Upon opening a tired wooden door to a Neukölln apartment, a young woman of distinct beauty reveals herself. Inside the door frame stands Theresa Martinat, a twenty-something and recent University of the Arts Berlin (UdK) graduate who unassumingly relocates her hipbone-long hair while offering us to enter. Theresa’s physical appearance might provoke an immediate notion of fragility due to her child-like limbs and facial features that might have escaped a Miloš Forman film. However, it becomes obvious very quickly that this superficial, perhaps easy, innocence is a mere perception as soon as she discloses her philosophy and personal story which form the basis of two books she has created.
Once the door shuts behind, one is thrown into a clandestine setting in which eye-catching objects are naturally flaunted. It becomes clear in the curious collection of gothic boots and 2000-era heels in the entrance hall; old family pictures tucked away in Bonne Maman glasses on the kitchen shelf; a minute 70s sitting corner; or the silently croaking stuffed raven high above her mattress, that one has entered someone else’s life.
Inside the ‘categorized’ photographer is able to escape Berlin’s exhaustibilities and concentrates on her work that is concerned with life’s unpredictable moments such as a relationship of true love, that without disappointment, eventually meets the cruel expectation of disintegration. Theresa is someone who wishes to expose herself and let her audience become part of her genuine, lived moments. Her photography and collected materials from social media enable the spectator to almost live through already-lived time.
Alongside occasional morning-cigarettes and coffee, a conversation about photography, obsessions, human truth, virtual communication, and other absurdities is established.
What would you call yourself?
I guess many people would categorize me as a photographer. But I consider myself more than that since I write a lot, too. Therefore giving reason enough as to why I wouldn’t describe myself as someone who solely takes pictures. It seems as though a person has to be either this or that nowadays.
How long have you been in Berlin?
It has been five years. I came to Berlin right after my Abitur when I was 19 years old.
Was it easy to adapt to the big city, as you are originally from a small town near Stuttgart?
I already knew Berlin pretty well, as I used to visit quite regularly. I already had many friends here, so I didn’t really undergo this ‘traditional’ culture shock like others might have. It was absolutely necessary to leave the town I came from, so I welcomed Berlin with more than just a hug. In a small town people often tend to be narrow-minded. Perhaps this notion meets all sort of clichés, but it is true. Essentially, this particular way of thinking will reflect and affect the self.
When and why did you start with photography?
I basically started at the age of nine. However, at 15 I consciously began to take photographs and bought my very first camera. I began taking pictures of everything around me. I mainly wanted to document my friends and their diverse moments in life. Something like a diary.
I also began to take pictures because of a lack of language. Essentially words created a vacancy which was unable to be filled with any additional words. With the help of photography, I began to develop a visual language. Pictures are interesting because they portray a specific moment. You as a photographer are present during that time but, when you look at the finished picture, you realise this moment as something completely different. A camera sees differently than the human, anatomically speaking. Reality and a reproduced reality contradict each other.
So you would say that people are your main subject when it comes to photography?
Yes, definitely. I have always focused on people. The human figure has always interested me the most. There is a fascination that I never quite understood myself. Still life just misses that sense of ‘aliveness’. People show movement, life, or perhaps even the lack of it. The same goes for posing. I would much rather take snapshots than have people take on forms and positions that is alien to them. I want to avoid that unnaturalness.
Where do you get your stories from?
My stories develop through chance and personal states of life. For instance, in New York I met Jennifer. She essentially became the source of inspiration and protagonist within my first and second book. The first book, “Horror Vacui” narrates our meeting, whereas the second book, “Let Me Kiss You in the Pouring Rain,” intimately concentrates on Jennifer’s addiction. These books also reveal how we leisurely lost ourselves in each other.
So these were your first two books?
I have also done other books before these two. However, the two latest ones contained new material and were much more personal. Really like scripts. I became really interested in social networks, the manner of communicating which takes place in an abstract realm. I left nothing out, including Skype calls and Facebook conversations, which I took screenshots from and used them as content. My goal is to really show how things are, without decorating anything. I want everything to be crystallized. But this ‘me,’ which is also portrayed within these books, is not me anymore. I have now become a mere character of it.
What has changed?
I finally gained distance to this whole story. So much has changed, even Jennifer has. The book embodied a subjective catharsis. I wouldn’t have been able to exorcise these thoughts and feelings through any other medium. Everything was in front of me and I finally learned to accept all that had happened. Lastly, it freed me from this mental and physical prison.
Your relationship with Jennifer sounds quite tumultuous, but also beautiful. How could an outsider imagine this relationship?
The word ‘dramatic’ seems to be appropriate here. Jennifer was an addict when I met her, which obviously meant the implausibility of a long-lasting relationship. Everything between us developed quite quickly. We met in New York, while I was living in the Lower East side with friends of mine. Every day, around 15 people would come over. One was never alone and it was quite the strange environment. One morning I woke up, and found Jennifer laying with others in bed. For me it was love at first sight. She had these intense, impenetrable eyes and I knew right away that she would grow into a meaningful story. She was such a peculiar individual. Two weeks after our first meeting she moved in with me.
What was it about her that fascinated you so profoundly? I think many of these kinds of people are actually quite special and therefore turn into a drug themselvess; not that I want to glorify addicts…
Yes, true. They all have a very special and particular character. Jennifer was one of those people who simply could conquer another person, which in that case was me. She was so full of life and was able to act perfectly in all sorts of situations. I was so fascinated by this façade. She seemed so strong and fragile at the same time. Jennifer was just the complete opposite of me, which I guess is why I felt so attracted to her. Love, and its resulting obsessive dependence of two people, is a big topic in my book. I consider it absolutely necessary to talk about it as it affects almost everyone of us.
Was it hard to reveal this intimate relationship to the public by publishing books about it?
The books were to the point and really explained my position. I used to be very shy about my work and myself. I always tried not to fully expose myself to the public. But with my first book everything was different. There was no filter anymore, and it was ruthless.
Why use a book as a medium to express yourself?
When one decides to read a book, immediately time and calm are part of this act. A book enabled me to place and arrange each facet the way I wanted to – a quasi timeline. For me it is not about a singular picture, but a series of pictures which is best portrayed within the medium of a book.
When do you decide something is finished?
When I can’t work at it anymore. All the air is out and just feels finished. Of course, I could edit and edit forever. But it is good to let something go.
But don’t you think something is never finished?
Of course, I am never satisfied. I could already change everything within the second book. But you have to reach an end. Perhaps I will edit it again in two years. I already started doing so with my first book. I think once a project is finished, one should let it rest for a few years and gain a necessary distance. Of course there might be the possibility of complete change, but I always make sure not to take out the skeleton of the book.
What else inspires you besides personal situations?
I read a lot. I appreciate Henry Miller, for instance Sexus. Or Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert. I generally like books that possess psychological abysses.
You also work on film?
Yes, but not as much as photography. It is hard to carry around two cameras. But essentially I want to make a feature film, narrating my story. I really want to write the script but I am not sure about directing it, as I would be too close to it.
Where can one find you on a Saturday?
Preferably at home or at friends place. I am not a big fan of clubs. I would rather sit in a small bar or sometimes on a Sunday afternoon I go dancing for a bit at Berghain.
Any favorite hideaway places in Berlin?
I really like going to Tempelhofer Feld or Teufelsberg. Tempelhofer Feld is located directly by my flat. I like to go jogging there, as it is so spacious and one almost seems to get lost. Also it shows the most beautiful sunsets. Teufelsberg is quite similar to this. Upstairs in the tower one has the best sound system! I like being surrounded by nature and gain a bit of distance from the city.
Lastly, as you were able to experience New York for a bit. How does it stand in comparison with Berlin?
To me, Berlin is a city where one can get some rest. It gives me the necessary time to formally develop my work, something I cannot do in New York. There, I mostly produce. New York offers a hectic landscape. One never seems to have a flat or even a safe haven. One is always on the move and never alone. One cannot order their thoughts, and one doesn’t really need to. Berlin can be many things. For every single inhabitant it can mean something different. All in all, both cities are temporary places which I like to leave and come back to.
Thanks for the smoke and engaging company, Theresa. If you wish to see Theresa’s work of visit her website here.
Photography: Juliane Spaete
Interview and Text: Lara A. Konrad