“I find Asian women beautiful to shoot because there’s this melancholy; they don’t seem to be very emotional on the surface but there’s so much to discover underneath when you work with them. I think Asia in general has this kind of melancholy to it in the culture and that’s what I really like.”
‘The Visual Diary of the Berg’ is an aptly named website and a personal allusion to the very graphic way Benjamin Ehrenberg filters and processes things in life. So we wandered the locality on a cloudy day to continue the conversation, focusing in on the lensman’s personal and professional aims and the result is rather on point. Look!
Out of all the places to be, how did you end up in Taiwan?
One morning in my art school, I was walking through the campus and I saw an announcement for art and design scholarships in Asia. I thought it sounded interesting because also at the time I was in a very depressed phase in my life so I wanted to leave Berlin and that’s why I came here. I didn’t know much about it before to be honest but when I looked it up I thought the place looked awesome.
How old were you then?
I was 24. So it was around 2007.
So you didn’t have any idea about the country when you got here?
Not really. Of course I heard a bit about it and knew that it was famous for certain things, specifically in the computer industry.
Were you one of those people that thought Taiwan is Thailand and vice versa?
No, no. My dad worked for an engineering company and he had clients from China so naturally because of the conflict between the two, we heard about Taiwan too. A little bit of the history basically. So yeah, I definitely knew Taiwan wasn’t Thailand.
How were the first few months like when you got here?
I was in a shitty dorm and I felt terrible there so I moved out immediately. It was an interesting first impression, but definitely wasn’t what I expected. After a few months, thankfully, I started liking it better. I noticed that the architecture here wasn’t good but on the other hand people were great. From day one the people were great.
You mentioned observing the architecture of Taipei, is it safe to assume you have some interest in that field?
I think I’m influenced by a certain minimalistic and modern architecture, yes. Also all my design work is influenced by graphical elements. In a certain way, I think in a very graphical sense.
You’ve stayed here for almost 4 years now and you briefly mentioned having travelled to other Asian countries – what made you stay here?
Mostly the people really. Then there’s the contrast between the very industrial, rough, straightforward city from the things you have around Taipei. If you leave Taipei it’s very different – Taipei is not Taiwan. I really love that you have the mountains and the ocean. I mean you can even take a short MRT ride to the beach so that’s perfect. Also from a young age I love riding the motorcycle and the country is very motorcycle-friendly. It’s small enough to have anything quite accessible and big enough to still keep discovering something new.
Now let’s talk about your work, and in all honesty, I’m quite a fan. There’s something about your photographs that is quite electric and charged – especially the ones with human subjects! What are your goals when it comes to photographing people?
I sometimes want to take the human-ness out of the person. I find the work more inspiring if it is a little bit surreal. What I really like to do with people is understand what kind of people they are and get what’s inside them out. I want them to show something that they haven’t showed to anyone before – another side of them.
And do you have a certain criteria when choosing these people?
If I don’t do commercial work or if I get to pick the models, then most of the time I will seek people with a personality that is special and distinctive; they rebel to norms and create their own identities. And again this is made easier through social media.
If I ask you to interpret your own style, how would you?
My style is surreal, digital, graphical, and a little bit of a psychotherapist. Right now I would sum up my work as ‘in search of…’
I see. I did examine several of the sites that you run and I found you on Instagram too; how do you think social media has changed things for artists?
The problem with social media is that it feels like there’s so much creative work out there but if you look at the details, you will find that there is actually less than what it seems. A lot of the stuff has been done numerous times and it’s redundant. Also for example something like Tumblr that lives off of reblogging other peoples’ work, it’s really hard to tell original work and reposted materials apart. So as an artist right now, you need to make a distinctive approach to your web presence. So I’m always working hard on how to present my work. It’s not interesting anymore to just show your final work. It’s also more interesting now to show your whole process and people seem to be more and more interested in this.
Well we are definitely and inevitably part of the ‘Generation Like’ but for you, what do you feel more pressure with – other peoples’ expectations or your own?
For me if I share and people like it, of course I’m happy about it but I guess I still find it harder to satisfy my own. What my art teacher said before is that you are your own target audience. Basically you like what you like and you just stick with your personal taste and what you feel is right and you will naturally always find your audience.
What about actual quality of content, do you think social media has made people creatively lazy when it comes this? You mentioned a lot of reblogging and reposting – is that a sign that a lot of people are actually not making, and doing nothing?
I wouldn’t say that completely. A lot of people nowadays are ‘digital natives’ and on the vast majority of these sites, I wouldn’t say everyone’s creative – yeah they just reblog shit – but there are still extremely creative people that use these platforms in such amazing ways. I think a lot of people are becoming more productive because of the inspiration that they get on these sites too. I think it gives people a lot of creative confidence because they can see similar art that someone probably did before. [Pause] Oh and what I don’t like about these sites is when people reblog your stuff and don’t mention you – they just steal your picture!
Oh, has that happened to you?
To be honest, I have found a lot of my work on some blogs and they didn’t mention my name. They kind of made it look like it’s theirs. I’m not crazy pissed about it. I write to them about it and one guy gave me credit and one just took it down.
I also gathered that you work for Asus as a product designer.
Yeah. Basically the work I do for Asus is also what I do in my photography. It sounds funny because it is a completely different field but then again it’s all visual work.
Sounds like you’ve got a lot on your plate. With all this, what keeps you going?
If you put something on my grave it would be ‘died doing.’ I have this drive that when I wake up in the morning I’m excited because I want to keep doing what I’m doing. I love what I’m doing. I have all these ideas and I need to try them out. That’s how I satisfy myself.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JULIA KAO