PARIS — You never know what you might run across in Berlin. Just ask Hedi Slimane, whose first book of black-and-white photography, which is devoted to the city, will be released next week.
Take, for example, the time he was walking through Tiergarten in winter and was intrigued by some excellent electronic music booming in the distance. Expecting to come across a party, he instead discovered a lone skater on a frozen pond, dancing with abandon in minus-15-degree weather. Slimane didn’t photograph the man. Instead, there’s a graphic image of how blades carved up the ice, and another of the skater’s private sound system, dusted with snow.
This story first appeared in the September 12, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Slimane, who has been taking pictures since age 11, has an eclectic eye. His 156-page book, published by Karl Lagerfeld’s 7L imprint, showcases everything from shirtless boys and grimy nightclub staircases to landscapes and architecture. Juxtaposed, without narration, they convey the chaotic energy of a city Slimane considers the most creative in the world.
“It’s like a foreigner going to Berlin and documenting it,” he explained over an orange presse at Cafe Marly here. “I just documented my life, where I’d go with my friends. I go out a lot in Berlin. It was a daily routine.”
The book is the end result of a residency project for the Kunst-Werk, a contemporary art center where Slimane had an apartment and spent at least a week each month over the last three years. He’ll travel there again for the book’s launch party Saturday. “The truth is, I don’t write,” Slimane said. “If I wrote, it would be a more accurate record. But behind each picture, there’s always a story.”
Like the time Slimane happened upon a massive Communist-era swimming complex, known as Sez, in the final hours before it was about to close forever. “People were crying,” he recalled. “In Berlin, people are very attached even to terrible architecture.” Instead of tear-filled faces, Slimane snapped gonzo divers, an empty locker room and a dark curtain of water that registered on film as otherworldly trails of light on an inky backdrop.
The pages convey a gritty sense of Berlin’s underbelly: tattooed punks, desolate railway yards and messy apartments. Still, Slimane insisted he also captured the “sunny side” with scenes of squinting youths sunning themselves at the beach. “There’s a dark side to [Berlin] in the underground and punk scenes,” he allowed. “But it’s also such a joyful city in the summer. If I like Berlin so much, it’s because of the energy.”
Slimane described the book as a personal project “outside my fashion life…sort of an intimate book.”
And he’s already moved on to his next photo project, which he’s finishing up now. It’s a compilation of images taken backstage at rock concerts that will be published next year. He’s also just back from Sydney, Australia, where he was shooting for Australian Vogue’s Christmas issue being edited by Lagerfeld.
Not that Slimane has any ambitions to become a fashion photographer like his friend, Lagerfeld. “I couldn’t do it,” he said. “I think it’s something very particular to do fashion photography. I just like to take pictures of people in their own clothes.”