Photographer Damaris Riedinger spent a week photographing life in one of Germany’s gated beaches. It was here that she had heard stories about a certain Gerda from one of the regulars she was talking to. The regulars don't know each other well but word like getting a new pair of bikini travelled fast.
Damaris Riedinger grew up in Lake Constance, a city that was close to Switzerland and Austria. Her body of work is strikingly colourful. Colour seems to play a vital role in her past projects. Her project, "Soleil Appanzel" captures the colourful alpine ritual of bringing cows back home from the mountains. "I was always drawn to colors. Photography allowed me to catch color combinations I saw throughout the day." She picked up photography early on. She grew up with six siblings and soon picked up the camera to follow her siblings around. "Whether picking cherries, doing homework or skating, I made myself part of their worlds. This shaped my identity as a photographer a lot. I want to be part of the worlds I’m entering with my camera, I want to be part of the people I photograph," she says. She now resides in Vancouver, Canada as a photographer and freelances for digital projects and online strategy. She has hopes to turn Gerda's New Bikini into a long-term project.
What does colours mean to you?
Inspiration and influence - colour affects me so much in a very positive way. I mostly assign colours to people and situations, sometimes even music and colours can instantly make me very happy. Yves Klein for example was a French artist trying to find the ‚right‘ blue and he indeed patented his hue. It can be found in a few museums and when you’re in front of the canvas with his International Klein Blue, it transports you somewhere.
Let’s talk a little bit about Gerda’s New Bikini. What is this project about?
Gerda’s New Bikini is a series that documents individuals and the swimming culture at Lake Constance in South Germany. ‚Strandbad‘ is the German word for a well-maintained public beach on a gated compound. Since the particular compound I photographed in is almost 100 years old, a subculture of bathers and habits emerged over time. It’s this particular beach that creates a sense of identity for its visitors and familiarity between the regulars. The images capture the pride and personality of the regulars.
How did the idea for Gerda’s New Bikini came about?
I spent a lot of time at the lake and and beaches while growing up. Moving away from Europe I gained a new perspective on the places I visited during all my life. I saw the local Strandbad in my hometown through another lens and thought I should document that. You’ve never met Gerda right? In your head, what does she look like, how do you think she is like? Gerda is I think, a woman in her 50s, with sun-kissed skin, colourful clothes, lunch in her tupperware box, a mimosa in her hand, enjoying life. Moving to Europe and being away from home gave you a new perspective on how you portrayed your everyday life. How do you approach this new sense of perspective? I’m a big believer that you don’t need to travel far to create amazing imagery, the neighbourhood you lived in your whole life can bear so many small and big treasures, they just have to be discovered by your eyes. But I have to admit that after some time my eyes got used to my German surroundings. Moving to North America, I suddenly perceived those Germans surroundings differently. Sometimes we need a contrasting opposite to make the mundane things and settings we’re used to, stand out again. I think that’s why people, and especially artists, love to travel. Whats your creative and technical process for this project like?
I’m always attracted to colours first, but I then filter the subject and the surroundings as a second step. When all three seem right, I’m taking the picture. Sometimes the colours make my heart jump but then the situation or subject are just not a fit which is fine, too.
Creatively I tried to look for situations that tell a story – a towel with a crossword puzzle for example insinuates a small situation and a story. From a visual aspect I tried to look for a common visual theme, in this case popping colors, dark shadows geometrical combinations. Color comes from light, so to be artistically consistent I always took the images around the same time of day.
I find the images particularly hilarious and candid, in a good way of course. How did you approach photographing the subjects?
Thanks, that’s lovely to hear! As a beach is meant for recreation, I wanted to make sure that I don’t disturb people or get in their way of wellbeing. Beforehand I got permission from the department of sports and recreation to photograph at the beach. I took some time, but it’s also very important to start a project properly and with the right agreements.
I simply talked to them and we had great conversations. It’s always important to connect to the subjects and introduce yourself and your intentions in a very clear way. I then asked them if I could portrait them. I mentioned beforehand that I aim to publish the images and that they would need to sign a release if they agree to be photographed. They were all so kind and interested. I mostly had a clear idea of where I wanted to take the shots and slightly directed them. We had a lot of fun.
Can you share with us 3 songs that you feel is closely associated to life in the Strandbad?
Glücklich A song from a kid’s movie that evokes pure summer lightness. At some sort, Strandbad is an island of lightness in midst of your daily life and that song was big in my childhood.
Major Lazer – Light it Up Strandbad is about an outburst of energy because people swim, play volleyball or soccer. This song captures this external energy in movement and excitement.
What were these photographs shot on? My Canon 6D and my zoom lens 24-70mm.
What does this project mean to you?
If you have an idea, try to go after it. The project showed me to never ignore small impulses for a project and an idea but to honour them and make it work. I sometimes overthink things and end up not executing photography ideas. I want to encourage other photographers including myself to always explore their ideas, share them with others, get feedback and then try to see if they can make them work.
(Above,Favourite Photo) This image shows one of the regulars reading the local newspaper. In summer season, he is at the beach compound every day since forty years. I took a few images of him earlier that day but wasn’t really happy with them. Before leaving in the afternoon, I saw that he was sitting there in this perfect and candid pose and took this image. Some things you can never foresee. What has this project taught you?
That there’s no right or wrong how to approach a project, there’s only one way and that’s your authentic own way. I always thought that there’s a recipe of how to do photography projects, and of course, a few things have to go a certain way. You need your permits, you need a plan, you need an intention, you need dedication. But other than that, in its essence, it should be fulfilling and fun and should give you a sense of purpose.
Is there anything from your native country that you would definitely come back to photograph? Interesting question! There is carnival going on right now, and I always loved the handmade costumes. It’s a tradition I really would love to document one day.
Do you have any new projects coming along? The list list long, I promise. But right now, I want to focus on Vancouver and stories than can be told here. A few things are in motion, but nothing is written in stone yet.
Photography by Damaris Riedinger
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