INTERVIEW: MARIUS SPERLICH
Marius Sperlich is mostly known for his macro photography on Instagram, however this 26 year-old German artist is also a designer, film director, musician and essentially a subversive rebel who knows how to work the system, but refuses to be run by it. Hungry to express himself and eager to unapologetically do his own thing, Sperlich has many surprises up his sleeves that are bound to provoke, strike a chord and inspire those who follow him on his reckless journey towards self-expression.
How did you come up with your macro photography style?
As crazy as it may sound, I don’t really like macro photography. Macro photography appeared into my life accidentally. I had just moved to Berlin, it was winter time. I didn’t have a studio, didn’t know anybody, and I just wanted to do some photography but I didn’t have space. So I took close-up shots and started thinking about that feeling that you have when you’re in love and in bed next to your partner and you study every single detail of the person’s face and body, and how intimate those moments are. I decided that I wanted to recreate that feeling through my macro photography.
Your work is indeed intimate, but also disturbing. You often juxtapose very sensitive parts of the body and face with sharp objects. How come?
Honestly, it was a process. Although recreating that intimate feeling through macro photography was very satisfying, I also felt like there was a lot of macro photography out there and I needed to find a way to differentiate myself. There was nothing new in what I was doing, and I wanted to showcase a more distinctive point of view in my work. That’s when I started playing around with sharp objects, to show how vulnerable we are as individuals, and how this vulnerability can create scars. I know a lot of people are uncomfortable with those pictures, that they swipe them away, but it’s ok to feel uncomfortable sometimes. I try to feel uncomfortable myself as much as possible.
What is the most sensitive part of your body?
My calves. I don’t know why but when you touch them I go crazy. I was in a band and my bandmates used to touch my calves on purpose all the time to tease me. I don’t know why I’m telling you this, I’d rather nobody knows.
If you could photograph anybody, dead or alive, who would it be?
David Bowie because he lived everything I believe in: ‘be yourself and do whatever you want’. If I could photograph someone alive it would be Winnie Harlow. She is so cool and so unique. We’re talking right now, hopefully it’ll happen soon.
One of your pictures was shared by Madonna and soon after became an iconic visual for the women’s march in January 2017. What’s the story behind that?
The story behind that is very ironic. When I first posted that picture on my Instagram account, it got deleted by Instagram because it showed pubic hair. Then a magazine published the picture, Madonna saw it, and immediately posted it on her Instagram account to promote the women’s march. I started asking all of my followers to tag me on her post because the picture was getting so much attention and nobody knew it was me who took it because I couldn’t post it on my profile. So, it left me with mixed feelings: Instagram almost deleted my whole account because of that picture, and at the same time, I got a lot of buzz from it.
Your photographs are very provocative and could easily be interpreted as objectifying when it comes to women. Has this affected your work at all?
I usually don’t answer these questions because whatever I say, I end up walking into a trap. I always work with the same make-up artist, she is a part of my team, and we work very closely together. We always check several times that my ideas are not offensive or humiliating to anyone. I strongly believe in equality, and I never want to create work that would go against that.
But I’ve been getting a few upset messages from people about my work saying that my models look too perfect and that I promote unreasonable beauty standards for women. It’s intriguing because at the end of the day, it’s macro photography, and it seems like they judge my work according to what they don’t see rather than what’s actually in the frame. I don’t use Photoshop a lot, so I don’t show something that isn’t naturally there. I know that no matter what I do, there will be people getting angry about it out there. At the end of the day, all I want to do is impactful work that stands out from the clutter and makes people feel something.
It’s bittersweet because on the one hand I’m happy that people pay attention to my work, and have opinions about it, and it’s making me realize that I have a voice now. But on the other hand, it makes my work a little more complicated and less spontaneous. For example, we really thought about not posting the picture with the armpit waves because a lot of our friends were disgusted by it. When we posted it, the picture went on Buzzfeed for being ‘the most disgusting picture on the internet’. At the end of the day, the only thing I can say is that people’s interpretation of my work is their own business
What is your take on Instagram guidelines?
It’s crazy because some accounts can post very sexualized pictures and not get flagged, and my work, that is not necessarily sexual, gets taken down. For example, it’s weird how Madonna can post my picture and not get it deleted, but I can’t post my own picture on my Instagram to this day.
What is your Instagram pet peeve and why?
People using people’s work without crediting them. Instagram is a great platform for artists around the world. It helps you to get jobs and connect with other people, but Instagram is also a place where people steal ideas to make money. You have huge brands that steal people’s work instead of buying it because they know that people can’t sue them. This happened to a friend of mine. A brand stole his work to promote something and when he called them, the representative admitted openly that they steal work all the time because only three out of 10 artists will end up suing. My work has been used as an album cover in the USA without my consent, and when I contacted several lawyers to get compensated for it, they didn’t know how to deal with copyright issues concerning Instagram. It’s all still very new.
Do you do other work that does not involve Instagram?
I co-run a design studio called “Vater Lin Miro” with Lucas Doerre. We decided early on that we wanted to make design combined with art, and we are making it happen. We do corporate identities, we work for Adidas, Montblanc, and other big brands but we don’t give a fuck how big the brand is or how much money they have. We just look for good energy and people that want to create art from design. We’ve recently discovered 3D printing and have been creating our own 3D print sculptures. Three of them are being created in New York right now. Next year we will probably have an exhibition with those sculptures… it’s really crazy and it’s working out great. Lucas has his own work, I do my own work, and we both have this design studio which allows us to continue doing our own work without compromising it, and worrying about generating money from it.
What is an ideal collaboration for you?
I focus more on building relationships than on working with really talented people. Don’t get me wrong, I work with really talented people but the reason why I work with them is because when we work together we share the same goal: to do something new, something crazy and we all have a lot of fun. If I see that someone is really hungry and down to create something iconic and new, I’m totally in because I’m also very hungry.
Where does your hunger come from?
I noticed from a very young age that when you create something that comes from your own thoughts and ideas and you materialize it into something that can be seen and consumed, you can really move people, you can change people’s perspective on things and get them wired. I always wanted to create stuff that amazes people and makes them think, and that hunger inside of me will never die.
What do you want to open up people’s minds to?
I know that I’m part of the system by using social media and everything, but when I look at society and how it’s structured, I can’t help but notice that everywhere you are, no matter what you’re doing, people are always tell you what to do. You go to school, you get a job… everything is written out by others for you. It was hard for me to break free from this and to make things happen on my own. Ultimately I want to get bigger and bigger and have a voice that can be heard by many people and tell them that they should focus more on what’s inside, think about what they really want to do, and be aware of what’s going on in society right now, and how we’re all being controlled. That’s why it’s important for me to do my own thing, and to let people know that they can do their own thing too.
What’s next for Marius Sperlich?
I’m starting a Kickstarter campaign to produce an extremely limited small book with exclusive artwork so that my art can be accessible to all my followers. I have tons of requests for prints, but my art is strictly limited to 5 Prints + 1 Artist Proof each and produced on Aludibond covered with acrylic glass 4mm. This book will allow for anyone interested in my work to have some of it in their homes.
INTERVIEWED BY RALPH ARIDA