Nouvelle Vague, pain au chocolat and Jane Birkin- From early childhood, German photographer David Bornscheuer was fascinated with the French language and culture. His parents regularly took him on family vacations to the country of Gainsbourg and Godard where they taught him le savoir-vivre.
After being accepted at Art School in Munich, he decided to leave the Bavarian capital to follow his yearlong passion and move to Paris. With his trained eye, he wanders the beautiful inner-city arrondissements with their impressive Haussmannian architecture as well as the rough neighbourhoods of the banlieues, always looking for new motifs and inspirations.
We met a very relaxed and friendly David on the sunny balcony of his shared apartment right next to the Parc des Buttes Chaumont. He served his mother’s homemade apple-pie and the afternoon passed by as we talked about what it means to be a German in Paris, his favourite hangouts in the Haute-Marais and where he goes for a picnic in summer. As the sun settled down and the silhouette of the Sacré-Coeur slowly disappeared in the dark, we totally understood that special charm that drew David to the City of Lights.
How did you end up in Paris?
My whole family is pretty Francophile. My mom is a French teacher ; therefore I spent most holidays in France and had been to Paris plenty of times before… It was not really a foreign country to me when I got here; it all felt very familiar.
How was it to first arrive? Did you have lots of stuff with you?
It was great! Very exciting! I came in June; summer in the city! Of course, it was painful to find an apartment here, so for six months, I stayed with friends or subletted and had to move nearly every other week. But I didn‘t mind. I was perfectly happy just to be here. I came with only 2 bags in the beginning but somehow you pile up so many things over time… Bedsheets, towels, magazines, new clothes and whatnot. Everytime I moved, I had to get a big cab to fit in all my stuff. Fun!
So how many times did you move since you arrived in 2009?
Almost ten times, I believe! I didn’t count, but I am sometimes surprised when I wander around Paris to be reminded of where I already lived.
Who do you share the apartment with?
Good friends, luckily! Very amazing people who work in an art / photography / fashion context. I wouldn’t want to live on my own necessarily.
What is your favorite part about this place?
My favorite part is definitely the view over the Parc des Buttes Chaumont. You have a lot of air here, room to breathe. You don’t feel like you are stuck in a big city. We are on top of a hill and it doesn’t feel like the rest of Paris. It is a great refuge!
How would you describe the place?
It is a typically Parisian family-apartment, kind of chic. And it has good vibes! I don’t know what it is but when you come in here, you immediatly feel comfortable. Some parts are a bit worn out, like the floors, but that’s what makes it so charming. And most of the furniture and lamps are from fleamarkets. I love all this old stuff. I can’t imagine buying from IKEA ever again.
How did you get into photography?
I think it’s safe to say that I always liked creating things. Be it a tree house or a bow and arrow made from wood out of our garden. Later, I was fiddling around with electronics. From the age of 13, I was knee deep into graphic design. It occupied me throughout my teenage years, I designed the school newspaper and the yearbook, and even earned some money doing it. And that‘s what I initially applied for at university. But I wasn‘t accepted and at first was really upset about it. One reason certainly was that photography made up a large part of my book, not sketches. I then realized that what I actually love to do and what I have more talent in, might not be graphic design but photography. Later when I applied for a photography course at Munich University, I was immediately accepted. And that’s the way things go when they are meant to be, right?
Being a photographer in Paris, how does it feel to be one of so many?
Are there so many? I thought everyone’s in NY nowadays… Well, basically everyone who can hold a camera, can call him or herself a photographer – and yes, actually really IS a photographer. Obvisously, the only difference in picture making is quality, isn’t it? Thanks to digital, it has become very accessible and affordable to produce a professional, printable image. So the mere technical knowledge that distinguished a photographer in film days from the amateur, and maybe the better equipment he had, don’t count anymore today. Actually, there is more than one pro-photographer out there who doesn’t even own a proper (digital) camera. So really, picture making is about the eye and brain behind the camera. It needs a good mix of cultural education, talent and experience. And as there are so many aspects of this, I think if you deliver quality, there will be enough room to find your niche.
What is your niche?
Ha! Now you got me… Well, I very much like classic black and white portrait photography, always admired Newton, Avedon, Lindbergh… All photographers who are known for portraits as well as for their fashion pictures. Certainly, they all had a profound interest in people and their stories. That’s a bit where I see myself. Fashion, yes, but the image is centered around the human being. You could probably take the fashion out of my pictures with the person left naked – it would still be working as an image. But don’t get me wrong; I do like fashion in general and all the creativity that it produces. Just not so much the circus.
Next to photography, there is another passion in your life: music. Tell me more about that!
Well, I’ve always always always loved listen to music. I can listen to music 24 hours a day. When I got into school at the age of 6, my parents made me learn an instrument. First, I played the guitar for 5 years and then percussion (drums) for another 10 years. Of course when you’re a kid, you think you have so many cooler things to do than to rehearse an instrument. Now I am glad they pushed me. You have a different approach to music when you play an instrument yourself.
What are your favorites then?
If you want to believe my iTunes, then it‘s The Smiths. All songs in the most played list are by The Smiths – except for one by Joy Division and another one by LCD Soundsystem. But I like to listen to everything from Chopin to Hank Mobley to Al Green to LCD to Fleetwood and so on… It‘s not really limited to any genres. Recently, I’ve been buying mostly deep house records; I love the old-school, warm and soulful stuff. The English label TSUBA has great releases these days and is among my favorites.
Being German in France, when do you really recognize you have a different cultural background?
I never felt as German as I do since I live here, but in a positive way. Being in France as a German is good. The French usually react in a rather positive way. Germans have a reputation of being reliable and honest; they are just not believed to have any humor or elegance. Generally they think we are rather stiff – a good opportunity to convince them of the contrary! (laughs)
What do you like about Paris apart from enjoying your German reputation?
It simply is the most beautiful city – period. There is inspiration everywhere. The light is amazing! And so is the food, which is important to me. It has a great mayor who has all these clever green ideas like the Velib and now the Autolib. I think Paris is about to rejuvenate itself at the moment and become a very modern city. It has to! The young Parisians love Berlin and they are starting to adapt many of the concepts you see there. It will be interesting to see the years to come.
I like hanging out in the Haut-Marais around Rue de Bretagne. There are great places like Le Marché des Enfants Rouges, Nanashi, Rose Bakery and the bookshop OFR. And, of course, the Canal St. Martin in the summer, the perfect place for a picnic.
For pictures, the rougher areas in the 18th/19th/20th are a great contrast and inspiration next to the pretty parts of Paris. I often ride my bike through these remote neighbourhoods and into the banlieue. Some Parisians think I’m a bit crazy because there‘s nothing interesting to see for them. (laughs) But it’s a more pure version of Paris, that is quite different from the postcard-like centre.
Thank you, David for this wonderful afternoon!
Interview & Pictures: Natalie Weiss
Translation: Léa Munsch
Text: Sarah Weinknecht