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Manuel Estheim: Fancies and Quietude

A Parallel Planets piece by Unknown
I need to admit, as prematurely as now, that I have a recurring struggle in finding the right words to write about photographers whose works pierce my through my insides – just like what I’m going through right now as I explore the photographs of this young lensman from Linz, Austria.

I looked at Manuel Estheim’s photographs and became enthralled: the kind of enthrallment that I usually get when the most twisted parts of a psycho-thriller film unravel before my very eyes, parts that make me want to pause the movie for five minutes so I could investigate all the details flashed on the screen, details that would possibly haunt me even in my sleep dreams. And every bit of such enthrallment just stays in my insides, pierced – until I’m able to gather my emotions and put them into words.

After some hours of musing, which was occasionally interrupted by pangs of hunger, it hit me. The manner how his subjects’ identities remain subdued beneath ordinary objects, how their reflections sometimes appear distorted yet see-through, and how he carefully transforms nude body parts into decomposable landscapes – these things about Manuel’s works remind me so much of Francesca Woodman’s riveting “anti-portraits.”

You see, Woodman is one of my heroines. I previously wrote something about her and re-reading it showed me the semblance of her photographic works with Manuel’s in a more meaningful level. I alternately flipped through both of their galleries I came up with a single, yet very substantial lesson: to be creative with one’s photographs, specifically self-portraits, only requires two things: the photographer and his or her imagination. Magic will be visible when those two things are turned into action and dedication.

But aside from a very strong likeness with Woodman’s masterpieces, Manuel’s photographs have stories of their own. They tell tales that are timeless. If one, regardless of how he or she perceives beauty or wherever part of the globe he or she may be, sees and examines his works, he or she would almost instantaneously connect with them. It could be anything: a personal story, a fictional scene, or something that never even happened. There's just something strangely, and almost vaguely, familiar with his works and seeing them frame by frame propels us, the viewers, into a quietude and the rest is just for our fancies to keep.

The great news is that he is just getting started and by the tone of his answers to my questions below, I know that he is definitely going to do this for a very long time. Circumstances like this make me want to kiss the Internet for bridging me into discovering artists like Manuel Estheim. I seriously cannot wait to see how his works would evolve in the years to come.

Hello, Manuel! It’s great to have you here on Parallel Planets. Tell us about yourself as a photographer, before you became one, and if you weren’t one.

Thank you for having me! As a photographer, I currently focus on the themes of identity, intimacy and sexuality. Before I started working in this medium, I used to draw a lot, but eventually I was way too impatient for it and I figured that I could realize my ideas so much faster and way more accurate with photography. So I gave up drawing in favor of photography.

As seen on your portfolio, most of your photo sets feature people. Are they close friends or mere strangers? How do you connect to your subjects so your shots would mirror their souls?

Most of my photographs are either self-portraits, portraits of my boyfriend, or of very close friends. I have never photographed a stranger and, at the moment, don’t have the urge to. My work is so personal that it just wouldn’t feel right to incorporate someone I’m not personally connected to. I feel like everything I do always ends up being a self portrait though, no matter if I photograph myself or not - because I always put a part of myself into what I do. So to be honest, my work pretty much never mirrors the souls of my subject, but rather my own one.

You shoot both in colour and black & white. When do you prefer using one medium from the other? Do you have specific subjects that you only like to shoot in monochrome? Or does it just depend on what you feel like using for that particular moment?

I have no rules for myself when to use colour and when black & white, but you can probably see a strong tendency towards monochrome images in my portfolio. It always depends on the moment and if I feel that particular images would work better in colour or black & white. I appreciate that it is much easier to develop black and white film, though!

What do you love photographing the most when it comes to the female and male human bodies? Why?

You already kinda answered the question yourself - the human body is my absolute favorite subject to photograph, hence most of my subjects appear nude. I really enjoy the way you can mold the body, almost as if it was a sculpture. The way light hits the body and turns it almost into a landscape. The thing that probably excites me the utmost is the interaction of light and the naked human body.

How is it like to be a photographer in Austria? How would you describe the photography subculture there? Any local favourites whose works influence and inspire yours?

I’m not sure if I’m the right person to answer this question, as I’m still a student, but I personally am not really immersed in the local photography subculture. Ever since I started sharing my work on the internet, I decided to use English, so I could reach a much bigger audience. I adore the work of a lot of my colleagues at university, but telling you just one name would be unfair, and listing all of them way too long!

How does analogue photography relate to your personality and your personal stories? What makes film more “special” than digital?

It's kind of funny, considering that I've only used film for about a year and used to do all those photo manipulation stuff. I always tell people that I want to make images that are “quiet” - and that is film to me. Digital ended up being too “loud” for me – and I have no idea if that makes sense to anyone but me.

Obviously, digital photography is way more convenient than using film. It's especially easier when doing self-portraits, as I can go back and forth and always adjust my pose/face until I finally like it. With film, I just take a couple shots and hope to have nailed it. I personally love film because it has that spark of magic that excites me beyond words.

Every time I hold developed negatives, I can't even believe that I'm holding the physical images in my own hands, it's just magical to me. And I love spending time in the darkroom. There is nothing better than watching your images come to life slowly right before your eyes. To me, it's very comparable to meditation.

What photo projects are you working on and/or plan on working on soon?

Right now, I’m working on my bachelor thesis, which will be some kind of documentation of my relationship paired with my own writings, lyrics I adore, and great quotes. I hope to never finish this project, it’s the most inspiring and personal thing I’ve ever done and I absolutely don’t want it to end, ever!

To you, what makes a photograph powerful?

Emotions. I want to look at photographs that make me feel something. I don’t care about the technique at all. I don’t care if it’s exposed well, without any distortions and so on - if it doesn’t make me feel something I don’t care about it, no matter how technically perfect it may be.

Aside from fine art photography, what other creative pursuits are you interested in?

I like to write from time to time. I'm actually working on and off on a book that will combine my short stories with my photography, but it's still gonna take a whole while until I feel like it's finished, I'm afraid. Photography is so time- and mind-consuming that I barely have the strength left to think of anything else.

If you were to pick 3 for each, what are your all-time favourite books, films (cinema), and songs?

As I’m such a visual person, I honestly don’t read much, so I’m gonna pass the favorite books.

Favorite films:
1. Martyrs. I LOVE horror movies. And this one had me captivated a long time after it ended and made me think a lot.
2. Pan’s Labyrinth. I don’t think this needs any further explanation. It’s a masterpiece.
3. Edward Scissorhands. I Love Tim Burton and the worlds he creates and I especially love this one.

Favorite songs: This is really difficult as I listen to SO much music, so I think I’m just gonna tell you some songs I really love. Lana del Rey - Born to die, Florence and the Machine - Blinding, Susanne Sundfør - White Foxes, Chelsea Wolfe - Feral Love, Lykke Li - I Never Learn, Zola Jesus - Ego, FKA Twigs - Pendulum

In this planet that we're thriving in—
What is your power animal?

I have not looked into the subject matter, so I have no idea if what I’m gonna say makes any sense to somebody that knows much about the subject. But my first thought was a deer, who to me always is some kind of king of the forest. I’m very connected to nature, so I feel like this would be a great fit.

Who is your alternate ego?

I've always liked the idea of alternate egos, and I think it's very interesting how they are being used in todays' pop culture. However, I'm afraid I don't have one (yet).

In an alternate universe where photography does not exist—
What would your name be?

Would my name be any different, if photography didn’t exist? I don’t think so.

What would you be doing instead?

I would probably be focussing my whole time on writing. It can make me nearly equally happy and I find it very therapeutic to write down your own thoughts, so it would help me to keep my sense of sanity in this chaotic world.

I only knew a dusty speck of Woodman’s planet. I wasn’t even born when she passed on but the self-portraits she created are an immortal gateway to get a glimpse of the life she had back then. It’s such a tragedy that she took away her own life at 22 but as I come to think about it now, that since Manuel is currently of the same age, that maybe somehow, in some unknown alternate Universe, they are each other’s counterparts and he is bound to unfold her unfinished mystery by creating more portraits that would pierce into everyone’s insides – and even souls. Now, wouldn’t that be the perfect plot twist?

Assuming that it’s your first time to know of Manuel Estheim here on Parallel Planets, do you now love his works as much as I do? Well, you’re welcome! Never miss any of his new photographs so bookmark his website and follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.


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