Born and raised in Germany, photographer Thorsten Roth moved to the US in 2002. He now lives and works in NYC. He studied visual communication/photo film design, and at the same time began to work in advertising and photojournalism. Right after his studies at the Fachhochschule Bielefeld (Germany), he started working for Conde Nast in Paris as a freelance photo assistant. Roth’s photography has been published in Tatler Magazine, MarieClaire, Cosmopolitan, MR Magazine, El Pais Semanal, Libération, Figaro, Jazz Magazine, URB Magazine, Dime Magazine, and MAR Magazine among others. Here, Haute Living brings you can exclusive one-on-one.
When was the first time you realized you were born to be a photographer?
I was around fifteen and the best student in a photography school class. I had started taken pictures and filming Super 8 three years prior but at this point I became very conscious about my fascination even obsession with photography. I was driving around on my little motorcycle to find interesting things to shoot: landscapes, people, buildings I also read anything about photography I could get into my hands.
At one point I saw a documentary about Oliviero Toscani on TV creative-directing and shooting Benetton and it made ‘Click’ in me and my guts told me: “You have something going on just like this guy.” Long story short all of this lead for pursuing studies in Photo/Film at one of the best German DesignColleges and moving to Paris. It turned out that ten years after seeing the documentary I was standing as an assistant with Oliviero on a Benetton PhotoSet. Funny how life turns out when you want something real bad!
Who inspired you to become an artist?
I owe that certainly to my teachers and my education at the beginning my family was not really crazy about my choice. It was through the exposure to art in museums, exhibitions and watching documentaries and movies on TV that provided inspiration. Artistically I grew up with Bauhaus, New Objectivity and German Expressionism - I loved particularly the painters Max Beckmann, George Grosz, Otto Dix, on the film side certainly Fritz Lange. Later on, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Volker Schloendorff and Wim Wenders.
In college I really fell in love with French Impressionism which lead to the decision to move to Paris after college, which resulted in my living there for twelve years.
What was the first time you saw one of your shots in a magazine? What shot, what magazine, and of course, what did you feel?
October 1996, German Marie Claire was running a two page feature on me and my jazz portraits - Helena Christensen shot by Peter Lindbergh made the cover. My images showed American musicians Ravi Coltrane, Cindy Blackman, David Sanchez, Ted Edwards and Vincent Herring. It was very funny and kind of confusing – I guess my real first taste of “5 minutes of fame”.
In order to pay my bills I had a weekend night frontdesk manager job at the then best Parisian Boutique Hotel La Villa which hosted an amazing jazz club. At the beginning it was here where I met most of the musicians that I shot all over Paris. The feature told the story about a fashion photographer who felt so enthusiastically about jazz that he worked nightshifts at a “Jazz Hotel”!
When I first read the story, I said to myself, “Boy, I want to meet that guy!” Ironically several German visitors of Paris who had read the MarieClaire came to see me at the hotel, scenes from the Zoo: “look, it’s him” that little story helped me first hand to develop an understanding how difficult it must be for real celebrities to be around people.
Meanwhile my Jazz portfolio was accepted by the Smithsonian Institute in D.C. right after I moved to New York City in 2002. I am in talks with Lincoln Center about an exhibition project and book publication.
If you had to choose one and only photograph which one would it be and why?
Last year I shot a story “Venus In Lace” featuring La Perla lingerie. There is one photograph of Rachel/MC2 that is probably one of the sexiest and at the same time most sophisticated fashion photographs that I’ve shot so far. On one hand she is provocative, playfully dangerous and an incarnation of seduction. On the other hand the image has an angelic, iconic touch and there is a “Je ne sais quo” air about her - perfect! I think I will always be in love with that photograph!
Any favorite photographer?
If I need to name just one name without hesitation: Guy Bourdin, king of fashion photography. Other photographers that I’ve admired are Helmut Newton, Chris Von Wangenheim, WeeGee, August Sander and E.J. Bellocq.
Rumor has it that you are working on a new project. Could you please tell us a bit about it?
I have shot several underwear video specs plus still stillphotography on a soundstage in Brooklyn. It’s about translating a very strong branding idea into imagery and pushing the envelope esthetically and creatively as far as we can. I came up with a concept for three fashion shorts that make a statement about gender and the its complexity. The project is about taking a stand and showing “profile”. It was a very intense shooting, which I produced together with the production companies Fifth Legion, Urban Sled and the support of John Engstrom’s photo/lighting rental house Scheimpflüg.
Who are the models you picked up for this project and why?
The male model is Italian Gianluca Di Sotto represented by Q Model Management. We shot together an editorial story in Greenpoint last year. Gianluca just did the German Marlboro Campaign and has worked in Milan for German fashiondesigner Philipp Plein who will open a showroom here in NYC I believe in September. Not just that I like very much Gianluca’s looks he is always game and I find in his personality the combination of male macho and a touch of feminine sensibility. That allows me to create a more complex image of a man in my story.
The female model is Veronika represented by MC2 I met her the first time at a casting last November and she stuck out immediately! I was just waiting to have the right story to work with her. She is very beautiful, professional and kind! And then again - the same game as with Gianluca - through Veronika I can show more layers and channel contradicting expressions! Ad an irresistible edge to her seducing beauty and you have a perfect girl for your shooting! I really look forward working with both of them!