Photographer Andreas Rost says he looks for happy stories but doesn’t find any

The photographs taken by internationally acclaimed German photographer Andreas Rost don’t tell happy stories; they are not good for the family album. He categorically says so. Sitting down after an exhausting workshop at Pepper House cafe in Fort Kochi, with a cup of coffee, he discloses that strangely his camera’s current focus has been the happy world of his eight-year-old daughter, Hanayo.

Yet away from this current fascination, Andreas has been occupied by the ground realities of day-to-day living.

Human life has been his inspiration over a career spanning three decades. He has seen, sensed and shot stories of human beings, in struggle or otherwise.

As a young man Andreas aspired to be a movie maker but the politics of his land, at the time, neither encouraged film studies nor photography. He worked in a steel factory and marked time.

The camera that his father presented him as a 12-year-old surreptitiously clicked and shot pictures that his friends appreciated. In 1989 when “the wall was falling” Andreas sidelined his camera and worked politically for the East German Socialist Democratic party. When he returned to pursuing photography at the university, Germany had united and his camera was back in his hands.

In 1993 he completed his studies under renowned photographer and teacher Arno Fischer and began work as a freelancer.

Though Andreas denies political overtones in his photographs, a viewer gets a clear sense of it. “I consciously separate my photography from my politics. Both are not possible,” he says adding that as a photographer he has to be free and does not want to indulge in propaganda.

His first series of works are insightful pictures of street life – records of social living conditions. “All the truth about mankind is found on the streets,” he says with the conviction of a man whose camera has scourged the alleys and lanes where human life perpetuates. Even when Andreas graduated to taking portraits, after his engagement with life on the streets, he consciously widened his lens view to capture special social groups and not a prototype. Groups of people in public works, lives of prisoners and the like became subjects of a sensitive lens. “Mostly I go out to find happy stories but I don’t see them,” he rues.

His last project on architecture was not straight forward shots of houses but a telescoping of history and the houses. At the end of the project Andreas brought out a book on Oscar Niemeyer, the legendary Brazilian architect, whose works he celebrates through his photographs. Andreas uses the Leica for street shots and for portraits the large format cameras.

A distinctive feature of his photography is the use of the two-tone black and white medium. “Mainly black and white. When I started work, in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR), it was difficult to work in colour. I began in black and white and have never changed.” Andreas worked the limitation of working in two colours to his advantage. “Black and white is abstract. It comes from reality but it is not real. For me it is important to have this difference, between reality and the picture from reality.”

Andreas strangely does not attach a market value to his works. He does not wish to sell his photographs. “I like useless art and all art is useless. There is a difference between useless and senseless. My pictures make a lot of sense.”

On the reasons why his lens has never focussed on fashion and food, he says “I like good meals but I cannot cook. It’s like that. I am not able to do so.”

Since 2003 Andreas has been working as a photographer and curator with Goethe Institute organising workshops and exhibitions. In his maiden visit to Kochi Andreas’ feel of the city is touristy.

The workshop has left him impressed by the keenness of the group but he strongly feels that students of photography should engage in long term research projects and should read more to improve the quality of their photographs.