A passion for blue, helicopter rides and a unique approach to Mediterranean beaches
I remember exactly the first time I laid eyes on a Bernhard Lang’s photograph. It was a piece from his Adria serie. Number 020 to be exact. A field of blue umbrellas perfectly aligned on an Italian beach. Colors, lines and such a unique graphic harmony than it almost seemed unreal.
The photograph made it to our first mood board. The one that expressed our very own DNA, telling stories made of colors, relaxed nonchalance and Mediterranean vibes.
Without knowing it, Bernhard has been with us from the very beginning with his inspiring beach views. It was then with a mix of excitement and pride that we engaged in a conversation about his interest in our new collection Le Isole a few weeks back.
Now the Adria 020 photograph hangs on my wall and Bernhard owns a pretty serious collection of LBH scarves.
We seat down to chat about all this.
LBH: Hi Bernhard, thank you very much for taking the time to seat with us.
BL: Hello Sylvain, you’re very welcome, pleasure is all mine.
LBH: As I mentioned in the introduction, your Adria series has been a great source of inspiration to us. Mainly because, beyond its graphical dimension, it talks culture and lifestyle. What did it teach you about this part of Italian culture ?
BL: That Italians love to go to their beaches ! It's far more than going to have a bath in the sea, it's a culture really. They love to go there with their whole families, to be there together in groups. Just to hang out. You might look for quietness when at the beach but the Italians often are quite active and lively there. It was interesting seeing that from the helicopter. These group of people doing water gymnastics with loud music, playing football, volleyball and so on.
LBH: Your Aerial Views project has been initially conducted around industrial and agricultural sites in Germany. Then moved to more social subjects such as beaches in Italy, slums in Manila or urbanization in Miami. What did draw you to focus on this more social side of things ?
BL: I do not aim at showing only beautiful landscapes from above. A lot of other photographers are already doing great work on this. What I'm trying to do is find subjects that are relevant from a social, economical or environmental point of view and, at the same time, visually interesting. I traveled to Manila, Philippines exactly one year ago to photograph the slums and squatter camps there. They are very densely populated, I mean, it's extreme. Here you got the idea of overpopulation quite well when you see those cottages and shanty housings closely compressed against each other from the elevated point out of a helicopter. At the same time, all these colour arrangements, you can find some sort of beauty in it.
LBH: Indeed, this duality between beauty and misery is very interesting. What is the message you’re trying to express here ?
BL: I don’t want to preach or moralize in any way. I am just trying to display the antagonism between formal beauty and the reality that lies behind.
LBH: Another interesting duality within your work is the dialogue between the macro and micro dimensions of your images. How do you achieve that from a technical point of view ?
BL: It all depends on the subject. I shoot from helicopter or little planes and use the whole range of angles that these vehicles offer me. For example to get the most interesting wider view of several round pivot irrigation fields in Kansas, we had to climb several thousands feet up to the maximum altitude of the helicopter and shoot with a wide angle lense. For the Adria series the closer view on the people and sun umbrellas on the beach was more interesting to me, so we flew much lower - only a few hundred feet above the coast - and used a long lense.
LBH: The internal structure of your images is particularly meticulous. Do you look for particular schemes, lines or shapes when in the air ?
BL: Of course. First I look out of the helicopter trying to get an overview of the complete scenery and decide where exactly to go on the basis of the shapes I see on the ground. Then I lean out of the open door of the helicopter to look through the camera vertically down to find the most interesting patterns, lines and schemes I want to photograph. My work is global as it is based as much on graphical structures and shapes as it is on colour arrangements. I always have these two dimensions in mind when picking my subjects.
LBH: A lot of observers compare your work to abstract paintings. What are the artists - painters and others - that most influenced your work ?
BL: The British Guardian wrote about my Aerial Views Tulips series which I shot in the Netherlands in 2016 saying that “If they bring to mind any artwork, it is the clinical geometric abstraction of Piet Mondrian“. But I wouldn’t want to compare my photographs to a painter, who creates his work in his imagination. I am just cutting out frames of the surface of our planet.
LBH: You shot the Carrara marble mines, a dramatically impressive place that seats there since the Roman Empire. What did struck you the most there ?
BL: The nearly monochrome mining landscape of Carrara, with it’s creamy marble stone conveys a sublimely bright and noble charisma, which fascinated me. At the same time it was one of my most difficult photo flights. Flying through this mountainous area with permanently changing wind and light situations due to clouds required extreme concentration for the pilot and myself.
LBH: Getting back to your beach series - whether in Adria, Versilia or Miami - something that is really interesting is the conflict between movement and stillness, order and mess that exist in your images. What does it tell about how we are living the beach element ?
BL: My beach series show beaches in some sort of magnifying glass and, from there, reveal a whole range of differences in attitude between people. Some keep all their stuff in order, other are just throwing everything away, some are quiet, some are loud. It's really a place where you can express your own individuality. A place of freedom I would say.
LBH: How do the Italian and American beach environments differ from each other ?
BL: The Italian beach resorts, especially on the Adriatic coast, might be a bit more packed than the ones in Miami which I have photographed in the US. The colours and the patterns on the sun umbrellas are also a bit different. In Italy, of course, you'll find that unique Mediterranean vibe whereas in the US it's more of a mix of colours that are less consistant with each other. The same applies to the way sun umbrellas are organised on the beach. I would say that in Italy you'll find stricter arrangements than the ones in Miami.
LBH: Have you ever tried filming these beach sceneries ? If not, is film a medium you would like to explore ?
BL: Not yet. So far I have completely concentrated on shooting still photos but I am open for everything new and interesting. I would be excited to explore this medium should a proper occasion comes up but it's not something I plan to develop in my work for the moment.
LBH: What have been the key events of your development as a global successful photographer ?
BL: One of the key event for me as a photographer was winning the 2015 Sony Awards for Professional Travel, the biggest photo contest in the world. I have been invited to receive the Award during a Gala Event in London and then had the chance to exhibit some of this work at Somerset House. My first solo exhibition also was something significant. It happened in 2015 at Galerie Liusa Wang in Paris where I showed some images of my coal mine aerial views series. Another important milestone in my career as a photographer was to be picked by Apple to be part of their “Start something New Campaign“ in 2016. I flew over to Miami to shoot from an helicopter with the latest iPhone, went to New York to talk about this project in front of the press, Apple employees and other insiders and then had the chance to see the works being shown in Apple stores globally.
LBH: Let’s talk about style now. Who are your all-time style icons ?
BL: In my youth during the eighties I have been a fan of new wave and punk music, and was also dressed that way. The Clash, The Cure, The Cult, they all were style icons to me, and they still are to this day.
LBH: What is scarf meaning to you ? Is it an accessory you wear a lot ?
BL: Indeed, I like wearing scarves. I love to have something around my neck, especially during cold days. It makes me feel confortable. During the photo flights when I am leaning out of the helicopter into the wind, I always used to wear the same blue scarf, for shelter and also as a talisman. Now that the old one is nagged, I will replace it to one of the beautiful blues you have in your collection !
LBH: Cool ! What do you like the most about our new collection Le Isole ?
BL: When I visited your website for the first time, I immediately fell in love with the beautiful colors of Le Isole. My favorite color is blue so to me, the different blues of your collection are especially great and lovely.
LBH: Do you find parallels with your work ?
BL: Absolutely. The beautiful Mediterranean style and colors of your collections remind me of the style and attitude of my Adria and Versilia series. They talk the same vibe.
LBH: When you travel for work - and you do a lot - what do you always pack in your suitcase ?
BL: A blue scarf of your collection for sure now ! Besides that and beyond all of my technical gear, I pack windproof clothing to keep me warm during helicopter flights and an interesting book to relax.
LBH: Where will your next projects bring you ?
BL: I am not sure yet. I am currently in the process of figuring out the possibilities of what to shoot next. I would love to do something really abstract and unexpected.
LBH: Sounds interesting, can't wait to find out ! Thank you so much for sharing all these things with us Bernhard, it’s an honour really.
BL: Thank you very much ! It has been my pleasure - and please keep up your great work.