This article originally appeared on VICE Alps
In 1982, Zurich-based photographer Barbara Davatz photographed 12 couples. Six (1988), 15 (1997) and 32 years later (2014) she did the same, with the same people – only every time some of her subjects had formed new relationships. The resulting series, As Time Goes By, is a long-term study of interpersonal relationships, age and also style.
As Time Goes By is currently on display at the Fotostiftung Winterthur in Zurich so I got in touch with Davatz to chat about her life's work.
VICE: How did you come up with the idea for this project?
Barbara Davatz: Back then, Zurich was bubbling. Young people were fighting for their space, which resulted in the Zurich riots. I didn't join the movement actively, as I was very busy with my work, but I felt very sympathetic to that cause and towards the people who were pushing for it. I also appreciated their creativity in sprayed façades, posters, print material, newspapers and slogans.
This work isn't a direct result of what was happening in Switzerland at the time, but it is indirectly connected. Originally, I wanted to focus on the statement people make with their appearance – you can use the word "styling", though I don't really like it. The way we present ourselves, our clothes, haircuts and accessories say something, about us and about how we see the world. When people pair up, you see that statement become twice as strong. That's what fascinated me.
How did you find your subjects?
It all started with Kurt and Nicola. They're friends of mine. I found they looked fascinating together. Both had a blond crew cut and almost always wore black from head to toe. Their clothes were homemade or second-hand – just great. They were my inspiration to make portraits of people who communicate a world view – a lifestyle, through their appearance as a pair. So I started looking for more couples who did the same with their looks.
How did you choose them?
The main criterion was that they should all have an unusual and interesting look – so much in terms of their build and face, but also their clothes. They shouldn't follow mainstream fashion, since they should have a "message" that was being strengthened through duplication. Take for example Beni and Andi, two of the "Bewegler" [the people who took part in the Zurich riots]. Their torn clothes were a conscious statement against the "establishment". That was the message they conveyed when they walked down the street.
And how did you come to photograph Beni and Andi?
We were all standing in a long queue at a grocer's in Seefeld. One of them was wearing a fabric coat, the other a leather coat with the lining hanging out, and a torn jumper. I remember that Beni's green jumper was fixed with red wool. I had a little time to observe them and thought, "These two would be great." So I gathered my confidence and said: "Hey you two! I'm a photographer working on a series of portraits – would you consider being photographed for it?"
They were quite sceptical at first – after all, I'm twenty years older than them. But they invited me to their flat two days later and we had a sort of interview. There was coffee and I showed them my portfolio. The chemistry was just right, and shortly afterwards we took this wonderful double-portrait. One of my favourite pictures to this day.
Was it always your plan to photograph people over such a long period of time? Not necessarily. I was a professional photographer and was really busy – my art was more of a sideline thing. One day, Nikolaus Wyss and Walter Keller came by my studio looking for photographs to publish in their magazine, Der Alltag.
Walter looked at the portraits and said: "If you ever want to expand this series, I would definitely publish it in the magazine." I had thought about continuing before but my work left little free time. The interest those two showed and the idea that the pictures wouldn't just be landing in my archive were incredibly motivating. I got to work immediately and 15 new photographs came into being.
Didn't the voyeuristic component of the project increase over time?
Yes, there's undoubtedly an element of voyeurism to the project. It's a conceptual portrait series; people are just who they are and look at the camera. And of course the ageing process is so evident that it's hard for the series to not feel intimate.
How has your relationship with your subjects changed over time?
Over time, I got to know a lot about their lives of my subjects. Whenever we set a date to meet up, we first had long phone conversations to catch up. And every time I would think, "Wow, how funny life is. All these things have happened since the last time I spoke to this person."
My subjects have become a kind of family to me, but they probably mean more to me than I do to them. Over the years, every time I heard news of them, each time I would spot something in the newspaper – say one of them made a film or an exhibition or won a design prize – I would collect the articles, invitations, tickets or the reviews. I keep an archive of what these people have done and experienced, like a proud mother. In many ways, this series is not about the times these people ended up in front of my lens but about the times in between.
Barbara Davatz – As Time Goes By, 1972 to 2014 is on show at the Fotostiftung Winterthur in Zurich from the 27th of February to the 16th of May 2016.
Scroll down for more pictures.