’m mentally relaxed and there is no rush or anticipation to arrive at a particular place – a nominal state of sorts. This is when I truly gain a different perspective on my surroundings and tend to see/take better photographs.
Walking around becomes a passive act and you only see the environment that you are in at that moment rather than thinking of where to go next. Sadly I can’t always reach that mental state and naturally it’s harder to get there when I’m somewhere new. But when I do, it’s such a trip.
You are kind of a multi talent, working in three different fields in the visual spectrum. How do your skills as a 3d-artist and graphic designer effect your photographic eye?
I was interested in visual communication from a very young age. When I discovered graphic design I got introduced to so many types of imagery and thus many concepts of composition. There are two things that effected my photography framing most. I either try to find order in a scenery full of things or I try to arrange the frame with fewer elements in it in a way that is unconventional. If I manage the former while achieving a dynamic composition at same time that’s when I’m most satisfied.
I love the strife for good composition, but it’s also a bit of a curse sometimes. When I’m out I sometimes decide to pass taking a photograph after beeing too obsessed to find the perfect angle and never finding it. When reviewing, I often toss away photographs because I find that I didn’t nail the composition perfectly, while some of them might actually work well exactly because the composition wasn’t perfect. This pickyness can make it also harder for me to appreciate photographs taken by others, especially if the composition is too obvious (symmetry, golden section). I really value it when a photographer developes a photographic eye beyond the recommended guidelines and approved patterns and can simply play with the composition freely as he/she pleases.
Several of your series are shot in Asia, why do you find this part of the world particularly interesting?
I think there are two main reasons why I gravitate towards Asia. On the one hand I really like the fact that I feel so alienated in that part of the world. The cultural atmoshere is so very different from
what I’m used to. Nothing feels familiar, I can hardly recognize any patterns in my surroundings, my mind is forced to reset and just appreciate each corner of the city. I love that. Being in a new place surrounded by a different culture also helps me reflect on my life back home.
On the other hand I realized that the cities I encountered in Asia work incredibly well for the type of composition I find most intriguing and challenging. In cities that are dense, full of high rise buildings and lots of unique details in the streets I have so many visual elements to compose an image with. Especially when it comes to the upper half of the frame.
What sets asides the ‘Invisible Horizons’ series in your whole body of work?
Most of the time I take photographs of my enviroment thinking of them as a loose collection of individual impressions. By doing so I’m able to capture very different parts of a city with hardly any preference to where I go and without forcing any image/idea onto what I actually encounter. It is later on when I reflect on what I have seen and begin to put together the bigger picture in my head. Normally the process of shooting is quite straight forward, it’s the process of reviewing the finished photographs that invokes a certain feeling in me. That leads to an idea/theme and I then narrow down the selection to aesthetically strong photographs that can represent the concept.
‘Invisible Horizons’ was different. As I walked through Hong Kong I felt a shift in my spatial perception. It was the first time for me to experience such a dense, high and complex city. Little by little my sense of orientation, especially along the vertical axis got distorted. That weird phenomenon rapidly changed my impression of each scenery. I realized that it had something to do with the fact that I’m used to places with a wider and flatter topography. But what really struck me is that I felt that sensation mostly while I was out by myself focused only on photography.
One could say that my photographic eye, the way I frame my surroundings triggered the intriguing shift in my spatial perception. Each day, being outside as well as laying in bed I tried to understand what was going on. And so I started experimenting with how I walked through, looked at and framed the city. It was the first time for me to use photography not only as a post analytical, but also as an active tool to understand how I perceive the urban space. Not by shooting towards an idea just to support it, but purely as means of exploration and experimentation. And exactly because of that I left several photographs in the series that, if viewed separately would not have made the cut aesthetically, but which greatly contribute to and give evidence of my journey.
What would you like people to take from this particular series?
Aside from what I mentioned above this series is before all else a glimpse of Hong Kong. I hope however that I’m not only able to take the viewer on a journey through Hong Kong but also a journey of spatial perception. What defines urban space? When are urban spaces perceived individually and when do they add up without you noticing? Is accultation truly an element of separation? I think as you try to answer these questions for yourself you have to pay close attention to your own senses, your experiences and your expectations. At least I had to and if I manage to inspire people to do the same I would be beyond happy.
How would you describe the balance between aesthetics and narrative in your work?
Well, I don’t create specific stories, not in the sense of a plot, nor do I follow such a path to cover something specific so I guess the balance falls towards aesthetic. I’m trying to capture places with as little connotation as possible, which is probably why you also rarely see people being the focus of my photographs. In a way Eggleston’s concept of the democratic forest works best for me – both in terms of compositional and conceptual freedom. A photograph shows you things which by themselves are just things. It’s us who give meaning to those things by creating, using or by being used by them. I think interpreting those meanings can create a narrative, a very personal one.
Having said that maybe you understand why I like taking photographs of habitats. We form it, it forms us – we change it, it changes us. There is so much to reflect on.
You work mostly with a medium format camera, right? Can you describe how this influences your work?
I began shooting digital but as I reached urban landscape photography I quickly moved to analog. Mainly because of the light and color rendition – it is still so much closer to how I see the world. I started with medium format because I liked the bigger resolution, less noise, greater detail. Besides shooting analog, having even less frames in a film roll had a great impact on my shooting behavior. It teached me to be pickier and to rely on the evaluation through the naked eye before reaching for the camera.
I started shooting 6×6 with two different lenses but then moved to 6×7 because I prefered the aspect ratio. I got a 65mm lens which best resembled how I perceive the world and kept shooting with it since then. As I walk around now, I see a virtual frame which matches my camera and lens. I don’t only shoot medium format, there’s always a 35mm camera in my bag. However in 35mm I mostly shoot b/w, for capturing urban details and random moments.
In terms of visual inspiration, what do you look at?
Anything, really. I’m on instagram, flickr and facebook, daily following many talented photographers and illustrators. Due to my work I’m also non stop on pinterest, tumblr and behance. Inspiration is all around, it’s more of a challenge to use it well, instead of just getting envious.
What photographic ambitions have you not yet achieved? Do you have any new projects coming up?
I find it hard to put together a series even when it feels like one. I would love to be better at transforming a unique feeling I have about a series of photographs into a concept that can be conveyed to others. In 2014 I spent 5 months in Fukuoka, Japan as an exchange design student and have shot many photographs during that time. I have a strong feeling about them, a theme of sorts but putting together a series which best represents it is incredibly hard. Being able to translate it to others even harder. I still hope I can manage to do so though.
While it is not a ‘project’ (yet) I’m still happy say that I will once again go to Hong Kong starting 2017, this time for 5-6 months. I will definitely shoot tons of photographs and knowing how much inspiration I draw from that, something interesting might turn out!
Andreas Mass (1987, Kazachstan) is a photographer with many talents. Next to his daily practice as a 3D-artist and graphic designer he uses the photographic medium as a means to reflect on his exploration of the urban landscape all around the world.