“I try to make people laugh and cry at the same time.” 5 Questions for Christian Werner

Christian Werner is one of Germany’s most exciting contemporary photographers. After finishing school at the end of the 1990s, he moved to Berlin. Since then, he has been part of the city’s subculture, for example as a bartender in the Rote Salon of the Volksbühne theatre, or as a DJ in several underground clubs.

Portraying fascinating people is one of Werner’s passions, and he has photographed celebrities like Billie Eilish, Devendra Banhart, M.I.A., Bret Easton Ellis, or Susan Sarandon for 032c, Harper's Bazaar, Monopol, Numéro, Ssense, ZEIT Magazin, and other magazines.

Werner has also published his works in several thematic books, sensitively showcasing a part of pop-cultural history. Rather than approaching his themes from a purely photographic point of view, Werner always conceives them out of a discourse: LOS ANGELES is an homage to the city. It creates a dystopian and deserted cityscape, characterised above all by loneliness and the traces of leftovers of a liberal-capitalist idea of life that has come to an end—always with a silver lining. STILLLEBEN BRD shows images from the inside of a house marked by traces of the post-war period and Catholicism. BONN, DAS ATLANTIS DER BRD contains very specific views of the city today, with its former and disused sites of power representation. With austerity, humour and poetry, Werner’s pictures speak of a turning point in civilisation.

Many of your work series are based in cities like Los Angeles, Istanbul, Duisburg, Bonn, or Hamburg. What fascinates you about urbanity?

Urban space shows me most clearly what has occupied me most in my photography in recent years: the transience of our abundant society. The turn of civilisation in which we live. In German cities, I am particularly interested in the remnants of the former Federal Republic, the so-called years of prosperity, and the things that are still there, but whose context of use is disappearing.

You've spent a lot of time in Los Angeles. Is there anything left of the American Dream in your eyes?

Of course, there is still something left of it, and it will continue to be dreamed about there and anew. After all, the so-called "dream factory" is located there. But what can be observed even more clearly in Los Angeles than in other big cities is precisely this cultural turning point at which we are standing. The great promise of freedom that unbridled capitalism made to us has clearly not come true. In a book of photographs from 2018, I presented this in a pointed way and showed an urban space abandoned by people, in which only the traces of the Western form of civilisation can be seen. 

The fuel of this civilisation was fossil resources. They provided the electricity for the car washes, the petrol for the convertibles, the plastic for the mayonnaise bottles, and the refrigerators. In a way, my pictures mourn the illusion of infinite energy and the belief that one would always be able to have more of everything until the end of time and that freedom and excess would never get in each other's way.Is there still a person you would absolutely want to portray?

Meeting interesting people and portraying them is one of the best things for me. I would still like to do that very, very often. But why not start with Thomas Pynchon, Martin Margiela, and Daft Punk!

What makes a good portrait?

That is, of course, the supreme question. Apart from all technical, compositional, and conceptual questions, it is probably a "good photograph" when the medium comes completely to itself. When what is to be conveyed could not have been better said, written, painted, or sung.

What would you like to leave behind for posterity?

With my photos, I try to make people laugh and cry at the same time, and that’s already pretty challenging. But if you ask what I would like to leave behind: a broken heart, probably… :)



Christian Werner is part of MISA VAN HAM KUNST_HALLE, the fifth edition of MISA taking place near Cologne from 16-21 November for the first time. In partnership with VAN HAM over 30 emerging and established positions will be presented together offline and online with digital art at the same time as Art Cologne.

Please click HERE to browse through the available work by Werner.