Few cities come closer to the utopian dream than Berlin. The city is renowned for its cheap rents, thriving art scene and internationally-renowned clubs; naturally, these factors unite to create a cultural hotbed of talent from all over the world. It was while shooting a series of intimate portraits for Parisian footwear brand BOTH that photographer Lukas Gansterer came into contact with a handful of inventive minds living and working in Berlin.
Despite originating in the French capital, the label is renowned for doing things differently and focussing on the central idea of balance. In terms of design, this balance comes in the form of forward-thinking footwear which incorporates rubber in new, interesting ways. In terms of its casting, instead of traditional models, the label favours strong, diverse personalities, resulting in people which represent the vast spectrum of talent shaping Berlin’s creative reputation.
Gansterer – himself based alternately in Berlin and Vienna – explains that the city’s relatively low prices (at least in comparison to other European capitals) allow him a certain freedom which appears to bleed into his work. He speaks of wandering the city with the subjects he photographs, simultaneously inspiring and being inspired by them – “A lot of my work is portraiture, so I always love going with interesting people to interesting places, doing things you wouldn’t do in daily life. That definitely helps capture the right moment.” He describes his experience with musician Ahmad Larnes as one example of beauty being found in unorthodox locations. “He suggested we go to the cemetery on the other side of the street”, explains Gansterer. “At first I wasn’t 100 per cent sure, but I thought we should try it anyway.”
Larnes is used to trusting his creative instincts, although he usually channels them musically alongside Sebastian Kreis, his partner in the band Schwarz Don’t Crack. Together, the duo create dark, electronic soundscapes offset by smooth, soulful vocals. It’s unlike the industrial techno usually associated with Berlin’s thriving music scene – instead, Larnes cites musical icons including Chaka Khan, D’Angelo, Prince and Stevie Wonder as the eclectic inspirations infused within his work.
“A certain kind of queerness is celebrated in Berlin clubs, but that queerness definitely prioritises gay, white masculinity. It can be suffocating to be a queer femme in this city. I want to help build a world where everyone is free to determine who they are and what they choose to do with their bodies”
– Ande Pramuk
Berlin is, of course, internationally renowned for housing several of the world’s best nightclubs. Incidentally, it was on these dancefloors that Monika Martinez found inspiration for 2G2S (2gether2strong), an agency challenging the lack of female representation in various music-specific roles. “I spent a good amount of time on dancefloors where I met all types of people that do all types of things”, she explains. “Musicians, dancers, engineers, bouncers – many of these women share similar stories about the lack of jobs for them in their own fields. Using our contacts, 2G2S connects women to jobs in these fields – I wanted to create an agency that keeps music at centre, but puts opportunities for women to the top.”
The music industry’s lack of diversity and reluctance to credit talented women is well-documented by the likes of Björk, Lady Gaga and various other high-profile stars opening up about discrimination. Martinez reinforces the ongoing problem, explaining that “with regards to jobs, women – cis and trans – aren’t being hired to do the jobs perceived as ‘male’. They aren’t allowed to make a living in their trained fields as DJs, producers, videographers... they aren’t even being hired for these jobs, and that’s a problem.”
Artist Ande Pramuk echoes the notion that there’s still work to be done – “A certain kind of queerness is celebrated in Berlin clubs”, explains Pramuk, “but that queerness definitely prioritises gay, white masculinity. It can be suffocating to be a queer femme in this city.” The notion of identity is one explored by the artist through their work; “I want to help build a world where everyone is free to determine who they are and what they choose to do with their bodies”, explains Pramuk. “I try to create and inhabit artistic media that provides space for this intense internal journey through embodiment and storytelling.” It’s true that Berlin may have its problems, yet its reputation for progressive, forward-thinking artistic output looks unlikely to fade. After all, a spectrum of talent is naturally accompanied by a spectrum of voices – and now, finally, these voices are being given the platform needed to truly shift the cultural status quo.