In her book, published in 2022 «99x einzigartig» Melinda Blättler shows unfiltered photographs of people with a flaw, a taboo subject or an illness. At the Photo Münsingen presents a selection of them. With the pictures, the photographer from Nidwalden wants to build bridges, show beauty and create understanding.
Melinda Blättler, how did the idea for your book come about?
I noticed that many people on social media don't present themselves as they actually are. With filters and photoshop, with fake breasts and spray-on lips. That annoyed me because teenagers take exactly these people as role models. In my opinion, that's not exactly what they are, because obviously they are not satisfied with themselves. More and more customers came to my studio with specific requests, for example that I should retouch their wrinkles. If I convince them to take the picture first and then decide, most of them are more than satisfied. Against this background, I started the book project two years ago.
How did you find suitable people for the book?
I launched an appeal via social media, radio and television. The echo was tremendous. From the messages I received, I selected them in such a way that as many “flaws” as possible could be depicted in the book. These include not only people with illnesses or the consequences of accidents, but also homosexuals or couples with different skin colors. I looked for people who in some way didn't conform to the norm that others point the finger at. During the course of the project, I had the idea of specifically looking for a 99-year-old person, so that the book now shows 99 people aged between a few months and 99 years.
How did you go about removing people's inhibitions about focusing on their "flaws"?
First they told me their story in a conversation. By listening and observing attentively, I registered where and how they reacted when telling stories. My approach to the shoot was correspondingly individual. A woman who had told me that she liked to dance, I let her dance in front of the camera to break the ice. I asked the man who had the accident to close his eyes and think back to the moment of the accident. When he opened his eyes, I pulled the trigger. The result is a very intense photo. When someone lets go and just be themselves and you can capture that in the photo, the picture will be good.
What were the reactions of those portrayed to the shooting?
Many said they felt very comfortable with me, even to the point of asking if I had any psychological background. For some, working on the project had a certain therapeutic effect. After she couldn't imagine it at first, the overweight woman asked me at the end of the shoot if we couldn't take the bikini photo now.
Are you still in contact with the people?
Yes, we have a common chat. Sometimes we organize a meeting with the aim that those portrayed can get to know each other and exchange ideas. Friendships grew out of this. Some will be present at Photo Münsingen and report on their experiences.
How did you deal with the often painful stories yourself?
Of course they affected me, but the project also made me stronger and gave me a new perspective. Some of the stories, especially those related to psychological impairments, stayed with me for a few more days. Through the shooting I was able to process what I heard to a certain extent.
All photos in the book are black and white and taken in your studio. Why?
It was important to me that the person is in the center, neither colors nor the background should distract. I wanted to make classic pictures. That is why everyone portrayed is dressed simply and wears neither make-up nor jewellery.
How were the reactions to the book and the exhibition in Stansstad last summer?
Very positive. At the exhibition, where some of those portrayed also told their stories personally, the reactions were very emotional. I also keep getting feedback on the book, the pictures got under your skin and made you think. If I can achieve that with the project, I'm very happy.
How optimistic are you that social rethinking will take place in the future?
Lately I've noticed that social media stars are increasingly presenting themselves without make-up and without filters. If I see something like this or topic-related posts, I post it on my channels so that these topics remain present. I think something is happening, but unfortunately the thinking in society will not change that quickly.
Interview: Raffael von Niederhäuser
Melinda Blättler at the Photo Münsingen 2023: