Internationally renowned Artist and Photographer, Werner Pawlok, first visited Cuba in 2004, beginning work on a long-term series he named ‘Cuba Expired’. In 2013, Pawlok created a new series of large-format images based on rediscovered old footage from a photo session with performance artist Leigh Bowery in the late 1980s; the works were displayed in numerous installations. His exceptional body of work, steeped in colour and experiment, is completed by his participation in numerous solo and group exhibitions, including Kunsthalle Wien in Vienna, Palais de Tokyo in Paris, Musee de l’Elysee in Lausanne and at the Espace Louis Vuitton in Paris, by publications of books and articles, and by awards and prizes.
We spoke to him about his “Coco in Cuba” shoot, photographing Chanel’s collection for Harper’s BAZAAR Singapore.
Finding Charm in the Macabre
“I have always addressed a wide variety of topics in my photography. The atmosphere in Cuba was morbidly fascinating, as if time had stood still. It’s strange, macabre charm possessed me, inspiring me to seek out unusual and seemingly unreal locations for my photography. I first travelled to Cuba in 2004 and was astonished to find such a wealth of fascinating places. That was the beginning.
When I met Kenneth Goh, the Editor in Chief of Harper’s BAZAAR in 2016 at the Lumas Gallery in Singapore, showcasing my work of ‘Cuba Expired’, he asked me if I would like to photograph Chanel’s collection for Harper’s BAZAAR which was shortly presented before in Havana by Karl Lagerfeld in a fashion show. Of course I loved to collaborate and my partner Bettina Hermann and me went on our trip to Cuba to produce the series.
I have now visited Havana several times. A local producer was my assistant in tracking down interesting architecture; we generally drove through the city while I examined the exteriors of the buildings, gradually developing an instinct for the interiors that would interest me. Once I had picked up the scent of a secret, a special aura, we would ring the doorbell and tell the residents about our intentions. Their reactions were always positive.”
The Inspiration for the Shoot
“When I enter a room, it feels like stepping into a film; the room begins to tell me stories. Its past residents come to life and whirl around the dance floor in evening dress under the chandelier, sip cocktails… When I have this feeling, all I do is press the shutter.
My pictures are created from a central point of calm. I take enormous pleasure in the moment of photography; it’s almost like meditation. A big camera crew would only get in the way, and I work with ambient light so have no need for spotlights. I take great care to ensure that everything is authentic, never moving so much as an item of furniture. I do not include people in my photographs; I have no desire to produce a study in social criticism.”
Using Phase One Camera Systems
“Technical quality is paramount. Premium-quality equipment is therefore an absolute must. In recent years, I have travelled with a Phase One camera and Schneider Kreuznach lenses, a combination that has delivered excellent image quality. It is enormously important for me that my audience have the greatest possible freedom to invent their own stories for my pictures. My photographs of Cuba are created for people with imagination.”