In 2004 – a time when the world was not filled with human Paparazzi and coincidentally the same year Facebook was created – Jan Sobottka, painter turned photographer, started a project titled "catonbed." It is a candid amateur website featuring photos of his friends from vernissages: gallerists, artists, connections from his days as a painter and even the general public falling somewhere in the middle. He had no idea that his project would become the idea dominating social media today: taking pictures of your friends and uploading them for the world to see.
Painter Franziska Fennert at her vernissage. Photo courtesy Jan Sobottka from the catonbed project. To read more about Fennert's work, click here.
It was during a recent vernissage that we met; just another opportunity for Sobottka to add to the catonbed collection of 30,000+ images. Introduced by gallerist Michaela Helfrich (whom I #SwarmLuv and became friends with after writing her article), we shook hands, got along great and exchanged details for a possible interview. A week later, I found myself walking with our photographer in the pouring rain in search for his apartment, tucked away in the greenery of Botanische Garten. He greeted us, asking if we were hungry (we were) and set about making pasta whilst we attempted to towel ourselves dry. Looking around the walls at this artist's home, the photos felt like appetizers for good memories.
The False Photographer
I ask Sobottka if we can draw the line between art photography and an Instagram photo-lobotomy. Will one or the other have to die? "No," he retorts, "A photograph is normally looked at but rarely looked into. A good photo: you look at it because you not only know the person or place, you see a gift. A gift is a photo that draws you in no matter what the content – it’s a sea you have to sift through." In layman's terms: there's a lot of shit out there.
Art Collector Thomas Olbricht also featured in catonbed. Photo courtesy of Jan Sobottka. Read more about Thomas Olbricht here.
This is the a line he walks with his art documentation: between utter garbage and art. Jan takes pictures with a glorified point and shoot, which is not bad for a website that has had over 330,000 visitors. Using this simple camera has its advantages: he reasons, "People don’t take me so serious because of it's size.They are more relaxed and natural."
Artparasites photographer Chris Phillips (L) and writer Tristan Boisvert fall subjects to the lens of Jan Sobottka. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Something I experienced first hand was Sobottka's method: after taking a photograph, he never hides the image from the model. Instead, he involves his subjects, letting them help decide the composure of the shot, the textures and placement. The photos themselves reflect this openness. Sobottka's advice: "Be nice to people and they give back to you." Sobottka admits, however, that this is a trait that Germany is not particularly known for.
Life's Like That
"I am not in sync with the world; I have another feeling of it with my age. I am an observer of details." The artist refers to the many others who, no different than him, share their lives on a minute to minute basis in social media. While the rest of the world is concerned with likes, #tags, pokes and comments, Sobottka has a different view.
Sobottka's home: a house crowded with images. Photo: Chris Phillips
"What I do, everyone can do – but can everyone sit down day by day and put out this many photos; nine years of photos?" Yet this photographer doesn’t care if his work is regarded as good or bad. He knows that the future is not so distant and perhaps his art will be looked at differently. With his track record of prediction, this might be the perfect time to get out your own cameras and get to work.
Article by Tristan Boisvert