woensdag 21 augustus 2019

Views & Reviews Living Rooms Make the Ultimate Portrait Paris Living Rooms Dominique Nabokov Photography

Andere auteursAndrée Putman (Introductie)
Assouline (2002), Editie: First Edition, 114 pagina's

For Photographer Dominique Nabokov, Living Rooms Make the Ultimate Portrait
For nearly three decades the photographer has been documenting living spaces in New York, Paris, and now Berlin.

By Shax Riegler
April 26, 2018

The Berlin apartment of Sir David Chipperfield and Dr. Evelyn Stern photographed in 2014 (featured in Berlin Living Rooms by Dominique Nabokov)
Photograph by Dominique Nabokov

In its October 16, 1995, issue, the The New Yorker published a photo portfolio that offered tantalizing glimpses into the living rooms of celebrated Gothamites like the Reverend Al Sharpton, writer Susan Sontag, artist Louise Bourgeois, fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, decorator Mario Buatta, porn star Robyn Byrd, and a dozen others. None of the boldface homeowners were shown, and the photos—spread across three pages, six to a page—didn’t run large, but the peephole quality was irresistible. As Susan Orlean noted in the brief accompanying text: “In the final analysis, living rooms are a lot like underwear: You always wonder what other people’s look like, and you worry about what yours might look like to somebody else.”

The photographer, Dominique Nabokov, wasn’t looking to catch her subjects with their pants down; she was simply curious about how the rooms of such notables might reflect their personalities. The magazine’s readers were fascinated, too, and Nabokov immediately started receiving invitations to shoot more rooms. She kept going on her own and a few years later, in 1998, she published New York Living Rooms, which spotlighted 83 rooms (including the original 18).

The living room of Louise Bourgeois February 1997
The Chelsea living room of artist Louise Bourgeois, February 1997 (featured in New York Living Rooms).
Photograph by Dominique Nabokov

As Nabokov put it in the preface, the book “is not exactly about interior decoration.” Her intention was merely to document exactly what she found. “No rearranging, no adding of bouquets, no use of floodlights,” she declared. Instead, she slipped in, shot fast, and made do with what she captured. At the time she also relied on a unique film: Polaroid Colorgraph type 691, now long discontinued. Explaining its attraction, she said, “I like the tones of this film, which are slightly off, and its technical imperfection that gives the photos a light veiled patina and creates a poetic distance between what they represent and the reality of our time.” The resulting pictures offer peeks into living spaces that feel fascinatingly authentic and intimate. (In fact, she once called herself, in relation to this project, a “sleuth-voyeur.”)

The living room of collector Barbara Jakobson
The Upper East Side living room of collector and arts patron Barbara Jakobson, December 1996 (featured in New York Living Rooms).
Photograph by Dominique Nabokov

After the success of the New York series—she went on to show her photos at New York’s Staley-Wise Gallery and then at the Musée des Arts Decoratifs and the Patricia Dorfmann Gallery in Paris—Nabokov set out to document the living rooms of Paris, where she also keeps an apartment. Luckily, she stumbled upon a forgotten cache of the same Polaroid film in an out-of-the-way Manhattan camera shop and was able to snap it up for the new project.

Paris Living Rooms, published in 2002, showed 92 rooms in and around the French capital. In her introduction to the book, designer Andrée Putman called the pictures “unaffected snapshots, portraits without the gloss” and described Nabokov’s method thus: “Like a thief, the photographer enters to capture the essential intimacy of a room left unguarded.”

The artfilled living room of Yves Saint Laurent
The art-filled living room of Yves Saint Laurent's apartment on the Rue de Babylone, in Paris’s Seventh Arrondissement, March 2002 (featured in Paris Living Rooms).
Photograph by Dominique Nabokov

Earlier this year a third—and final—volume, Berlin Living Rooms, came out. Nabokov lived in the German capital with her husband in the 1960s and ‘70s and had long envisioned focusing her lens on its homes, but it was only when she was invited to spend a few months at the American Academy there in 2014 that she was able to embark on the project. Unfortunately, after such a long hiatus, that magical Polaroid film was long gone, so she decided to shoot in black-and-white “to symbolically recreate the expressionist style of Berlin’s photography and movies from the 1930s.” AD PRO caught up with the photographer to chat about her decades-spanning project. Here she answers some of our questions.

An expansive living room in Berlin's Charlottenburg neighborhood
The expansive, light-filled living room of Torsten Schröder and Dietmar Schwartz, director of the Deutsche Oper Berlin in the city's Charlottenburg neighborhood, 2014 (featured in Berlin Living Rooms).
Photograph by Dominique Nabokov

AD PRO: What inspired you to begin photographing living rooms?

Dominique Nabokov: Tina Brown had the idea that I should photograph the rooms of writers. But I wasn’t really interested in that because I had been photographing writers’ portraits for so many years…. I thought it was a bit boring. Instead, I was more interested to go inside the houses of people, and I said, “Why not photograph their bedrooms?” And she said, “Well they won’t let you. It will be difficult.” So I said, "What about the living room?” And she said, “Okay.”

AD PRO: What attracted you to the Polaroid film?

DN: An assistant brought it to my attention, and we did a few tests. I liked the crazy colors, the accidents, the mistakes. The idea was that it would be like an old photo already, like you’d find in an old book or a suitcase somewhere. And voila! Tina loved it, and so with that film I did the original photographs in The New Yorker.

AD PRO: How did it become a book?

DN: When it came out, I didn’t expect a big reaction. But it got a big reaction. People really liked it. A lot of publishers said they were interested and wanted to do it, but it always fell through. Then, finally, Peter Mayer, who was the head of Viking and had a little imprint of his own, Overlook Press, said. “Okay, I’ll do it. It will be a small book, I’ll give you a little money, you won’t have any royalties, and I don’t want to hear about you after that.” But he did it! And from that I had an exhibition at Staley-Wise. And then in Paris, at the Musee des Arts Decoratifs and a gallery. After that I thought, well, why don’t I do Paris? So I did Paris on my own. And that went very well again.

AD PRO: How did you come to do Berlin after so much time had passed?

DN: After Paris I thought, now I should do Berlin, which would be a trilogy of the three cities where I’ve lived the most and which I like the most. But Berlin was more complicated. I live between New York and Paris, but in order to do Berlin I would have to move there and it would be costly. And it’s a complicated process because you don’t only need to get the permission of the people, but the people that I photograph, they travel a lot, so they are not always there. It’s a lot of scheduling and rescheduling. So three years ago, I got invited as a photographer in residence at the American Academy in Berlin, so I said, “This is my last chance to do it.” So, I did it.

A living room atop a former bunker
The living room of Karen Lohmann, art historian, and Christian Boros, collector and advertising executive, (shot in 2014) sits atop a former World War II bunker in Berlin's Mitte district (featured in Berlin Living Rooms).
Photograph by Dominique Nabokov

AD PRO: Why are the new photos in black-and-white?

DN: The Polaroid film does not exist anymore. I think I used it all up! So I thought, well, I’ll do it in black-and-white because actually I see Berlin in black-and-white. And that went very well. And I renewed my relationship with the city. The whole time, I kept saying, “Ah, I wish I could live in Berlin.” It’s a wonderful place. There is such a quality of life still…big apartments, fantastic museums, four opera houses, concert halls, music, everything is there. You are never rushed sitting in a cafe on a terrace. It’s divine. Of course, I don’t know if it will last because it will change.

AD PRO: Could you describe your method?

DN: They are documents, but it’s a kind of portrait of the person. I just go at it—no sense of decoration, no lights, no rearranging or changing. I just go blind and see what I find. What I really liked was when I could photograph the room from one side and the other. With the Polaroid film, I would usually shoot two boxes of film, sometimes one box. There were seven shots per box. With the black-and-white, two rolls, from two cameras, just to be sure you don’t miss one. And voilà! That’s it. You know, with each shoot it’s always the early, the first, shots that are best. After that, you repeat yourself. You might try different things, but you do it just to reassure yourself.

Traditional living room in a Steglitz apartment house
A very traditional wohnzimmer (living room) sits at the heart of the apartment of Dr. Samuel Wittwer, director of the Prussian Palaces and Gardens Foundation, and Prof. Dr. Marcus Köhler, a landscape architect, in Steglitz in Southwest Berlin, 2015 (featured in Berlin Living Rooms).
Photograph by Dominique Nabokov

AD PRO: How much time would you spend in each house?

DN: Basically it always took me two hours. I’d always say that to the people. Not to discourage them, but to say I won’t stay in your apartment, don’t worry, very long. And I won’t move anything. So, no, it’s not about interior decorating or styling, It’s just the way it is, the way I find it. If it’s dark, I turn on a lamp.

AD PRO: So, after all this time, how do you think each city is reflected in its living rooms?

DN: I have a brief summary. In New York, anything goes; Paris is very bourgeois; and Berlin is still constructing itself. In Berlin you often have the feeling that people don’t even live in their apartments. And they’re very cautious not to show anything special, personal. Berlin is huge. It’s huge! So even the apartments are big. It’s the opposite of New York, where you can have a kitchen in a cupboard! New York is amusing because it’s so creative. There is no taboo. Paris is…well, France is still a bourgeois society, so it’s very much about de bon goût, good taste. They are not being very creative really. But wherever you are, the living room is the most public room—the vitrine. It really is the face that the owner presents to the world.

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