Notte di Ferragosto

Galerie Gregor Staiger, Zurich
Walter Pfeiffer
13 April – 18 May 2019

How are you?
I’m actually super super sick, like a cold that never goes away. I feel like 102 years old. You know, I normally work fast, and it is horrible that I can’t because of this sickness.

So sorry to hear that, Walter.
Yes. I made the mistake of going swimming, and then I had to leave for London to work with all these super people, and it got worse. But now I am back here with you for this interview [laughs], even though I won’t be able to come to Milano for the exhibition you are organising with Gregor.
By the way, do you like the title I choose for it
[Notte di Ferragosto]?

Yes! We didn’t expect to have a title in Italian.
When I was young, I would go to Riccione, and loud speakers would always play Gianni Morandi, the number one on all the charts. An Italian saint [laughs]. So I took the title of one of his songs. Maybe you don’t remember him so well?

No, Gianni is still very popular, he never seems to age.
Yes, I am jealous. [laughs]

Talking about generations, we wonder if you like the usual interpretation of your work, that is you as precursor of younger photographers of the late 90s and early 00s such as Wolfgang Tillmans, Diana Scheunemann or Ryan McGinley?
I don’t know. When I started hundreds years ago, I had to just do it. As you see in my last book of drawings, I was trained as an illustrator and then worked as a window dresser. Photography only came intuitively: I bought a polaroid camera and just took some photographs of my friends, those beauties I was hooked by. Even after I got more equipment, I only had to push the button. I would never dare to consider myself a photographer, unlike my students that are trained to do exactly that.

What is your relationship with Instagram and all these social media based on photography?
I mostly post on Instagram on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings, but not every week. If only I had bought an iPhone earlier, I would have many more followers now [laughs]. I used to like Facebook, but now Facebook is dying. My generation is on Facebook.

And what about some painters or photographers from the past you like.
I mostly enjoy old painters, Piero della Francesca for example. As to photographers, I like the classics from the 40s and 50s, Cecil Beaton, or Horst P. Horst. They were inspiring for me.

What’s your feeling about commercial projects linked to fashion?
Commercial work has been difficult at times. For example, after I didn’t touch the camera for fifteen years, I was asked to do it again for a commercial job in the early 00s, but I accidentally left the yellow filter on, the one I used for my book Das Auge, die Gedanken, unentwegt wandernd. The result was awful, but I learned my lesson. I also had to learn how to work with people I didn’t know, where everything is prepared for you. This has been a slow process.

We guess your preference is still to work with friends.
Yes, like I just did for this issue of Buffalo magazine that is coming out soon. The other commercial jobs I take are the ones that excite me, the ones that make me go “oh yes”. For example, I was in Milano just two months ago, shooting for Marni and W Magazine. That was great.

We read that you need to feel challenged in every image you make. How do you still come up
with challenges after decades of experience?
In the commercial environment of today, the challenge is to work with people you don’t know, and to work within this context where everybody just wants to be famous through things like Instagram. That’s boring. I am still so surprised that my career turned out so well, even if I didn’t want to make it. Maybe young colleagues today ask themselves why such an old photographer still gets all these jobs.

It must be about reputation.
Yes, ‘reputazione’.

Walter Pfeiffer’s career has spanned decades and mediums, although his name is mostly
linked to a tradition of 20th century queer photography. His pictures and drawings, presented
in especially fine publications, are indeed witnesses of a certain sexual liberation in Western
societies, yet his sensitive eye has captured further.

Pfeiffer was born in 1946 and is currently based in Zurich. Pfeiffer’s main retrospective
exhibition – Walter Pfeiffer: In Love with Beauty – opened in 2008 at Fotomuseum Winterthur.
In the same year the Swiss Confederation awarded him the Grand Prix Design. His works are
held in various collections, including Fotomuseum Winterthur, Kunsthaus Zürich, and the Sir
Elton John Collection, Atlanta/London.

This writing above is part of a chat we had with the artist a few days before the opening of this
show, which is organised by Galerie Gregor Staiger in collaboration with the Conceptual Fine
Arts’ gallery visiting programme.