Christina Stohn

University: University of Westminster

Graduation: 2014

Genre: Fine ArtDocumentary

Website: www.christinastohn.com

Artist Statement: This body of work interrogates the interface between the impersonal terrain of a call centre and its human components. PROBE [UNTIL UNPRODUCTIVE] is a command on the corporation's computer screens that call centre agents are strictly required to adhere to whilst conducting telephone interviews. These repetitive structures aim to deliver consistent ‘quality’ control, to enforce productivity and cost efficiency. Workers become automated, anonymous agents in this institutionalised system, repeating prescribed modes of enquiry to the respondents. Their interchangeability is reflected in the numbered booths, lined up in identical rows. 

 
 From the series  PROBE [UNTIL UNPRODUCTIVE]

From the series PROBE [UNTIL UNPRODUCTIVE]

 

Where did you attend university? In 2014 I graduated from the University of Westminster, London with a BA in Photography. I have recently moved to Bremen, Germany to study for an MA in ‘Culture and Identity’, which encompasses both photography and editorial design.

 
  From the series  PROBE [UNTIL UNPRODUCTIVE]

From the series PROBE [UNTIL UNPRODUCTIVE]

 

What are some standout moments from your time at university? I found the BA (Hons) photography course at the University of Westminster stimulating and rewarding. The teaching staff and specialist technicians are very dedicated and supportive. Modules both in theory and practice provided a learning environment for research, exploration and critical reflection. Thereby I have developed a range of analytical and practical skills. Even though we are in the age of the digital image, I am committed to the physicality of prints. Therefore using traditional techniques such as darkroom processes and bookbinding were most appealing to me. I gained valuable insight through group shows, which I organised and curated with my university peers. Sharing this practical knowledge gave us some guidance on the stages involved in the exhibition development process. The final year of the course was the most challenging simultaneously producing two major pieces of work: the completion of a 10,000-word dissertation and a practice project. 

The first standout moment at the Hochschule für Künste (University of the Arts) in Bremen will be the release of a magazine, which I am currently working on with my fellow students. The publication will be out in the beginning of the year (2016).

 
  From the series  PROBE [UNTIL UNPRODUCTIVE]

From the series PROBE [UNTIL UNPRODUCTIVE]

 

Which photographic genre do you consider your work to fall into? I am not sure if my work fits into a classification. The BA course has enabled me to develop an independent photographic style, which combines fine art and documentary practice. I use photography as a tool to represent the world around me. My photos often seem to be constructed, as they shift away from the traditional idea of documentation. I guess my vocational training and work experience as a commercial photographer guides my compositions. I was lucky enough to be in the last generation when photo studios were still equipped with analogue large-format cameras. As a result of having used darkroom techniques, I like to get all my shots in camera. I prefer to keep retouching to a minimum and do not digitally manipulate my images but only tweak them a little bit. 

 
  From the series  PROBE [UNTIL UNPRODUCTIVE]

From the series PROBE [UNTIL UNPRODUCTIVE]

 

What are the biggest influences on your photography? Photography books and magazines are the primary reference from which I draw inspiration. I think there has been an interesting development on the self-published photobook market in recent years. However, I seek out ideas from a range of sources like art, literature, film, design, fashion and architecture. 

Since I am studying in Bremen, I now have the opportunity to engage with German photographers much more than before. The research to date has tended to focus on West German art photography, most notably Bernd and Hilla Becher and their students. There has been little discussion about GDR photography in Anglophone scholarship. My present professor Peter Bialobrzeski’s distinctive style is characterised by a formal approach, let’s see if I will incorporate it into mine.

Generally, I am drawn to minimalism and I admire Hiroshi Sugimoto’s work. Furthermore, I feel inspired by a host of American photographers such as William Eggleston, Stephen Shore and Joel Sternfeld who have altered our perception of colour in the world around us. 

The list could go on!

 
  From the series  PROBE [UNTIL UNPRODUCTIVE]

From the series PROBE [UNTIL UNPRODUCTIVE]

 

Tell us about any commercial work you have undertaken. I divide my time working on personal projects and shooting commissioned work for a variety of clients, mainly eco-friendly fashion brands. It is always great to collaborate with other creatives to produce work. A project really close to my heart is with Antwerp-based designer Anja Perišić and her line of unique kimonos called A.P.Monde. This collaboration allows editorial and personal work to meet. It is fascinating to see her collections evolve. Most of all, I love bouncing ideas with Anja, it is a very organic and natural process. This is in contrast to the fast-paced fashion industry without conscience. 

Where did your project PROBE [UNTIL UNPRODUCTIVE] stem from? I have chosen to submit my major project, which I completed in June 2014. The initial motivation for the choice of subject was personal, as throughout my studies I worked part time in a call centre myself to subsidise my photography. By working in this environment I soon realised that hidden behind the façade of anonymous voices, my new colleagues had numerous creative skills and had been through higher education. However, in this line of work, individual personalities have to be suppressed in order to represent best the interests of the organisation to respondents on the other end of the phone. This duality of call centre workers’ personal and professional life is what interested me. 

How do you find the process of editing work into a series? In my opinion editing is as important as taking pictures. The editing process is really fascinating, as one image affects another and the overall narrative structure. I intuitively take aesthetic factors such as composition, colour, form and light into consideration but give equal weight to the content, which is reinforced by the aesthetics. For a tight consistent edit, I like to let some time pass between photographing and editing to gain perspective and critical distance. It can be hard to edit one’s work so seeking advice from a small circle of trusted colleagues can prove to be useful.

For PROBE [UNTIL UNPRODUCTIVE] I had a large pool of images to choose from. My entire floor was covered with prints, placed in piles according to themes and put aside as pairs. 

Can you pinpoint the moment you became interested in photography? If so can you tell us about it? It would take me a while to think through it but my first reaction would be that I cannot really pinpoint a moment in time. My father used to work for a publishing house so I was surrounded by print publications from a young age. The tactile experience of the pages while browsing through magazines inspired me immensely. I first got interested in photography as a teenager. Around that time I enrolled in a class at a local college, where I learned the basic techniques of photography. The next step was an internship in a specialist photo lab, which led me to formal training in a commercial photo studio. Years later, I am still obsessed with magazines. 

How does the process of working towards an MA compare to that of a BA? Undergraduate programmes offer a broad perspective on a subject. Postgraduate studies give the freedom to take the direction one finds interesting. One has the opportunity for independent research and analysis at greater depth and length to expand knowledge on the subject. Professors meet their students at regular intervals to review the progress and provide feedback. Working towards an MA gives one a good deal of flexibility; there are fewer constraints but time management skills are essential to get everything done. 

If you could give yourself one piece of advice before you started your BA, what would that be? Start on essays as soon as you get the title. 

Could you tell us about any new work you are involved in. I am currently working on a couple of photographic projects. The ongoing series from 2012 Paradise Lost is a projection of my personal memories. It shows a feeling of estrangement from my native soil in the Black Forest, once so familiar. My recent work with the project title 325 refers to the postcode of the Bremen borough of Osterholz-Tenever, which used to be synonymous with crime. However, during the past ten years the tower blocks were modernised in the name of progress. The work will be a mixture of urban landscape and portraits of residents.