Roger Eberhard ロジャー・エーベルハルト
In collaboration with IMAGES VEVEY (Switzerland)
Escapism, the latest series by Swiss photographer Roger Eberhard, is a voyage through a land of tourist clichés, an invitation to discover a particularity of Swiss culture, and an evocation of various movements in art history, ranging from appropriation art (Richard Prince, Sherrie Levine) to pop art (Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein).
In Switzerland, if you order a coffee in a restaurant or bar, it invariably comes with a portion of cream served in a small brown plastic pot sealed with a thin peel-off foil lid. Since 1968, these lids have always featured a picture.
Of the countless possible photographic genres printed on these lids, Roger Eberhard concentrated on re-photographing landscapes. He used a high-resolution camera to create extreme close-up images. Each shot was taken in the studio and then digitally enhanced to remove any imperfections. The final print is an excessively enlarged reinterpretation of the original photograph.
Escapism is defined as a form of evading reality, an ‘attitude that entails withdrawing from the world and from public life through flight or disillusionment.’ This term is at the heart of Roger Eberhard’s project. With Escapism, the Swiss photographer focuses on a typically Swiss tradition: collecting coffee creamer lids and contemplating the images printed on them.
On the enlarged prints, the CMYK printing pattern appears and disappears according to the viewers’ position. This grid reveals the ink that constitutes the reproduction dot by dot, and indicates the industrial nature of images, as highlighted in the works of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. It also irreparably brings spectators back from their dreamy moment of “escapism” to the reality of the present moment.
Roger Eberhard ロジャー・エーベルハルト
Special Interview｜Roger Eberhard
February 10, 2023, via Zoom
(Interview and text by Nana Tazuke)
Photography as a communication tool
── What does photography mean for you?
Photography allows me to meet fascinating people and see extraordinary places. It’s a tool for communicating my thoughts and concerns, and it allows me to interact with individuals and learn about new ideas and widen my horizon.
── I have the impression that you have a very artistic approach to photography, and use it as an artistic medium.
I would say I work with photography. But it makes no difference to me whether I’m called an artist or a photographer, either is fine.
── How did you get into photography?
I got my first camera at the age of 15 or 16, and I just fell in love with the whole process of clicking and going to the darkroom and developing film. I’ve never done anything else but photography.
── Did you take a course somewhere or did you learn it on your own?
In my last year at high school, I took a photography course. But I also photographed a lot in my spare time. I traveled to foreign places and took photos of street life there.
── So, your high school had a darkroom? Is that common in Switzerland?
Many Swiss schools had darkrooms back then. But I imagine that digital photography courses are more common today. Darkrooms are probably rather rare in today’s schools.
── I see. And after high school?
Military service is mandatory in Switzerland, but I didn’t have to go to the military for health reasons. So, I went to Canada for half a year to assist a commercial photographer in Vancouver. That’s when I knew: this is what I want to do. After that, I studied photography for three years at the Brooks Institute of Photography in California, where I got my bachelor’s degree, and then I returned to Europe and did my Master’s in fine arts at Zurich University of the Arts.
Seeing the whole world in tiny pictures
── You probably weren’t able to travel as much as during COVID-19. How did the pandemic influence your work Escapism, which you will show at KYOTOGRAPHIE?
Well, I always wanted to do something Swiss, since I’m from Switzerland. In dialogue with Stefano Stoll, the director of Festival Images in Vevey, Switzerland, I started thinking about doing something with the pictures found on coffee creamer lids, which were highly sought after by collectors in the 1980s and 90s, but which are completely ignored today. Stefano, who is from a similar generation as me, was also fascinated by this small world of images, which has helped shape the visual understanding of the world in Switzerland for many decades.
── I had never heard of that tradition.
Collecting coffee creamer lids is a uniquely Swiss tradition. The pictures on them, printed on aluminum, are tiny and very precise, often depicting an idyllic and romanticized world. Seeing these little creamer cups, with a picture of a happy cow and beautiful Swiss mountains in the background, you think, “Wow! This world is perfect!” The subject matter is pristine and perfect in many ways—it makes you feel like there are no worries in the world.
── I asked a friend in Switzerland about the tradition of coffee creamer lids, and she told me that her grandmother collected them.
Yes, people in my generation all have someone in their family—their mother or father or an aunt—who was totally into creamer lids.
── So, how did this become the Escapism project?
I soon focused on the landscape images on the lids, which evoke a desire to travel, a lust to see the world, to escape. And that evolved into the Escapism project. I’m very excited to bring it to Japan, where there are also a lot of tiny, precious, and detailed objects that people collect. The funny thing is that Japan is one of the few places that also hadpeople collecting these coffee creamer lids, fewer than in Switzerland though. People in Switzerland actually collected Japanese coffee creamer lids too—I thought that was wonderful.
── How interesting. And you zoom in on these tiny lids with your camera?
The photographs, which were shown for the first time at Image Vevey Biennual in 2022 are roughly 1.56 meters by 1.24 meters in size. This is about 100 times larger than the originals. Enlarging them that much, you can see the CMYK printing pattern—cyan, magenta, yellow, key (black)—very clearly.
── Did you edit the colours or are they the original, natural colours?
They are the original colours. I touched up the images, but I didn’t change the alter the colours very much.
── These enlarged images remind me of pointillism.
That’s right. The pointillists—painters like Georges Seurat or Paul Signac in the late 19th century—portrayed concrete motifs by painting nothing but colourful little dots. If you look at the painting from a distance you can see the motif, but up close all you see are the dots.
── I’ve heard that prices of collectable coffee creamer lids rose dramatically toward the end of the 20th century.
That’s right. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the market for these creamer lids went crazy. Collectors were paying up to $2,000 or $3,000 for a handful of lids. But after 2000, the market completely collapsed and the lids became practically worthless. Today, an extensive collection would probably be worth only 150-200$.
── There seem to be some parallels between the value of creamer lids and the art market.
Haha. If you look at the art market, there are these crazy prices. Maybe they’ll crash some day too or maybe not—who knows? It reminds me more of the hype around crypto NFT artworks though, which all of a sudden were selling for astronomical prices. That market wasn’t sustainable and collapsed soon after the first hype, with some people losing a lot of money.
── So, are these creamer lids still being produced?
Yes, yes. Whenever you order a coffee in a café, you get a coffee creamer with a lid. That hasn’t changed at all. It’s just that they’re not collected the way they used to be. Although I’m sure there are still some people who collect them.
── What do people in Switzerland think about these plastic products, like the coffee creamer containers?
That’s a good question. We should probably give up this tradition at some point. But it’s ingrained in our DNA, in our culture, to have these little coffee creamer cups on the table. For now, they’re still everywhere.
── You also run a publishing house. Is this another way you communicate with people?
I’m a big fan of photobooks. The first time I made one of my own, I knew I wanted to do more books. So in 2011, I founded a small publishing house called b.frank books, and started working with other artists. Every time I work with an artist on her or his book, it feels like I’m making a new book myself. So yes, it’s a form of communication with artists. I’ve learned so much from other artists—how they look at their work and how they talk about their work.
── The world has changed, with COVID-19, the war in Ukraine, natural disasters all around the world. Can you tell us what you think about in today’s world? What is important to you in your life?
On a very small and personal scale, it’s family, friends, their health and everyday happiness. But globally, the list is endless. The world is facing so many challenges, with climate change, rising nationalism, public health issues. We have a major war in Europe for the first time in 70 years, and natural disasters, like the big earthquake in Turkey. There’s certainly no shortage of things to think and worry about, including some good things too. I think we’re in an extremely interesting time in history, but that’s probably what people have always said about their own times.
── Finally, do you have a message for visitors to KYOTOGRAPHIE?
About my exhibition? Please enjoy this very peculiar and funny aspect of Swiss culture and escape from your daily routine. Because that’s what it really is for me. You see these images for a brief moment, and you escape to a jungle or a volcano or an iceberg. It’s a little journey around the world. Thank you for having me at KYOTOGRAPHIE!
Born in 1984, Roger Eberhard is a Swiss photographer and graduated from Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara (BFA) and ZHDK in Zurich (MFA), working in Zurich. He travels the world with a documentary eye, focusing on contemporary issues such as territory, borders, and globalisation. In 2011, he founded b.frank books in Zurich, and continues to run this publishing house for artists’ projects. His Human Territoriality series was nominated at the 2020 Swiss Design Awards and the selection of photographs from this series published by Edition Patrick Frey was singled out by the Federal Office of Culture as one of The Most Beautiful Swiss Books of the year 2020. His work is exhibited in various institutions around the globe, such as the C/O Berlin and the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne. Roger Eberhard is represented by the Robert Morat Galerie (Berlin) and his work is also on display at Galerie Mai 36 (Zurich).
Stefano Stoll ステファノ・ストール
Stefano Stoll is the Founder, Director, and Chief Curator of Images Vevey. This Swiss brand has four main activities: a biennial, an award, an exhibition space, and a publishing house. Since 2008, Stefano Stoll has made monumental outdoor installations the specialty of the visual arts biennial. Every second year, Images Vevey proposes site-specific outdoor and indoor photographic installations in Vevey’s streets, parks, and lake, on the facades of its building, in its museums, galleries and unusual venues. Besides managing the Grand Prix Images Vevey, one of Europe’s longest standing grants for photographic creation, he launched and curates a permanent off-space dedicated to contemporary photography: L’Appartement – Espace Images Vevey. He is currently developing Images Vevey’s publishing house, committed to assist innovative editorial projects, especially with the creation of the Images Vevey Book Award. He is a member of AICA, writes on cultural policy, visual arts and photography and regularly invited on international juries and chaired.
SHIMADAI GALLERY KYOTO
Higashinotoin Nishikita kado, Oike-dori, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto
Subway Karasuma or Tozai Line “Karasuma Oike” station. Exit 1
ARTIST TALK: Roger Eberhard × Stephano Stoll “Escapism”
PANEL DISCUSSION “Scenography on KYOTOGRAPHIE”
Kurochiku Tenshokan 2F