The Herznach mine, where iron ore was extracted until 1967, is one of Switzerland’s most significant sites for ammonite fossils. The publicly accessible, well-maintained tunnels have a lot to offer photographically. Uniting this dark underground world with a technically advanced lighting solution was a challenge for the duo.
The idea for the staging came about quite spontaneously: «We have already created so many surreal worlds. Presenting a dream sequence, however, was the first of its kind,» explained Adrian Sonderegger. Their core artistic idea was to create a wellness oasis in the cold, inhospitable world of the mine. With a bathtub as the central subject, simple yet high-impact. The light significantly contributes to the mood conveyed, it «transports» the miner into a world full of physical comfort.
The light from VIOR brings the miner, who works in darkness underground, into such a comfortable environment that he surrenders to the situation, falls asleep, and feels whisked away to a place of pure relaxation. His dream world is warm, freshly fragrant, and clean. A surreal site becomes a home.
Both artists find it particularly interesting that the staging contradicts the general perception of a mine: «The scene with a bathtub in a mine makes no sense at all, we wanted to create the greatest possible contrast,» explains Jojakim Cortis. The image is unsettling and intimate at the same time, it emits an aesthetic of calm, warmth, and snug security.
The effect of lighting
The VIOR lamp provided the main source of lighting in setting the scene. No additional light was needed for the photo shoot, despite the all-encompassing blackness of the mine. «The lamp is beautiful as the sole source of light - aesthetic and discreet. Illuminating the roof makes the space appear much higher than it actually is, and the light directed downward makes it clear to the observer: the main scene is what is happening below,» says Adrian Sonderegger, explaining the lighting effect. As natural light is «unreliable» for staged photographs, Cortis & Sonderegger exclusively use the artificial light of their flash units. The two begin their pieces in a completely dark room and first decide where the light should come from. «The shoot for RIBAG was very exciting for exactly that reason, it matched our style completely,» the artists agree.
The lamp was first installed in the complete darkness of the mine, and then the objects were placed in the cone of light created by VIOR. It was freezing cold and the water had to be warmed with an immersion heater. After all, to create an authentic image, the actor would need to lie in a bathtub that was actually full. Dry ice was used to help create the steam. Rolf Huber from Aargau, a newly-retired RIBAG employee and proud former European Moustache Champion, sat in the bathtub. «Of course, showing a beautiful woman would have been the more obvious and more aesthetic choice, but that was too simple for us. Besides, there probably were not any women in the mines, and staging a worker was our main focus,» explains Jojakim Cortis. There were a lot of laughs before the shoot was over. During the shoot, photographers worked side by side as a well-coordinated team – as they always do on their projects.
About the artists
Cortis & Sonderegger met at Zurich University of the Arts, where they studied together for five years and created a practical final project at «staged locations». This laid the foundation for further examination and immersion into the topic. They wrote their theoretical work on artist duos together and live by this model today. Though the life of an artist may seem unconventional, these family men describe their daily routines as «relatively unspectacular». «We work like everyone else, we don’t lead artists’ lives. We used to when we worked until late at night and sometimes slept in the studio. Today, we value freedom and independence. Because we both have families, we need set times in which we can see each other and work,» says Adrian Sonderegger. Both find inspiration for their works in exhibitions, films, and books, when looking at other photographic works, or on the internet. «At the same time, there is definitely no copying and pasting. It is more like we absorb impressions. They are then mixed with our own opinions and brought into the current time. We let the impressions settle together and then use them to develop new ideas,» explained Jojakim Cortis.
Their Most Recent Work: Double Take
It all started during the summer lull: Cortis & Sonderegger had no pressing work at the time and got the idea of recreating photography’s most expensively traded works. The most expensive image at the time was «Rhein II» by Andreas Gursky, an abstract and, in their words, «actually unspectacular» photograph of the Rhine. Cortis & Sonderegger wanted to break the image free of its two-dimensional structure and represent it in three dimensions. They recreated the scene in their studio with a model and photographed it. Craft supplies from the studio setup are accidentally left in the images, making it clear to the viewer that they are seeing the construction of a model. In this way, the artists create the pretence of a perfect reality, the dissolution of the familiar by placing various objects such as tape, clips, brushes, and other tools at the edge of the image.
The presentation itself tells one story, the photograph with studio materials visible tells another – Double Take. In their recently released book, Cortis & Sonderegger show various reconstructions of historically relevant and well-known images, and open up new perspectives and vantage points.