by Nina Welch-Kling
I often ask myself why I wander the streets with my camera. I have been fascinated observing people since my childhood in Germany – oftentimes sitting in cafes watching the world go by and imagining what happens AFTER the brief encounter, prompting me to create scenes and stories in my head and otherwise feed my immense curiosity about people.
I have always been creative; growing up in a small town, my family owned a clothing store where I spent a great deal of my free time and weekends. In the top-floor attic of the store, a seamstress created her magic, altering and mending pieces for the customers — not unlike Cinderella — and I would spend time running my fingers through the boxes of buttons, zippers, and fabric remnants, trying to select what I would use to create ghostlike puppets. No doubt this is where my attention to detail began, as well as my love for buttons, feathers, tassels and everything that glitters. But, just being in the store was equally exciting. Watching women step out of the changing rooms twisting and turning and admiring their reflections in the mirror, or sometimes simply catching a glimpse of a partial view behind the curtain. It was like watching a scene from a movie – looking into a world of mystery and glamor.
In my book titled “Duologues”,(which is not a made-up word but means “A play or part of a play with speaking roles for only two actors.”) recently published by Kehrer Verlag, Heidelberg, I assemble my photographs into diptychs: a project that developed out of a class assignment which was inspired by Ralph Gibson, a photographer whose work I greatly admire.
Initially, I was interested in finding any relationship between the thousands of street photos that I had taken over the past years. The creation of diptychs offered me a way to connect color as well as black and white photographs and challenged my thinking about sequencing a project. I became intrigued by the idea of creating a new story by combining two existing photographs taken at different times.
The beauty of creating a diptych lies in its power to tell a story or convey a concept that cannot be fully captured in a single image. By combining two images, the viewer is encouraged to engage with the visual dialogue between the two elements. The visual clues within the diptych can be connected through various aspects, such as subject matter, lighting, composition, or tone; they can create a sense of tension, harmony, and most importantly a narrative arc, depending on how they are arranged.
I encourage viewers to participate in a visual conversation, hoping to provoke curiosity and exploration of the scenes captured on the streets. The combination of two frames amplifies the impact of each image, revealing hidden connections and layers of meaning that may have otherwise been overlooked. Diptychs highlight the significance of choice and perspective. The deliberate pairing of two images presents a creative decision, inviting viewers to consider alternative ways of seeing and interpreting the world around them. The diptychs create visual rhymes, encouraging viewers to immerse themselves in the stories unfolding within the pages of the book.
To me, the process of assembling the duologues is similar to assembling a puzzle. Initially, the immense amount of puzzle pieces or in this project, the amount of photos, seem overwhelming. I tackle a puzzle by creating different piles which are sorted by the perimeter pieces and color similarities. I apply a similar process to my photos – there are recurring subjects and colors in my photos that find their way into separate collections. All the photos in the collections have been edited and the result is a group of photos that stand on their own in terms of subject, emotion, composition, and light. Once I created a system, building the outer frame and then filling in the rest, sorted by color, texture, recognizable features, piece by piece, the bigger picture emerged.
I look to portray a sense of mystery and to isolate figures while obscuring their identity by shooting through smoke, snow, or rain. I often shoot from a low perspective to create an uncluttered background, usually a brick or curtain wall that offers structure to my frames. Architecture has always played an essential part in my photography, which could be why I primarily shoot vertically.
What does that really mean? I look for two strong images, not unlike in marriage where two independent and different people together are better as a union – Collar, 2019 and Nuns, 2022 (see photos above). Initially, I was captivated by the strong compositional connection based on contrast, lines and a shift in scale. But a visual rhyme isn’t all I look for – do the two images tell another story? In my mind, I saw a female sailor and five nuns, both callings serving a higher purpose in life. I wonder what it would be like to put on a uniform and submit yourself to an authority, following a set of strict rules enforced by a strong belief set.
Some pairs are more open ended, challenging the viewer to a more visceral response. In “Eye”, 2021 and “Smoker”, 2019, the connection, at first glance, is not obvious – the “Eye”, a car mirror extruding from a tarp and a gentleman being conspicuously surveilled by an overhead camera, are bound by tones and the less apparent, secondary detail. To me, it is about seeing, literally and figuratively, and exploring the often overlooked.
My photographs start with random encounters or observations. The randomness shapes the discovery that follows. I might venture downtown to Chinatown and shoot for an afternoon without specifics about the subject or place in mind. I enjoy delving into the unknown and searching for the unexpected. Upon further investigation of the photos taken, many times unexpected discoveries can be made. The light was magical, but the low buildings allowed the sun to reach the sidewalk and highlight a detail of a door frame, something I might have never noticed before. I take mental notes of all the discoveries and the randomness becomes a series of premeditated decisions wrapped around the unknown and surprising. This is what makes shooting on the street so wonderful – over time a set of knowns emerges but the thrill of the surprising remains.
The book is available here: https://www.ninaklingphotography.com/product-page
PS by Daniel Sigg:
I have Nina’s book and it is great. Also, in case your interested, here is an interview with Nina about her book on my podcast.