The new camera was delivered by post, just in time for the lockdown. As daily life changed, very fundamentally, Julia Baier was obliged to reorganise her day. She had initially wanted to try out the Leica M10 Monochrom in Rome, but the radical change to reality put a quick end to that plan. Prompt rethinking was the order of the day. Baier accepted the situation as it unfolded. She developed a concept for a project that would include both pictures and accompanying associative text: Blanket over Berlin, which we are introducing here. We spoke with the photographer about the whole experience.
Everything is slowed down, frozen, unsettled. Only the light is as clear and angular as ever at this time of year. Tender spring fever collides with the standstill of things. It’s hard for me to pause. I am still allowed to take a walk, so I set out and look at my city. I recognize many things, but some things are strangely different. On the radio, I hear the term ‘interspace competence’, which is what we need now. Dealing with the in-between. Resilience, that could become the word of the year.
We are in a state of suspense. The longer I roam through this reduced city, the more I enjoy the silence, the friendly nodding neighbours at the windows, the loud chirping of the birds, the space on the sidewalks, the people with time. Yet the musings, the feeling of being cut off from the rest of the world, and the daily updated numbers are also there. My father belongs to the risk group. I’m worried. When can I visit my parents again? What do you think distance and mistrust will do to us? In what direction are we steering? There is a blanket over Berlin, and maybe over the world; but fortunately, it hasn’t fallen on my head yet. I try to keep it upright and let go, drifting in this unusual floating state.
What was your approach for this project?
Everything happened very spontaneously. I unpacked the camera, jumped on my bike and set off to take a closer look at Berlin. Most of the pictures were taken close to where I buy my food. So, somewhere between my home in Kreuzberg, my atelier in Neukölln and my garden on the Spree. The first picture in the series was taken on March 15, the last on April 19.
How did you come up with the name for the series?
A blanket is a suitable symbol for the ambivalence of these unusual times. A blanket means protection, warmth, comfort; but it can also shield or smother, and you can hide under it. It can cut you off from the outside world. I wanted to express this two-sided aspect in the title, and also in the pictures.
A text emerged at the same time as you took the pictures?
Yes. During this crisis, I’ve been writing down my thoughts and dreams nearly every morning in a little notebook. It helps me reflect on the situation and, in principle, I enjoy playing around with words.
How do you find Berlin at this time?
Some creep under the blanket, reacting paralysed and uncertain, because of the new situation. Others are totally stressed out, because they don’t know how they can manage homeschooling and home office in a small apartment. For some, it gives them a creative push! And they enjoy suddenly having time for their loved ones and for unfinished things. In my case, it’s also a shaky emotional situation. I swing between euphoria and activity, all the way to a sad feeling of being cut off, and heaviness.
What was your approach when taking the pictures?
The important thing is the openness with which you leave your home. You sharpen your perceptions for whatever is happening around you. Suddenly, the sound of birds is much louder. You start chatting with neighbours who you previously only knew by sight. You see the beauty of a carpet that just happens to have been spread out to air on a balcony.
Is there a tip as to how your best pictures come about?
Follow your impulse to photograph immediately, when you feel it. The picture of the snowflakes in my series would not have been there, if I hadn’t immediately put everything aside when I spotted these enormous snowflakes (the first and only ones this winter!), outside my window. I took my camera and ran to the closest intersection; and after only ten minutes, the magic was over.
What role does the camera play in your work?
The Leica M10 Monochrom is simply the perfect camera for spontaneous pictures, taken on the street. My mood swings come across somewhat clearer, when I work in black and white. Furthermore, black and white gives the series something timeless and universal. This suits the subject, as we’re dealing with a world situation right now. I’m excited to see how the camera’s extremely high resolution might come across, if I were to make large prints for an exhibition someday.
What positive energies can you draw from this current situation?
I’m sorting myself out. I forget what day of the week it is. I take time for spontaneous and long conversations – so I’m more in the here and now.
What are you looking forward to most in the future?
Crowded parties, the opening of the Prinzenbad swimming pool, and giving all my friends big hugs!
Off the top of your head, what would you like to photograph most of all?
A portrait of my parents somewhere in front of the glittering, Mediterranean Sea. And then I’d swim in it.
Is the Blanket over Berlin series complete?
Maybe there will be a follow-up chapter at some time: coronavirus – part two. Who knows…
Julia Baier lives and works in Berlin. She studied photography at the University of the Arts in Bremen. She has been working as a freelance photographer, since 1998. She takes pictures for many national and international agencies, newspapers and magazines; and she has published numerous photo books. Her work has received a number of awards, has been supported by grants, and has been widely exhibited. Baier has been a member of the UP Photographers collective, since 2019. You can find out more about the photographer at her Website and Instagram.