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Norbert Wiesneth: "Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf is the epicenter for photography in Berlin"

Norbert Wiesneth: "Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf is the epicenter for photography in Berlin"
Photo: © PhotoWerkBerlin 

Norbert Wiesneth  is not only a photographer. He also runs PhotoWerkBerlin, a contact point, exhibition and project space in Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf. We were on site: What brings a photographer to Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf? Why not the center, Neukölln or Kreuzbergirgendwo? A conversation about Berlin's past, the future of photography and new challenges for the photographer's profession in the middle of Berlin. 


The street is located in the Bundesallee near the subway station Spichernstraße in Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf. This is where Hohenzollerndamm is located - and PhotoWerkBerlin. I have an appointment on this day with Norbert Wiesneth from PhotoWerkBerlin. So this is what it looks like here, in Good-Old-West-Berlin. A greengrocer is advertising bright red tomatoes at the Spichernstraße subway station and screams out prices at the top of his voice. A woman quietly stamps her U-Bahn ticket and disappears silently into the canyons of Berlin's underworld. Otherwise, the area seems tidy here. There are hardly any people on the streets, but all the more cars. Right across the street there is a snack bar, and on the corner is the central pension office.

I go inside, to number 176, here it is, the renowned PhotoWerkBerlin, it is located directly in the Kommunale Galerie. The PhotoWerkBerlin is a contact point, exhibition and project space for photographers in the city. At the front of the entrance there are brochures on photography, photos hang on the walls and decorate the room. Occasionally visitors come in. It is quiet. Norbert Wiesneth comes towards me and greets me by shaking my hand, then he says in a quiet tone: "Hello Jens, would you like a drink? "I'd love one Norbert," I reply. Norbert Wiesneth shows me his rooms, he tells me what he is doing here. He ponders about PhotoWerkBerlin and introduces me to his colleagues. "Every three months we have a new exhibition here". Norbert Wiesneth speaks slowly, somewhat cautiously, but he formulates in clear words what he intends to do here: create a central contact point for photographers. He has short hair, fashionable glasses sit on his nose, he speaks with a slight Bavarian accent. "I was born in Munich". But he has got around well, first in Bavaria, then all over the world. He calls it "Bavarian multicultural". Let's sit down. I press the recording device. Again and again people come in and say "Hello". We say "Good day" . Then we talk. About Berlin. About photography. About Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf. About his life. About PhotoWerkBerlin.

CCB Magazine: Hello Norbert, it's beautiful here. Tell me, what is the PhotoWerkBerlin and what are you doing here?

Norbert Wiesneth: PhotoWerkBerlin has been in existence since 2012, starting with photo workshops and the provision of photographic education. This includes workshops, artist readings and artist talks. Since 2014 we have been sitting in the Kommunale Galerie as a project space. Before that we did not have an exhibition space. Together with renowned artists we discover analogous techniques, photographic stagings, natural portraits, architecture or places that make Berlin special.

CCB Magazine: What happens at the artist talks?

Norbert Wiesneth: During the artist talks, the artist either leads us through the exhibition or we conduct thematic philosophical discussions with the artists, for example on the topic of "the work of art in the age of technical reproducibility", based on the discourse around the theses of Walter Benjamin. Another topic was recently the Stasi prison in Hohenschönhausen on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The range of topics is wide. But the selection of photographic techniques in the workshops we offer is just as large. They range from classical-historical photographic techniques to artistic formats.

CCB Magazine: That sounds like your offer is only for advanced students?

Norbert Wiesneth: Basically yes, we do not do classic beginner workshops. We are mainly concerned with those who want to continue working on their creativity, their vision or their expression. Or want to learn a certain technique. This can be very interesting, especially in historical photography.

As a photographer you have to specialize, otherwise you will not get far

CCB Magazine: Where do the workshops take place and how are they financed?

Norbert Wiesneth: The workshops take place either at Bethanien in Kreuzberg or in the artists' studios. In the studios and studios of the lecturers, the lecturers then allow us to share their artistic experience. If you want to further develop your technical knowledge and artistic vision, PhotoWerkBerlin is the right place for you. All workshops cost money, of course. In total, we have about 15 lecturers who work for us regularly.

Photo: PhotoWerkBerlin.

CCB Magazine: What criteria do you use to select the lecturers? Do they come to you or do you select them specifically?

Norbert Wiesneth: Both, and it's important to us that each lecturer is a specialist in his or her field. This also applies to the professional field of photography as such. Whoever tries to do everything today will not get far. Specializations are important, otherwise you will lose yourself.

CCB Magazine: Norbert, how did you come to photography?

Norbert Wiesneth: I originally come from Bavaria. I was born in Munich in 1972 and grew up in the Upper Palatinate. To study I went to Italy, to Bologna. There I studied art. Bologna led me back to Berlin: there was an exchange program Berlin-Bologna at that time, and I was called to Berlin to coordinate the project on site. That was in 1996 and I didn't really have Berlin on my list at that time. But then I fell in love with this city pretty quickly. I also studied in Berlin again, at the UDK. Then I just stayed here. The city never let me go.

CCB Magazine: What does Berlin mean to you? Also with regard to your work as a photographer? In our magazine we recently had an interview with the product photographer Helmut . He says that Berlin is not an epicenter for photography. Do you agree with him?

Norbert Wiesneth: Yes, the special thing about Berlin - even compared to other metropolises - is that there are no classic photo jobs here. The advertising agencies and large publishing houses are located in Munich, Cologne, Mainz or Hamburg. There are not many jobs that pay well in Berlin.

Berlin is a very special place for artistic photography. But there are hardly any classic photo jobs here

CCB Magazine: So why did you stay here?

Norbert Wiesneth: Berlin has always been the city for me. Berlin is photographically very challenging, and my profession is artistic photography. Berlin is a very special place for that. Berlin offers an incredible amount of inspiration, nothing fits together here, and that's what makes it so exciting. These incredibly different layers and differences in the city. There is no homogeneous surface in Berlin. But financially, from an economic point of view, I agree with Helmut Sattler, Berlin is not an epicenter of photography. It's all far below capital city level. Few freelance photographers can even make a living from their work here. Although recently in Berlin there has been an increase in commissioned work. This is mainly due to the many start-ups who now want to book photography courses in Berlin.

This is Norbert. Photo: © PhotoWerkBerlin.

CCB Magazine: How?

Norbert Wiesneth: For start-ups, photography is an effective means of marketing themselves. Especially press and event photos are hard to come by. But start-ups don't want to spend money on photos in the start-up phase, so they do it themselves. Then somebody in an agency gets a camera pressed into his hand with the advice, come on, come on...

CCB Magazine: This means that you profit from photographers booking your workshops, but the industry doesn't, because the do-it-yourself approach increases competition and lowers prices?

Norbert Wiesneth: I would not put it that strictly. Mostly established photographers or those who are on their way there book with us. And as companies grow, they increasingly book professional photographers because they have the money to do so. The problem relates primarily to start-ups in the start-up phase. And that is not a Berlin problem either. The global photo market is currently under enormous pressure. One reason is that digitization is creating more and more opportunities to do things yourself. On the other hand, professional photographers are now also undercutting themselves. That is a tough race. There are also no tariffs in the photo industry to which one adheres. Especially in the beginning, young photographers try to get a foot in the door with all means.

CCB Magazine: How do you get this under control?

Norbert Wiesneth: It is important to realize that cheap is not the best way. We notice this also in our workshops. We don't just book the cheapest offers, but the ones that are interesting for people. Really professional people often don't even want the cheapest. In Berlin, this Bavarian wisdom is simply missing a little bit: What doesn't cost anything, isn't worth anything. And I can only advise photographers not to take part in this undercutting race. It's also important to say no. You might wait a bit longer, but you'll be one step higher. In the end, everyone is more motivated because they get more.

It is important to realize that cheap is not the best way. I can only advise photographers not to take part in this undercutting race

CCB Magazine: Norbert, how do you finance PhotoWerkBerlin?

Norbert Wiesneth: PhotoWerkBerlin is a GbR, we finance ourselves mainly privately. There are, however, some courses that are supported, for example by the Federal Ministry of Education. That is then project-related. Currently we are also in the process of founding a support association so that we can be non-profit and accept donations.

CCB Magazine: Why did you just stay in Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf?

Norbert Wiesneth: Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf has become the photo district in Berlin par excellence. The gong was struck when c/o Berlin moved from Mitte to Bahnhof Zoo. But in the meantime they all come here: The Bikini House also opened at the Zoo, the Museum of Photography, the Newton Foundation or Camera Work, they are all here. Even the Leica Shop is on Fasanenstraße. But what is special about Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf is that it is mainly the established ones who are located here. The experimental field is still in Kreuzberg or Neukölln. Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf is High End. If you want to see high-quality photography art, Charlottenburg is the right place. You will hardly find that in Mitte anymore.

Foto: Norbert Wiesneth.

CCB Magazine: How does networking work here on site? Do people know each other and know about each other's activities?

Norbert Wiesneth: Interesting question, because that is not happening right now. Strange, isn't it? But we are working on it. For example, we recently reached an agreement with the Cultural Office of Charlottenburg and want to create PhotoDistrict, a network for photography, here in Charlottenburg. But it's true, the big addresses don't work together very much.

CCB Magazine: What is the reason for this?

Norbert Wiesneth: I think the more established you are, the more independent you become. Networks are usually created from below, bottom up, just to get started. Those who become independent then no longer necessarily need a network to help themselves. Although that is also a matter of attitude. In my studies there have always been people who said from the very beginning, "come on, let's do something together". And there were those who rejected that - no matter how successful you were or not.

CCB Magazine: Norbert, how will Berlin develop for photographers and what will happen to you?

Norbert Wiesneth: Internationality in Berlin will continue to increase. Especially in the last ten years, the former Berlin island has become a true international networking empire. I also notice that international photography schools, American schools in particular, come to Berlin especially to give courses. Hartfield, for example, offers many courses in Berlin, which is a very renowned American photography school. Photographers from all over the world are currently coming here to book courses. Virtual universities are also becoming more and more popular. One of them is Transart, for example. But whether Berlin will one day become an economic location for photographers remains to be seen. The creative and artistic photographers are already here. This development will continue. And as for us: we'll just keep going and get bigger. We have just entered a tender for Creative City Berlin. Have you posted it yet?

CCB Magazine: Oh, which one?

Norbert Wiesneth: Na, the Open Call zur Street Fotografie: We invite photographers from all over the world to present their vision of life in the streets. During the Month of Photography, the selected photographers will be shown in nighttime projections on the sidewalk of the Ku Dam.

CCB Magazine: Norbert, I'll do it now.

Norbert Wiesneth: Thanks Jens!

CCB Magazine: Thank you.

Profile of Norbert Wiesneth on Creative City Berlin

Profile of PhotoWerkBerlin on Creative City Berlin

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