CHASED) Art and People Berlin


7 Apr

German artist’s Robert Bartholot’s photography can be described as a mixture of vivid dreams and surreal characters, depicted in a colourful, yet purposely artificial surrounding. The more plastic they look, the better, according to Bartholot, even though as a consequence to a viewer it might look slightly disturbing.



Article and Interview by Ilona Dzengeleviciute

All photos (c) Robert Bartholot

I contact him just a couple of days before heading to Berlin and, luckily, receive his full of excitement letter back just on time. We meet up in a cafe called “The Barn”, which is tiny but surpringly busy and loud. Got to mention – I have once seen him back in Lithuania, where he was presenting his work in a conference for Creative Industries, and this time talking to him in person is both positively weird and exciting.

Robert is slightly nervous but keeps smiling as he sits down by the tiny table just right next to me and a group of loud Spanish women behind us.

 When I ask Robert, how he would like to be described to readers, he instantly responds he’s not a classic photographer, but rather a “photo designer, which means being involved in a whole process of coming up with an idea, creating the set and finally capturing the shot. In short, what Robert does is a mixture of direction and photography. Most often it is a digital collage when he shoots several different objects, not necessarily at once, and then puts them into one composition.
Robert has been raised in the South of Germany, Konstanz city, whereas a child he had rather a hard time to live in. “It was a nightmare. There was no Internet, and I was so hungry for information, fashion and music. However, in the main station there was a kiosk, where I would buy a magazine called “Face”. It was from England and super famous back in the ‘80’s, so would be a source of inspiration for me. There was no fashion, nor shops to buy cool things in Konstanz at all, so some of us, the young ones, were trying to break out and dress up crazy. I was expressing myself through the things I was wearing.”




When did you move away then?
“I was 19. I finished school and just a week later I left – had been waiting for that for a long time. Actually, since I was 12, I was calculating, how many days in school were left until I finish it. I had a big board where each day I would cross one out.”

You seriously did that for 7 years?
“Yes, it was 7 years of crossing and waiting to run away. When I would miss a day and I could do two in a row, I would be very excited (laughs).”

The first steps towards becoming an artist for him were very insecure and hard: “I thought I’m not talended, because I couldn’t draw and had hesitations to learn. I mean, when I was at school in an art class, I would always get good grades, but in the final year when some of my school mates were applying to art schools, I didn’t do that because I thought I wouldn’t be accepted anyway. Then I started to study History of Art and German Literature, but I wasn’t very satisfied with it, so afterwards I did an apprenticeship as a media designer in an advertising agency.”

What would your role be in there?
“I would be a graphic designer and do some horrible stuff (lowers his voice and looks down to the table, what makes me giggle). It specialized in making CD covers but not like beautiful and artistic, but those kitschy ones, something like “Viva Italia”, “Summer Hits”, and it would look cheap and ugly.”




After the apprenticeship Robert started moving through places again but his breakthrough was in Zürich, where he met a Spanish photographer, who was looking for an assistant in Madrid. “This sounded very interesting, so I moved to Madrid and spent 3 years there. As an assistant, I would carry equipment but I would also be asked for my opinion a lot, too. And as I still had this kind of design crisis, I was being pushed to use the camera and do something with it.”

And have you done anything with photography before?
“No, I knew nothing about it. I had no idea how it works. But it was a really good experience, as he (the Spanish photographer) did all kinds of photography, but mainly shooting for fashion editorials or celebrities such as Boy George, Moby and others. An artist would come to promote his new record or album, so it was really exciting. I saw a lot of people and I learnt what the real life of a photographer looks like. It’s actually a hard business, and I would still never plan to become a photographer. I would do this for experience but never thought of working as one.”

After this period of life, Robert had decided to move back to Germany, however this time to Berlin. “I moved to Berlin six years ago. I’m 44 now, so I was 36… Hold on, 38 back then (laughs). I still like it, but I’ve been here for six years now, which is the longest I’ve ever stayed anywhere.”

Probably the main thing which distinguishes Robert from other photographers, is that he hasn’t got any background from Art School. He has his own approach to what he does, which, in his own words, “can sometimes be helpful”, as he is not restricted to anything.


Could you describe the style in your photography?
“To me it’s graphic. In a way it’s minimalistic, but then there are lots of colors and details. For example there is a project called “Accessory Plants” and the photo shoot of it was different because we were shooting everything separately. We’d then put objects together and make a digital collage. The background is completely fake, also the lighting is impossible as it is in the picture, but we wanted it to be like that. We wanted to create something that looks beautiful and surreal at the same time.”

What did the set where you took the picture of a purse look like?
“The purse was simply hanging, and we turned it searching for a beautiful angle. We would shoot each thing in many different angles, looking how they would fit into the composition, then take one picture (makes knocking noise with his tongue), cut the object out and place it in the final composition.”

But when you would shoot a glove, for example, would you hold it on a wire?
“Oh no, we would just place it on the table. Similar with the paper leaves – someone would just hold them. It’s super fake. But I love this, because it gives you more possibilities, as you shoot everything separately and can then change whatever you want. Move objects until you die (laughs).

Can you say you’re living out of photography?
“Yes. But I’m also doing a lot of things that I don’t show to anybody, since it’s mostly a boring stuff. For example, a month ago I was shooting portraits of a company’s employers. They deal with all kinds of telecommunication, so I had to shoot many devices, too. But it’s a good training because you have to deal with different kinds of surfaces, reflections.”

Did you have any project which you would just art direct – not taking shots yourself but creating a concept?
“Usually it’s like a package – clients approach me, ask for sketches first, which I do in photoshop for ideas and concepts.”

But would you sometimes tell your ideas to another photographer and not take a picture yourself?
“I had this once, it was a TV commercial for Playstation in Spain, some English learning game, and I did the moodboards, styling and set design, but not the shooting. So I might also be booked as an art director (laughs).

Another thing, which might separate Robert’s photography from others is a background used in pictures. Most of the times it’s very minimalistic, having either one vivid color or a bright gradient. According to Robert, it’s almost never natural but rather created in Photoshop during the editing process. “I like the background to be minimalistic because then objects in the picture look as if they were in a museum, somewhats close to a sculpture put in a clear space.” – he says.

You like it to be very artificial, too.
“Yeah, totally. Even when I shoot people, it still looks like a still life image. I prefer them to be artificial, because when you look at it, you can question, who is this person. I like to make viewers think what a rigid person in the picture is doing.”

Is this the reason why you sometimes cover their faces in the pictures?
“I read a lot about where it comes from but when I just started photography, the first figure was with a covered face.”

He then skims quickly through his iPad searching for the specific image to show. “It’s actually me. It was the first thing I did related to photography and I was so ashamed asking someone to take a picture of me, so I did it with the timer running from one spot to another (laughs loudly). But I think the face-covering on the pictures started around 2009, when social media made everybody so open to one another, and I wanted something very plain, with no personalities, completely anonymous. This also gives a more mystical and surreal feeling to photographies.

Also, now when I shoot people and they don’t have their face covered, I tend to make them look like dolls and cover them in make-up. For example, this one (points at the picture on his iPad of a gorgeous looking man) – he’s completely covered in such a big layer of make-up. Of course, there’s been a little bit of retouch after the shooting, but just a little, as his skin was already perfect and we just adjusted the shades.”

After saying this, Robert starts scrolling through the screen again and this time stops to reveal a series of photos. There’s a man on them looking rather disturbing, but once again – it’s Robert’s intention to get his viewers through these kind of emotions. “Here I just wanted something irritating in the person. It could be some kind of American general, working for an air force. But at the same time you can think of Khrushchev, too – there are so many associations, and I just wanted something to look a little bit disturbing. Here, for example, are fingernails for manicure (points to the character’s eyebrows).



Was the person wearing them for real or did you apply it in the editing?
“They were glued.”

What about the teeth then?
“We also glued those nails on the tape next to each other and then put them in his mouth. Here, actually, is almost no Photoshop at all, maybe only little corrections. In the last picture we covered his face with vaseline, so it would look dramatic. He was actually bursting into laughter at that point, however, in the picture it looks like he’d be suffering and crying.”

When I ask Robert which techinque he prefers more – collage or a single shot, he slightly pauses to think of the right answer. To him, collage is more challenging and takes more time, however, he likes it a lot. It mostly depends on the setting, whether it is prepared well in the start. Once it is, then, according to him, one snap with a camera can already be enough. “I feel comfortable with a collage, because I can keep changing it until I get the result which I want.” – Robert adds in the end.

Do you more often happen to have those so-called “perfect” instant shots or rather projects that last for days and you’d still be unsatisfied with the outcome?
“If it’s for a client, then it’s more like I start taking pictures and get used to the project in the start. I mean, the first days are really like “crying”. Like, “oh my god, this is going to be a nightmare, nothing’s working out” (laughs). And then the next day you already have  learnt the lesson and it  all goes more smoothly. Talking about personal work, I’m very critical with the result but at least I can be more playful, you know.”

Are you very self-critical?
“Yes. I almost never show completely everything. I send a lot of material to magazines for editorial but I keep my own website very tight. Simply because I think it’s not necessary to have more than it is now.”




Do you have any preferences for specific objects in pictures or does it depend more on the concept? How do you decide on using one material over another?
“It depends on the concept but I have some kind of obsession with liquids (laughs). I mean, not all the time, but just lately. For example here (shows the picture of a man’s face covered in some unknown liquid) we were pouring a mixture of gelatine and food colouring. There was also chocolate and caramel sauce.”

He then scrolls a little bit down through the iPad’s screen to show me another picture of a man’s back, where some kind of sparkly glitter is sliding down from hair through his spine.

“This liquid was a little girls’ “Princess” shampoo with glitter inside, and it looked really nice. The funny thing was, as we were pouring it without any water, the guy’s skin, when he washed it off, was very irritated. And can you imagine, this stuff is for kids! Almost like a toxic one (laughs).”

I’ve never seen a shampoo with glitter before.
“I found it in a drug store! And so it was for little girls and called “Princess Shampoo” (giggles again). But coming back to materials and textures used in photos, sI change my preferences quite often. There was this obsession with liquids, then papers, and I also love glitter a lot.”

What about people over the objects in pictures? What is your preference here?
“What I like about things is that they don’t talk, nor move, so you can do with them whatever you want. With a person you have to be more careful.”




I remember reading some other interview with you where you once described your pictures surreal. So what is actually surrealism to you?
“I think it’s more of a situation. In a way, it can be absurdity.”

So you can agree that one of your main aims in the pictures is to make them look particularly surreal?
“Yeah. Maybe not the main thing, but I want to make it look magical in a way. Now we always want transparency, always know how it was made. And I want the opposite, so that people while looking at the pictures simply wouldn’t understand what it actually is.

So much photography is supposed to be authentic but at the same time there is so much post-prodution these days and all these make-up artists, that in the end there’s no authenticity anymore, just an illusion of it. I prefer to do something really artificial, cause to me it’s even more honest in a way.”

What is irony to you? Where would you point it out in your works?
“Irony to me is more related to exageration. Like here (shows me one picture) – this is my Russian girl, we dressed her in a fake fur, that’s a typical cliche of a Russian woman or a person in general. Even though irony might seem as something dark, I don’t take it as bad.”

So you want to make it playful in a way too, right?
“Yes, that’s correct.”

Having asked Robert about his personal projects once again, and how he comes up with the ideas or topics, he answers that most often it’s very intuitive. It can sometimes happen during a visit of a friend, when they start shooting ideas to one another, which later might evolve to some real photo shooting with make-up artists, plannings and sketchings.

You said you use colors unconsciously but confidently. How you decide on choosing vivid and bright colors for some projects and for others you keep very minimalist or pastel shades?
Well, it comes really unconsiously.”

But what then means having a confidence in deciding which colors to choose?
(struggles with coming up with the right answer, but then answers shortly). It means that I just do it and I’m sure about what I do (smiles). Even if it doesn’t have any explanation behind it. I think it has something depending on the mood of the project and the photoshooting. But sometimes I can decide of changing the colors in the middle of the shooting even though I had another vision from the start.”




And for the end – the last but not least question for Robert was about other artists in general and if he coud tell me who inspires him most at the moment. Here Robert almost doesn’t need any time to reply and confidently states not the names, but the types and style of design. “Recently or for the last two – three years I had this obession with 3D-artists because of all those incredible textures. I follow them on Instagram, however I cannot recall the exact names right now. I also love 3D-typography artists, classic ones, too, and am actually a lot into Renaissance art.”

Another interview, leading from excitement beforehand to a fullfilment afterwards, ends, and I am very happy of having been accompanied by such a talented photographer. Robert is an interesting human with many weird and fascinating ideas in his head, of which more of them, I believe, are just lurking around the corner, waiting to be released pretty soon. Robert would always be happy to get a greeting email with an offer to team for any rad looking photoshoot, editorial for a magazine or even create a design for a set. Make sure to check out more of his works on channels below:


Ilona Dzengeleviciute is a UX/Visual Designer and Creative, currently based in Prague and occasionally traveling to other cities of Europe to meet artists and talk about their works.
For collaboration on any kind of design related projects or simply for a chat, feel free to contact her anytime:





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