About “Made in Feuerwehr”

IM QUARTIER, VOM QUARTIER, FÜRS QUARTIER

The idea of this portrait series is to photograph the members of the collective Feuerwehr Viktoria in Bern, Switzerland, and to exhibit the work around the building to make its members more visible to the community they come from and serve. 

The Feuerwehr Viktoria is a cooperative that administers the space of a former fire station built in the 1930s now repurposed as a community building housing over 30 projects. It promotes affordable residential, commercial, artistic, cultural and meeting space for its members and promotes communal, non-profit, socially mixed and ecological forms of working and living.

The collective consists of a very diverse group of people. The projects range from urban gardening to audio and video production, from a boxing school to radio production for the visually impaired. There is a repair shop, a second-hand shop, a bicycle shop, a communal carpenter’s atelier, an organic market on Thursdays and a raw food kitchen that offers work experience to migrants, among many other projects. 

What unites all these people is idealism, a pioneer spirit and a strong sense of belonging and serving their community.  They want to work in the neighbourhood, with the neighbourhood and for the neighbourhood of Breitenrain in Bern.

Taking up the ideas of belonging to, and creating from within your community I decided to make the portraits completely on site and with as many local tools and materials as possible. To that purpose I put together a dark room in a previously unused toilet next door to my 14m2 portrait/music studio in the bunker of the Alte Feuerwehr. In the cellar of the Swiss Institute of Art Research in Zürich I found, and then restored, a 8x10in Sinar Norma, a camera made in Schaffhausen in the 1950s. The studio lights I used were made by Elinchrom, also a Swiss company, based in Renens. For the rest I had to expand the “community” outside Switzerland but managed to stay within Europe. The lens is a German Schneider-Kreuznach, the film is Fomapan from the Czech Republic, and the photographic paper and chemicals are Ilford and Adox from Great Britain. 

I decided to work with the traditional formal portrait on black-and-white analogue film. This way of working is fairly new to me since I am a so-called “digital native.” I chose the 8×10 format for one-to-one contact dark room printing using traditional chemicals. The cameras for this format are all large and heavy and everything is manual. Composing, focusing and setting up takes time. A long time specially in the eyes of our digital generation. I call the process the “opposite of iPhone” because it almost completely lacks spontaneity and instant gratification. The sitter has to sit still for five to ten minutes before I take one photograph. The photos cannot be seen or proofed until the negatives have been developed, dried and printed. There’s plenty of room for errors in the three-step process.  But when everything (or most of it!) works the results from this old way of photographing are fascinating, intriguing, nostalgic and… All Made in Feuerwehr.