Wolf Nitch is a Melbourne-based photojournalist and fine art documentary photographer whose work explores the social and environmental impact of architecture.
Born in Singapore of French and German descent, Wolf spent most of his formative years growing up in Hong Kong, Berlin and Munich. This unusual cultural heritage and Wolf's background in design and architecture inform his unique vision in the realm of space as a practised environment. His work examines tensions that arise between the intention of a built space versus it's perception, the politics of how that space is controlled and ultimately it's impact on the surrounding urban landscape and the communities that live within it.
Despite the gravity of some of the subjects Wolf covers, such as extreme urban density and state propaganda, his thoughtfully crafted compositions also capture the underlying beauty of the cityscapes he explores.
We recently had the pleasure of printing some of Wolf's work and his large format photographs look absolutely stunning once printed. We will look on with great interest to see what Wolf does next!
Tell us about your educational background. What led you to pursue documentary photography and photojournalism in particular?
I’m quite an analytical person so I like to look for truth and try to understand the world around me. I’m probably leaning more to the documentary angle because journalism does mean a newsworthy event. I’m mostly involved in documentary work.
There’s always going to be some form of spatial dimension to my work, but space is a wide definition. To me human practice defines a space even if it is in nature. That practice can be present or it can be a past practice, history.- Wolf Nitch
What draws you to focus primarily on the architectural medium in your work?
I’ve lived in major cities my whole life, have a background in design and worked in architecture for a while. Architecture has surrounded me. But in my personal work I’m not necessarily interested in architecture from conceptual perspective but from its perception and how the space is practised and what sort of impact it has on humans and also the (natural) environment. There’s grand architecture - I don’t often find myself looking for those types of buildings although I appreciate them and have photographed them. But I’m less interested in telling the story of the design and more interested in the impact on real life.
What do you feel is your biggest obligation as a photojournalist?
To not misrepresent the truth and to not be exploitative. Photography is a tool that can be quite deceptive and one should keep in mind that it is very important to be as honest as possible. I’m thinking for example of posed images to illustrate a point. There’s a lot of illustrative work in what I would categorise as fine art documentary work. That sort of work can be illustrative; photojournalism has to remain fully truthful.
But even in the more illustrative work you need to make it clear when it is. That’s where the caption comes in. The caption is very important. As photographers we often forget that photography is often confused as real by most folks. Many people flick through, say, an image on Instagram, they don’t necessarily understand the language of documentary art. I often find images that are wrongly captioned. They claim that this is a real scene, or aren’t explicit about an image being posed. I don’t accept that. With any other form of art deception isn’t possible. With photography we have to remind ourselves that at the base level a photograph represents a real scene. If it isn’t because it is posed or otherwise we need to make that point, even if we think that it is obvious.
Point to the obvious then make whatever statement you wanted to make. Don’t be deceptive.
What is your process deciding the locations for each photographic series? Would you ever consider shooting in countries other than Asia, or do you have a connection to this part of the world?
I have a strong connection to Asia. I was born in Singapore and I grew up in Hong Kong. I lived and worked in both locations at two different stages of my life. I travelled Asia when I was very young. My parents took me everywhere as a baby and a child back in the 70's and 80's. And it is during those travels that my mum let me play with her Nikon EM SLR camera which I still own at home. I certainly would work in other locations — Africa is of great interest to me and the Middle East. I’m based in Australia now - so I will be turning my focus to this great continent for a while.
What are some topics you are passionate about you would like to pursue for future projects?
To dig deeper into social and environmental issues. There’s always going to be some form of spatial dimension to my work, but space is a wide definition. To me human practice defines a space even if it is in nature. That practice can be present or it can be a past practice, history.
Some of your work required you to shoot from very elevated locations. We’re interested to know how you get to these places – have you ever encountered difficulties getting to the perfect position?
Yes all the time. It's not always easy to know where the perfect spot will be. Sometimes it's better to access what you can access and let the view guide what can be captured rather than being too fixated on a particular subject. You set the story and the philosophy you want to tell and then you let opportunity guide the direction of the story. I think it’s similar in any practice — you set a goal and opportunity, or the team you work with will guide you to it. And then you piece it back together to suit the story.
Are there any particular artists you are interested in collaborating with? If so, who and why?
Mainly writers and journalists, and other documenters. They’re typically interested in finding truth, the story and it’s great to work with someone when you develop a story rather than searching on your own. You inspire each other and challenge each other and it’s great to be on the road with a friend with whom you can share an experience.
How have you found having your work printed with Image Science?
Beyond image quality which is excellent, great colours and details I must say I find your support amazing. I made mistake and accidentally put a crop line over an image and got a call back from your service. It saved me a print. I also really like the simplicity and transparency on your website. It’s just really practical to be able to immediately look up costs and dimensions without having to ask for a price list. A table, all papers the same cost. Simple and easy to understand; easy to calculate and quote for your clients, fast turnaround.
Who or what has been your biggest creative influence?
I take a lot of inspiration from philosophy - it helps guide my work and creative process. Susan Sontag is an obvious inspiration. But also from general philosophy. Lefebvre has really nailed a concept to evaluate space. Colomina book on publicity, de Certeau on practices of life, and Perec with his poetic essays on species of spaces. Foucault and other existentialists have all great tools even if I sometimes disagree with some of their politics. Walter Benjamin’s incomplete Arcades Project. Camus. Oh and Schopenhauer is a great cynic. Incredibly funny to read. His absolute embrace of pessimism as a force for being happy is remarkable. Anecdotally he lived at a time when Buddhism wasn’t so well known in Europe. And when someone introduced him to it he was quite pleased to hear how much their philosophies align. Some call him the first European Buddhist. But his writings are funny in a cynical dark humour type of way: If you want to be happy in life just make sure to have very low expectations of everyone and everything around you and you’ll be just fine. He hated people, loved his dog and unsurprisingly had a miserable love life.
Photographically there are so many. The Düsseldorf School and of course Trent Parke here in Australia - a real magician of light. I have huge respect for journalists who cover important news stories. A distant school mate, Dominic Nahr, has captured a lot of the conflicts in Africa and environmental catastrophes such as Fukushima. I like to follow his work a lot. I’m not too keen on photographers that follow a certain trend on Instagram or Youtube or where people take insane risks just for an image. I’m also quite averse to making exaggerated claims about an issue or another just because it renders a story more palatable. However I don’t mind metaphors or fictionalised stories. I worked with a journalist once, we covered a building in Hong Kong and he compared it to an old spaceship that landed on earth and has developed it’s own character. That sort of stuff is fine, great even, because it clearly isn’t a space craft.
What are your plans for your photographic practise for the rest of 2019? Do you have any exciting new projects in the pipeline?
Talking of the space craft building above - this is a photographic essay on an infamous building in Hong Kong called Chung King Mansions. That’s something I aim to get published this year, and plan to organise a show on it too.