René Habermacher, born in 1969 in Switzerland, started off at age 15 as an illustrator, and soon after received the 1992 “Vogue Sotheby’s Cecil Beaton Award.” His drawing style evolved towards a photorealistic approach, for which he received numerous distinctions. His newly developed “iconographic style,” a synthetic hybrid between photography and illustration, formed the centerpiece for the publication “Illustplotion” by Masa Sugatsuke in 2004, and went on large scale display at Parco Museum Tokyo and Nagoya. René Habermacher has since worked for numerous international publications and collaborated with artists as Dimitris Papaioannou, Bob Wilson, Marina Abramovic, Lynsey Peisinger and Efi Spyrou. He has lived and worked between Hamburg, Germany, Athens Greece and most recently Paris France. His photographs have further been exhibited at MOCA Los Angeles and the Fashion Institute of Technology, amongst others. With The Stimuleye and Paris Is Dead projects, he started experimenting with new directions for his work, which has led to several shoots in Athens, centering on questions of identity and heritage. For this project called “NOMADSLAND,” he went to Kyrgyzstan for the World Nomad Games and he focused his traveling eye on the gathering of nomadic people from more than 76 countries, examining the transformation of nomads as they try to take their traditions and lifestyle beyond borders and into the 21st century.
How did you get interested in photography?
Initially, I was working as an illustrator but had always been fascinated by photography. As my drawing style emerged to become more photorealistic,
I needed to create my own reference material and so I slid into photography. Soon, first commissions followed asking for pure photography.
Actually, my first real shoot was with Naomi Campbell with a crew of more than 30. So I was literally thrown into photography with a good amount of anxiety to go with it.
The challenge was coming from a solitary artist existence where you are in control of every element, to now build and lead a team to achieve a goal.
Finally, I got up from behind my desk, to discover the world. So that suited me very well.
What ritual do you follow before you take a photo?
I don’t follow any specific procedure. You see, my topics vary greatly, and so does the approach, it’s a different one for almost every project.
What stays the same is that I seek a human connection with the person in front of the lens. I prefer them to be aware of the camera, and see what they are ready to give, and what road we can go down together.
You’ve been to so many different places. How did they influence you and your work?
I have gypsy blood, so they say. So the places I go greatly influence me, and the more the better. On my travels I learned there are truly archaic things we all have in common- and often no spoken language is needed to understand each other when we’re open to it. This is what interests me and where I feel photography can serve a great purpose in visualizing this.
What things or people or emotions inspire you?
At the moment I am very interested to explore the relationship of people with their heritage and investigate how they identify how they revise their traditions and take them into the 21st century.
This led me to travel to Kyrgyzstan last year, to witness the gathering of nomadic people from more than 76 countries at the World Nomad Games. The event is grouped around sports and cultural competitions, though the Nomad Games really celebrate common ground. A strong message in a time where the focus is often on what sets people apart. To me, this was incredibly inspiring.
You are a photographer and a film director can you tell us a little bit about how you approach these two aspects differently?
Before I ventured into film, I was fascinated by the cinematic approach. Once I actually ventured into film, oddly this angle disappeared entirely from my photography. When taking pictures I now prefer the vertical to the horizontal, which I almost never use as a composition. In a film you tell a story in a succession of images, cut into different scenes. In photography, you have to compress all you wanna tell into one frame. So I understand the two things now as fundamentally different. The rift has even become wider since I write scripts.
What are you working on at the moment?
Next week I will be traveling to a town in Greek Macedonia. As a rite of spring, they celebrate a custom where troops of unmarried men dress up in the traditional costume of the “Genitsaroi” a name derived from an ottoman elite unit.
In each group, one boy is disguised as a bride. Apparently, the custom originally tied to a Dionysian rite had taken a new form when the villagers tried to secretly move goods and weapons disguised as a wedding party. What struck me was the similarity of this custom to events celebrated in other cultures, as for example the “Chlausete” in Appenzell, the area of some of my ancestors in Switzerland, which I visited earlier this year.