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The Dark Hour: Alexander Binder

Embracing all things dark and sinister, the German photographer speaks to Dazed about symbolism, skulls and supermodels

Born on Halloween in Germany's Black Forest, it's not really much of a surprise that photographer Alexander Binder has such an eye for the macabre. A fan of black metal and horror movies, his images range from sinister looking goats and owls to idyllic and yet disturbing rainbows, clouds and waterfalls. Binder has also dabbled in self-publishing and so far has put out three books, and he seems to be getting really busy. We got to speak about supermodels, symbolism, animal skulls and Sigmund Freud. Despite any preconceived notions one would expect after seeing his work, he's a pretty nice guy - a nice guy with a killer imagination.

Dazed Digital: There's a lot of symbolism and iconography in your photos, some of it's sort of hidden and other times it's right out in the open. What do these symbols mean to you?
Alexander Binder: Since I can remember, I have been obsessed with occult theories and all sorts of paganism. So I guess it's only a logical consequence that the symbols of these religious traditions got part of my 'visual vocabulary'. The symbols help me to convey my perception of reality and they also help me to enhance the atmosphere of a photo. I love the idea of combining universal and secret symbols. It’s like talking two different languages at the same time.

DD: Have you ever thought about shooting supermodels?
Alexander Binder: I have never thought about becoming a supermodel-photographer. I need a close personal relationship to the people who are working together with me and I am not really interested in shooting starlets or models. By the way: Most of the time my protagonists have to wear costumes and I guess it wouldn't be a very attractive job for a model to hide her 1 million $ face behind a ghoulish mask.

DD: What was it like growing up in The Black Forest? Can you tell us about that area?
Alexander Binder: The Black Forest is a large woodland in south-west Germany. Growing up there can be inspiring and boring at the same time. In comparison to large cities you don’t have too many choices – except your local video rental store and some drunken kids at the village well. But the nature is really impressive and you can do there whatever you want. For example nobody of the adults around me thought that it might be strange when I started to collect animal skulls at the age of 12. I have a whole box with animal skulls in my basement. From blackbird skulls to rat bones and of course a lot of deer skulls and deer antlers. I am still searching for a human skull but unfortunately they are very expensive and I guess it is only allowed to buy them for medical use (at least in Germany). Skulls and bones remind my – in a very positive way – of my own mortality.

DD: Speaking of the Black Forest, are you aware of Tokyo's Aokigahara Forest aka the Black Sea of Trees? It's at the bottom of Mt. Fuji and apparently it's a very popular place to kill yourself. It's the second most popular suicide spot besides the Golden Gate Bridge. They say it's haunted.
Alexander Binder: I have read several articles about the Black Sea of Trees – unfortunately I have never been there. I also remember that I once found a jpeg of a guy hanging in the trees of Aokigahara Forest who looked quite interesting due to his blue overall. It’s a fascinating concept that you even have to wait in the line while you are going to commit suicide.

DD: Have you ever had any supernatural experiences yourself?
Alexander Binder: Last year I spent some weeks in Iceland and had this emotion, which I have never had before: I took some photos of a gigantic waterfall in the middle of nowhere and I suddenly had this powerful feeling of being one with nature. It sounds trivial (like a spiritual self-help book for beginners) but it was great!

DD: What are your dreams like? I was fascinated by your Traum series and dreams in general, the deeper meanings of dreams and what not. What have you learned about Sigmund Freud's analysis of dreams and how does that affect your work?
Alexander Binder: It's difficult to say if my dreams affect my work. However it was very interesting to read about Freud’s perception of dreams and about his theory in general. I especially love his concept of the life and death drives. You’ll find this duality of good and evil, positive and negative in a lot of my photo series. I very often have this dream where I move through abandoned places and cities. It's not really spooky or a typical nightmare but it feels like I am the only survivor of a disaster. Until now I haven't found out what happened.

DD: Who are some of your favourite current photographers and artists?
Alexander Binder: I love the works of outsider artists like Miroslav Tichý, Billy Childish or Joe Coleman. Besides them I adore the oeuvre of Stephen O’Malley of Sunn O))). In my humble opinion he is the future of metal music and also the most versatile artist living today.

DD: What kind of cameras and lenses do you use?
Alexander Binder: I have very small and skinny hands. Therefore I prefer small cameras, which led me to Olympus. Most of my lenses are self-built stuff, made from plastic crap, old soviet glass lenses or optical toys. All my instruments look very amateurish and they help me to create this diffuse look, I have about 10 (plus many filters, crystals and stuff).

DD: What are your top five favourite horror films?
Alexander Binder: Hmm … there are a lot of great horror movies. My personal top five are:
1. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Of course the original 1974 movie by Tobe Hooper)
2. Nosferatu (To be honest: I prefer the remake by Werner Herzog with German actor Klaus Kinski)
3. Hellraiser (Pinhead and the other Cenobites still rule)
4. Antichrist (It’s not a typical horror movie but it shows some great scenes)
5. Audition (Takashi Miike revived my passion for the genre)

DD: What advice can you give to other up and coming artists?
Alexander Binder: Don’t believe the hype.