I met photographer and graphic designer Aaron Kobilis at Café Luzia in Oranienstraße just a few weeks ago, when Kreuzberg was covered in this thick, first snow. We wanted to talk about Aaron’s latest project, a book filled with photographs of people – from Berlin and New York City. Aaron has done some impressive design- and photo jobs I came to find out on his website, a pretty big fish so to say, but this collection of pictures is his very personal project – his “Herzensprojekt”.
Before we even got into talking about how it all came into being, while watching the snow falling outside Luzia’s massive windows, we found ourselves reflecting over the city as this ever creating pool of connections and stories and – of course – images. The city as a backdrop and fertile soil for all different kinds of personalities first occurred to Aaron on a trip to London in his early teens when he spotted some Piccadilly punks hanging out on the streets. He took their picture.
Throughout his career, Aaron pursued his love for candid street photography and portrayed many people. First in New York City, his home base after leaving Washington DC. Then Berlin, a city he fell in love with on a trip to Germany in 2010 – and which he keeps coming back to ever since.
The pictures you took in Berlin are colored, the ones from New York City are black and white. Why?
I started collecting the images from both cities: colored pictures form Berlin and black and white from NYC. It’s just the way I see New York. One of the things I really love about NYC is that the neighborhood that I am living in is from the turn of the century and I absolutely love old classic photos of NYC. And the architecture and much of the signage it is all from that time. It just has a classic look to it, which I thought was very appropriate for black and white. The other reason is that I was actually a bit happier to be in Berlin than In NYC, so I think black and white tends to be a little more somber, so that kind of fit to my mood at that time. And as far as Berlin is concerned, I just feel it is a very young and energetic city and there is a lot of energy and a lot of color. So much color on the streets that we do not have in NYC. The street art and the clothing of the people for example.
Why did you decide to only take pictures of people, not architecture or street art?
I always loved photographing people, I think a city without the people is not a city, I think people do, without realizing it, very entertaining things and they are one of my favorite subjects. I like the interaction of working with people. I wanted to focus on the personalities of the people in these two places and kind of leave the city in the backdrop as the canvas.
So Berlin/NYC – are you suggesting that the people have some kind of invisible similarity or connection?
I have a hard time finding similarities between them and I think the connection for me was more where I was in my life and that I came to these places and I found a connection in that. But as far as the cities are concerned, they are very different, also the people, the motivations, the pace of life, the way that people view leisure time and work… It is interesting because there is something about the energy in NYC. When I am there is like this invisible push that is keeping me moving, there is a certain energy that makes you motivated and pushes you to work harder. Berlin is more relaxed. More time for creativity. So Berlin/NYC is a nice mix.
What about representation? How do u feel about that?
When people come in from the outside you kind of have a little bit more overall picture of what’s happening, it’s kind of hard to see when you are in the middle of something, but I do understand what you mean and I’m glad I did not create the book too quickly. It happened about three years into this and I think back to when I started coming to Berlin three years ago and my perspective of this place was definitely pretty naïve. But I feel like the more you get to know the people that live here and the more you respect the stories of people that experience it every day. I think of my understanding as still somewhat naïve and I am definitely a foreigner here, very much so, but I’d like to think that my overall view is much better now.
So what is your plan with your book? Where do you want to take it?
I’d really love to do a gallery show and I always think that in NYC people would think the Berlin photos are really interesting and in Berlin people would find the NYC pictures interesting. It would be the idea to do a Berlin show in NYC and an NYC show in Berlin. So right now I am trying to get the word out in Berlin. The book is self-published, it is from a smaller publishing company, called “blurb”. Hopefully when the word is out, a larger company will pick it up and I can do a larger format.
I have one last question: Where is home for you?
One of my favorite German words is “Heimat” and I have thought about that a lot. I think NYC is Heimat for me, but beyond family and nationality it becomes a little complicated because I have as much of a life in Berlin.
You cannot objectively grasp a city, you can only create your own personal mind map of it. And the more you get around and experience it, the bigger and more diverse this mind map becomes. With “New York/Berlin”, Aaron Kobilis allows us to snatch a glipse of his own mind map. Two cities, two homes. Different faces -and why wouldn’t they be? And isn’t that wonderful?
Get Aaron’s book here!