Mont Saint Michel is a small island located approximately one mile off the coast of Normandy, France, where the Couesnon River flows into the English Channel. The island is home to a small community of 44 inhabitants and is dominated by the towering presence of a monastery dating back to the 8th Century AD. The island has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2007, attracting over 3 million tourists each year. Yet, in spite of the hoards of visitors teeming through its narrow alleyways, the island retains a sense of enchanting mysticism. German photographer and artist Ruediger Glatz, whose portrait projects explore the mysticism of everyday life, recently made his own pilgrimage of sorts to Mont Saint Michel and captured the following series with the Leica CL.
How did you first get into photography? And who inspired you along the way?
My father was always taking photos, so I had contact with the medium from the very beginning of my life on. My first memory of an active involvement in photography was through my father and I made prints of my grandfather’s WW2 negatives in my father’s darkroom in the age of 6 or 7. Later I got my first camera, shooting here and there during vacations, until I became a graffiti artist and began documenting my work. I really started to engage properly with the medium around 2000. My job at the time had meant a 2-3 year break from graffiti and I was desperately looking for a creative outlet I could pursue in my daily routine. Photography turned out to be just that. Two things really inspired me the most on my way: the classic documentary photography approach of Henri Cartier-Bresson and images of the American Civil War. Some years back, a friend of mine worked on a project in collaboration with the Library of Congress restoring old plates and I was excited by the imagery. The medium was so young at the time and the results just amazing.
You work almost exclusively in black and white, often employing heavy contrast. What is it about this form of photography, which appeals to you?
It helps me to put more emphasis on my subject. If a project required color, I would not hesitate to use it, but that has only been the case 2 or 3 times to date. When you look at my new Instagram account, you will find mostly color images, because here I like to show what I see and I see in color. My projects tend to explore one or more steps of abstraction.
You describe your work as conceptual portraiture. Can you explain what you mean by that?
Most of my projects and are series of images that form one portrait as a whole. So far I have created portraits of a feeling, a relationship and a self-portrait relating to personal phantasies, subcultures and places. My final work is always physical, mostly in form of framed prints.
Why did you choose to shoot at Mont Saint Michel?
Mysticism plays a big role in several of my projects; it is my biggest inspiration today. Mont Saint Michel is a magical place, a place full of mystery and exciting vibes. Christians considered it as one of their sacred sites 13 centuries ago, and when you are there, you can sense that its history as a holy place probably dates back much further than that.
It was its energy, which made me decide to work on MOUNT, a portrait of Mont Saint Michel. During the daytime, this vibe is heavily shrouded by the mass of visitors, even though it is still present, but during the night and early in the morning you can feel it more intensely.
Your series includes gothic elements such as birds, a skull and fog, all within the religious setting of the monastery. What was the story you were trying to tell with these images and why did you choose to include these elements?
All these elements are part of the place, its history and my personal experience there. The portrait is based on these elements and the feelings I had while working on it.
For example, the skull belongs to Aubert of Avranches, the bishop of Avranches in 708. It is said that the archangel Michael appeared to him three times, telling him to build a church at Mont Saint Michel. He ignored this mission twice and the third time Michael pressed his finger into Aubert’s brain, creating a hole in his skull. You can find it today as a relict in the Basilique Saint-Gervais d´Avranches.
An on-going project of yours focuses on the divine and mystic. What is it about this thematic focus, which interests you?
It is my confrontation with life, love, God and myself, which is a general inspiration for my work.
You make great use of varying light conditions to create a strong sense of atmosphere in your images. How did you go about creating this feel with the CL?
Cameras are tools for me. Tools I use to create images I tend to have in my mind before I pull the trigger. I have retained my style from analog photography and very often use older lenses to get this look. Since I was to use the newly constructed lenses in combination with the small APS-C sensor of the CL, I found after some test-shooting that the ND-filters provided the perfect solution to affect the character of the lenses. The other effects come mostly from reflections, extended exposures and the ND-filters. I would love to see the feature of multiple exposures with my M, SL and CL!
How was the experience shooting with Leica CL regarding speed, functionality and design?
You shot both indoors and outdoors at Mont Saint Michel. How did the CL perform in each of these cases, especially at high ISOs?
I didn’t have any problems whatsoever. It did exactly what I asked it to do. It’s a great, precise tool just like the SL but smaller and lighter.
Did you find yourself using the viewfinder or the display for composing your shots? And why?
I am a viewfinder-person since I feel more connected to subject this way. But I enjoy using the display for complicated perspectives or while working from a tripod.
What was your favorite feature of the Leica CL? And would you recommend the camera to fellow photographers?
It works well, is light and the files have fantastic image quality. It’s all you need from a great camera. I use the CL today either when I want to carry a very lightweight camera or to shoot at extended focal lengths, as an addition to the SL.
What advice would you offer to any photographer looking to improve their black and white photography?
I think the best advice is to ask yourself why you take photographs. It is very general advice. I got asked this question about ten years back, and it informs my photography to this day. It would say there is not a day goes by that I don’t think about it and it goes beyond improving photographs.
Of course, finding your style that suits your subject and your creative vision is also vital.
What are you working on currently and what do you have planned for the future?
I have around ten projects I am working on in parallel. I’m more focused on some rather than others, some are almost finished and some need several more years to get finished. THE NEW BLACK, my portrait of the international fashion scene, and ADOPTED HOME, my portrait of the city of Hamburg in several chapters, are what I’m most focused on at this point. In 2018 I plan to start a portrait of a historic building in Paris and finish my first portrait of my understanding of God. Besides all this, I am working right now on a book of MOUNT, my portrait of Mont Saint Michel. 2018 will be an exciting year for me, and I wish this for all your readers too!