Open Doors Gallery is delighted to present a Q&A with OD artist Josh Kern

Josh Kern is a photographer based in Essen, Germany. His work often illustrates the exuberance, ecstasy and anguish of youth. Shooting exclusively with analog film, his photographs carry a strong materiality. Kern obsessively documents the world around him, creating tender images, photobooks and expressively paint filled notebooks, recording the passage of time. He has published three books: Fuck Me (Dienacht, 2018), Love Me (Eigensinn, 2020) and Raüber (Eigensinn, 2021).

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The discussion below is between Alexander Mourant & Josh Kern

Joshua Kern, Studio

AM: Hey Joshua, to kick things off, I’m really interested to learn what interests you most about photographs, and which subject are you most drawn to?

JK: I guess I’m mostly interested in photography because it is a form of communication for me. Im not very good with expressing myself by talking to a person. It’s way easier for me to let people know what I’m feeling by showing them a photograph that I took. Sounds strange, haha, but especially when I started photography it was very freeing for me to let people that are close to me see my photographs and notebooks. 

And its the same the other way around. If I look at a photo book that I can relate to, I feel less alone and more like I belong somewhere.

With time it also started to not always be about sharing these images. But more about trying my best to make work that’s as honest as possible and that is truly me, without any compromises.

Josh Kern, Notebooks

AM: You’ve spoken in the past about how you’re an ‘obsessive’ photographer; always looking and collecting images from your life. Sometimes it comes across as a kind of mania. Do you think you photograph in order to resist a sense of loss?

JK: Yeah, that’s something always I wish to be. I admire artists that are obsessed with their work. Not obsessed with being succsesfull but only with the act of creating.

But I don’t think that I photograph in order to resist a sense of loss. Its more because I really want to live my life 100%. And when I decide that I want to be a photographer and dedicate my life to that, that means that I have to give photography 100%. So I guess its more like a conscious decision to be obsessed with taking pictures in order to not regret anything when Im older.

Josh Kern, Notebooks
Josh Kern, Notebooks

AM: You seem happy to embrace mistakes and accidents within your work, in turn emphasising the materiality of analog photography. How important is it for you to work with this medium? 

JK: I guess it has a lot of reasons. Maybe just to rebel against our current time, haha. I spend so much time in front of screens and everything seems just perfect, although it isn’t. You see so many people online that seem to have a perfect life or you make something like a subscription online and you think everything is fine but later you find out that there was something in the small print that you don’t like. I feel like a lot of ‘mistakes’ are hidden these days. But there’s nothing bad with mistakes if you communicate them correctly. So I guess I just want authenticity and working with film, or generally with analogue materials with all the mistakes and accidents just seems way more human to me.

Josh Kern, Notebooks

AM: In regards to the photographer and subject relationship, many of your photographs are of friends and family. Could you speak a little about negotiating those relationships? Does photography help you become more intimate or distant from these individuals? 

JK: I’m not very sure why I prefer to photograph people that are close to me. Sometimes I wish it was different and I tried projects with strangers but it was never satisfying for me. Maybe someday.

I guess taking pictures helps me to come closer to my subjects. I used to struggle a lot with social anxiety and photography helped me a lot. If I was out with people and actually wanted to go home because I felt bad,  I could just hide behind my camera without having to interact. With time this gave me the strength to socialise more with the people I like.

AM: I’m fascinated by your notebooks. There’s a rawness to them. You both enhance and challenge the context of your photographs by coupling them with often expressive, abstract drawings, paintings and collage. It’s a process which reminds me of the sketchbooks of Jim Goldberg and Peter Beard. What’s the significance for you in creating these intimate unique objects? 

JK: Thank you!! Yeah I really like Jim Goldberg, Ed Templeton is also a big inspiration.

Its actually almost like a therapy for me. If I don’t feel very well I just sit down at my desk scribble and tinker around. I just try to make the notebook look like Im feeling at that moment. And somehow I always feel better afterwards. Its weird because I’m in a much better state of mind today and that’s probably the reason why I didn’t create scrapbooks for a while. But I miss it somehow. I need to find a way to express positive feelings haha.

AM: Impressively, you’ve already published two sold-out photobooks, Fuck Me (2018) & Love Me (2020). Please could you introduce us to your process of bookmaking? How does the rhythm and subject of images influence the flow of a book?

JK: Yeah I somehow always think in books and my bookshelf is the favourite part of my room. My friends are also really into bookmaking so I guess its just natural for me to create photo books. Normally I photograph a lot and it takes some time until I first think that something could work as a project. But once I realise that I just try to make different book dummies. At first I make a big selection of the photographs and then I print and edit them with my friends together. I could never edit my own work by myself because I’m just too emotionally attached to it and I’m very happy that I have talented friends that help me out with it.

When I have a selection and sequence prepared, I just glue them somehow together in a book form. At this point I don’t really care about the size of the book or the layout of the pages, I just want to see how the sequence works. I make some notes in the dummy and also give it again to friends and listen to their feedback. Then I print the images again with some new ones that I have just shot and make a new dummy with changes from the last dummy. And then I slowly start to think about the layout, cover etc. and include that in the next dummy. I always end up with a lot of self build dummies until Im happy with it. At the same time I also like to pin everything related to the project to my wall. At the end its always a big mess but I like to get these thoughts and images out of my head to continue working.

AM: You recently took part in a group exhibition in Cologne. The installation you created for it was fantastic. Can you tell us about how this project came about and your thought process? Do you think you will continue to exhibit your work this way?

JK: I always had this idea of exhibiting a small room.. Im not quite sure why but maybe because most of the time I felt way too nervous visiting an exhibition because of all the people and I just wished that there would be a safe room where I could relax and look at the work all by myself. And then someday Thekla Ehling asked me if I would like to take part in a group exhibition at The Forum Für Fotografie in Cologne, for the Next! Festival. I was so happy and told her about my weird idea and she said yes to it (thank you!!) So I rented a dirty cellar and built something like a shed for two weeks. And then I was more or less living in this thing for another two weeks until everything inside was covered with prints and notes.And yes, I would love to create something similar in the future or maybe even continue working on the shed with some new images that I took.

Josh Kern, Notebooks
Josh Kern, Notebooks

View Josh Kern’s artist page
For print enquiries contact:

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