Q&A with Der Greif's Directors Simon Lovermann and Caroline von Courten

Following the launch of Der Greif Magazine's 16th issue, Common Love by Shirin Neshat, we delved into the organization's 15 years in disseminating photography. What can we still do to make images speak, today?

Since 2008, the year Simon Lovermann and Felix von Scheffer founded Der Greif, photography has been evolving constantly. The Germany-based organization's focus remained solid throughout time: exploring how images can be materialized and brought to the public, and challenging the dynamics of image production. To what extent can the fruition of a photograph be controlled, to step away from fast consumption? Guiding us through physical encounters and online activities, Lovermann and von Courten look back at what has been done - and at what still needs to be questioned today.

Hi Simon & Caroline! Der Greif celebrated its 15th anniversary this year. How did this journey begin, and how has it evolved since then?

We started out as two friends – Felix von Scheffer and myself (Simon) – being interested in the medium, but essentially having no clue about what it actually means to make or take photographs. The first iPhone had just hit the market, and there was a sense that we would encounter an increasing amount of pictures on screens.

We had just made the interesting discovery of a random juxtaposition of two photographs that were never intended to be related. So we felt the urge to explore this further, but within the beautiful constraints of a print publication: the need to make a selection, to lay out the pictures in a larger format (the matte paper publication). We invited friends to submit work in order to create the first issue from it, alongside a small display at Ammersee, the Bavarian region we come from. There was no master plan, I had just started my graphic design studies, followed by developing my own artistic practice. We didn’t have any idea how to build the organization, how to make sure it works and grows, but we were eager to play and continue our explorations. After Issue 1, Felix left for Senegal, and I continued, with Leon Kirchlechner alongside myself. We then kept on exploring this initial idea, joined by Matthias Lohscheidt an Claudio Ricci, in order to only understand later that what we were doing was commonly understood as crowdsourcing, and essentially creating visual remixes by de- and recontextualizing individual photographs that were coming from different makers.

So we happened to build a community around our endeavors, without first understanding it or intentionally planning it. What’s changed since then? We’re a bit older now, we understand potential models to make our ideas more sustainable. To create a better and more healthy work-life balance. We also know when it’s time to step back or make space for other people and other ways and forms of looking and seeing – to be aware of our own limited visions and perspectives – hence Guest Room and the guest edited issues and our ever-growing Der Greif-team, including most recently Caroline von Courten to team up with me in our double-directors function, soon to fulfill the director’s role completely on her own, as I will seek new ways to support and to contribute to Der Greif. So on and off, there are and have been other great people at work in building the organization, so Der Greif is and has always been a team effort.

How do you envision the relationship between the different activities, both online and offline, that Der Greif is proposing?

It is a mutual relationship, fairly right from when we started out in 2008, we seek formats that suit a playful though critical engagement with photographs at large and celebrate the photographic works we display, as well as their diverse makers from our global community, both on-&offline. While through our new website we can keep a finger on the pulse of current developments, it also acts as an archive to reflect on the development of contemporary photography throughout the past years. And we do believe also very much in physical encounters; while leafing for instance intimately through the pages of our magazine or when interacting in one of our many engaging exhibition formats. 

Der Greif’s research has always focused on the dynamics that concern photography, from its production to its dissemination. How are you challenging them through your work?

By always bringing in many different voices in an inclusive conversation. In order to question the dynamics and logics that stand at the source of which photographs come to the surface by being shown - or not. What concerns the production, we like to include the ‘behind’ of the photos we present, through for instance our format of the artist feature and blog, in which artists can more broadly reflect on/ share their practice on our website. 

What have you learned and what have you un-learned on the way photography can be materialized, displayed, and talked of, throughout this 15-year long experience?

The core learning or perception is that despite the fact that we’re consuming thousands of pictures everyday on our phones, we’ve learned to consume them faster, but not necessarily to be more visually literate. We’ve been constantly interested in how images are being produced, disseminated and received/consumed today. The means and platforms have changed drastically since we started (e.g. iPhone, Instagram, etc.), but the fact remains that when you’re putting something online, you essentially step away from fully controlling the meaning (intentionally or unintentionally, but that simply comes with the medium), its context, the way people read, see and react to what you’ve put out there. The fact that you can create more “controlled” environments for people to look at and discuss work in print publications, as well as physical displays creates a nice balance that we’re always eager to push.

Der Greif Magazine’s 16th issue, Common Love by Shirin Neshat has just been launched. Can you give us your idea of what it is like and a glimpse of the process that led to it?

It is a very touching issue, the intimacy of the various encounters between so many impressive photos from literally all over the world is breathtaking. Especially in the world’s current state of challenging conflicts and how to deal with these yourself emotionally, Common Love really works as this island for reflection on our common ground, our being with each other in this world, like poems can do. No wonder that at the basis for this issue stands Shirin’s beloved poem by Ahmad Shamlou. It all started between this beautiful encounter and conversation between Shirin and myself (Simon), more than two years ago when Shirin was working on an opera project for the Festspiele in Salzburg, and spent time in Munich. They were looking for a studio space, and since we have a spacious one, a friend asked and so we met. Briefly afterwards, Shirin had a solo show at Pinakothek der Moderne, and so we could meet and exchange more. Shirin and her studio manager Giulia Theodoli then found space to collaborate for Issue 16, and here we are.

Hosting a different guest curator for each number, Der Greif Magazine allows for variation within an established format - an A5 publication, bringing together the work of different artists every time. What is this way of working bringing to your publishing activity?

Every time anew the different, un(der)represented voices challenge also our own ideas, references, views on/of photography and computer-generated imagery and how to respond to them. That makes working on each individual issue collaboratively with our guest editors so exciting. To keep listening intuitively and carefully to the submitted works. In that sense our publishing activity is never boring and we can explore new paths.

What pushes you to keep working with printed matter, and what future do you envision for this format?

For now? We see working with printed matters as one of our core activities, straight from the beginning. And each time we develop printed formats (be it the issues, cards or exhibition prints) we get this sense of urgency, that these material encounters by us ‘sensing beings’ are crucial for the appreciation of photographic works. So yes we’ll definitely stick with printed matter in the future and continue to explore different formats to present work from our community!

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Der Greif 16 – Common Love by Shirin Neshat is the result of an open-call inspired by the line „I am a common pain, scream me“ from Ahmad Shamlou‘s poem “Common Love”. 1.500 artists and photographers from all over the world responded to the theme. The outcome is a poetic and multifaceted visual narration through 86 images on 100 sensitively layouted pages.

Der Greif, Past & Present, Pavillon 333, Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich, 16-18 June 2023
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Der Greif, Past & Present, Pavillon 333, Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich, 16-18 June 2023

Issue 16 – Common Love by Shirin Neshat, front and back covers
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Issue 16 – Common Love by Shirin Neshat, front and back covers

Issue 16 – Common Love by Shirin Neshat, spread with images by Anna Guseva and Ali Mobasser
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Issue 16 – Common Love by Shirin Neshat, spread with images by Anna Guseva and Ali Mobasser

Sima Dehgani X Der Greif, Past & Present @SuperBooks, Haus der Kunst München
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Sima Dehgani X Der Greif, Past & Present @SuperBooks, Haus der Kunst München

15 years of Der Greif at Zirka, Munich
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15 years of Der Greif at Zirka, Munich

Milen Till X Der Greif, Past & Present @SuperBooks, Haus der Kunst München
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Milen Till X Der Greif, Past & Present @SuperBooks, Haus der Kunst München

Der Greif Magazine, Issues 11-16
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Der Greif Magazine, Issues 11-16

Der Greif X Les Rencontres d'Arles, Nuit de L'Année, 15th Anniversary Screening, July 8 2023
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Der Greif X Les Rencontres d'Arles, Nuit de L'Année, 15th Anniversary Screening, July 8 2023

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Q&A with Der Greif's Directors Simon Lovermann and Caroline von Courten by PhMuseum

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