Klaus Frahm's curiosity has resulted in a photographic career that has looked beyond the everyday world.

Well-known for his photography within architecture and landscape, his personal projects have been guided by a desire to offer an alternative perspective of the places around us. A recent series, The Fourth Wall: Stages, has looked at drama theory which suggests that there is an imagined wall between the audience and performers on stage. Frahm visited theatres and opera house around the world, switching the typical vantage point looking towards the stage to looking outwards at the audience seating from behind the curtains. The images show the inner workings of theatres and his camera is a tool of questioning and deconstructing our perception of performance.

Klaus is also the father of musician and composer, Nils Frahm, whom he has recently collaborated with on his new book of piano sheet music, Sheets Zwei. The artwork Klaus contributed comes from a series of photographs of barns, abandoned buildings and other rural artifacts taken in Portugal during Nils' childhood. Klaus' work can also be seen on the covers of both nonkeen's records (whom Nils is a member with his childhood friends), featuring photos from his series of fairgrounds. In a rare interview, Klaus discusses how photography allows one to enter new spaces, its overlap with music and his relationship with Nils.


In your Stages series, you switched the typical perspective of the viewer looking inwards at the stage to outward from behind the curtains. What did you want to explore with the concept?

This series started when I found a theatre one Sunday and there was nothing going on that day. I got on the stage, the lights were switched on, took the photos and when I went home I looked at the Polaroid and I realized the idea for the series. When you look at most photos of an audience or theatre, you see just the seats and the stage. Changing the perspective meant putting the stage in the foreground - I wanted to show the whole theatre. After I completed the series, I looked back at other work I did and found that I've always been looking behind things in my work. I had already done this idea in 1997 with Markgraefliche Opernhaus (Baroque opera house) in Bayreuth, which is now becoming a UNESCO heritage monument. I've also photographed fairgrounds, their carousels from behind or when it's closed with no-one there.

Would you say there's something almost futuristic about the series regarding the metal textures and colours that lie behind the stage which most never see?

Traditional theatres usually keep the seats and decoration as it always has been but the lighting is often brand new. Jean Jullien, a drama theorist from France, wrote about the imagined transparent separation wall between the audience and the stage in his 1892 essay 'Le Théatre Vivant'. Historically, in Greek theatre, the Chorus is in dialogue with both the audience and the actors. From the audience's perspective, they're looking into a box where something is happening - they want to see something beautiful. My photographs offer an alternative Fourth Wall because when I'm at the edge of the stage and take a photograph that itself becomes another wall or projection. The audience becomes a part of the scenery.


Some photographers use images as a way of creating a fantasy but your work appears to be more concerned with deconstructing ideas the natural world around us?

Yes, it's a deconstruction. Lacan said that an image is a laid-down gaze. When a painter paints an image it contains his imagination and that work sends out rays of light to the viewer. He's an active role in the image - the image looks at us. This is an idea I had in mind when I thought about changing the roles. The viewer's role is reversed. It's about how actors feel: they're on a big stage and the audience is waiting and they usually only see those in the front rows and not at those at the back.

Since a lot of your work focuses on architecture and the external world, do you ever see yourself in the images?

Any photograph has part of an emotion or thought that I have. When I look back on my career, I see that I really only have three or four images that I repeat constantly. They get better and better. I come from landscape photography. When I was young I went out to the countryside with friends and we tried to photograph rivers and forests. Wherever you go in Germany, the idealistic or romantic landscape does not exist - it's man-inhabited and the landscape is changed by man. I decided to photograph industrial buildings and abandoned buildings, with nobody in them, as if the neutron bomb had fallen down. People have always been addicted to other people. They want to see faces. Our world is full of the artifacts of man - whatever I photograph is always a reflection of mankind but me as well. People are not an integral part of my work but man is always present in an architectural sense.


Has photography helped you understand the world?

Photography allows you to enter places that you wouldn't normally go. You climb over a wall or you enter spaces normally hidden like old abandoned hotels that I featured in one of my previous projects. It's the same with the stage. Every theatre is different; not only from the outside but the style of communication within it. When I was a child, I grew up in a village close to Hamburg where I had my camera and slowly my range expanded. Later I took photos all over the world. When you get close to a subject you can see how beautiful it is. It's a constant process of learning.

Can you remember why you started taking photographs as a child?

When I was nine, I wanted to have a camera for my birthday because I wanted to photograph birds and animals. It was very difficult to do it with the camera I got so I bought a new one after three years, and another one two years after that which could focus. Since I could sell photos to the newspapers, I thought I would become a photojournalist. I had no income so it was a fun idea and they published them. That continued until my camera smashed and after that, I turned to landscape.


I find it interesting that Nils has often spoken about creating music in terms of architecture and building structures. Do you feel your work and approach influenced him?

I think my approach to work has influenced him because both Nils and his brother are self-taught and they often accompanied me when I was photographing. He didn't study music, in the same way I didn't study photography. Being confident in pursuing your own way is present in both our works. Music is also important to me, I play instruments and I've made record covers for ECM Records. I have a good collection of their records which he liked more as he got older. Previously he and his friends were listening to rock and popular music, then they were listening to ECM style records which I think influenced him. Going your own way is something he learned from me.

Photography is very close to music. All the arts have something in common where there are different layers of expression. Compared to when I was his age, there's now a medium for music in which you can reach people in a very direct way. The ear never closes; you can close your eyes but you can never close your ears. You're always listening to sound. Similarly, photography is a language without words. People understand images and it's a way people communicate about the world around us. You can communicate through music without using language. There's a shared space between them.

When you and Nils work together, like on Sheets Zwei, do you need to readjust your relationship to two artists collaborating?

We don't work together in that way as such. Sometimes I'm a critic of his work. He'll play me music and ask for my opinion. I send him photographs too. We are so close and we understand each other. When he was a child, anytime I travelled for photography with my perfect camera, he always followed me taking photos of the same subjects with a very simple camera. Sometimes his images were more interesting than mine because they were blurry and not as super-perfect.


Do you have any ideas for your next work?

I always have a project going on. In 2014, I started photographing fairgrounds in colour whereas before I always took them in black and white. For the Stages series, I started taking photos of the stage and audience, then from the sides of the stage and then I realized you can look up too. These are spaces that most people never see. When you look upwards in theatre, it looks like a factory structure or a futuristic lab. I'm now starting to take images of international houses like the English National Opera and Convent Garden. I am also working on a project about the BER (the new Berlin-airport) which is waiting five years for its opening.

Do feel that there's much more to explore within the space of the theatre?

I think it will be important to make a good exhibition and a book soon. I want to capture more international houses because when people come see a show, they will want to see their theatre or some famous ones. Lots of small theatre spaces are interesting and funny too because the technical stuff is old fashioned and nice, while the space of the stage can be a bit rotten with scratches - the opposite to the nice comfortable seats in the audience! As an artist, I can always go back to older themes and find new approaches. I have two kinds of work: my architectural work and my personal work and both influence each other. I'm always working with these two spheres and they influence each other.

For more information about Klaus' work, please visit his official website here, while Nils Frahm's Sheets Zwei is published via Manners McDade and distributed via Faber Music.

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