KLAUS PICHLER. SMELLY, DIRTY, EVENTUALLY DANGEROUS
by Bärbel Praun



© Klaus Pichler from the series 'Golden Days Before They End'

You recently released your new book 'Golden days before they end', in cooperation with journalist Clemens Marshall, published by Edition Patrick Frey. Congratulations! Could you give us an insight about this special world the two of you entered?

Klaus Pichler (KP): Thanks! The book is about a dying generation of Austrian dive bars – a so-called Viennese 'institution' which has shaped the face of the city for centuries and is now about to disappear to a major extend. These bars, often suffering from their bad reputation, are mostly small places with a fixed circle of regulars who have united to some kind of replacement families. Most of the regulars are of older age (same as the owners) and therefore the circle gets smaller on a regular basis whilst younger people often don't dare or don't want to enter these places. Clemens Marschall and Me took four years to document these places, four years where we experienced fun and laughter, melancholy and tragedies, regulars deceasing, bars closing down, love affairs and divorces, blood brotherhoods and bitter fights, paralyzing tenacity and exuberant euphoria.

I pretty much like the first image of the book, there’s no intro text at all and the image with the sign "beer vs reality" pushes you right into the scene of drama and trouble. Probably most of Viennese people pass these bars and would never dare to enter - it seems you managed to get really close to the community. Were there any specific expectations or ideas you’ve had in the beginning, some goals you wanted to reach and if so did these change over the time?

KP: To be honest, in the beginning I have had serious doubts if a project like that would be possible because in my imagination (fitting to the fear of entering these places, like you stated) I thought it would be something from difficult to impossible to enter these bars with the intention to take photos. So I started the project with great respect and shyness, always in mind to call it quits if I found out that I would be seen as an intruder and not be appreciated. To my surprise I discovered that the patrons of the bars liked me and that they were not shy to get photographed, so I gained more self-confidence and overcame my shyness. This allowed me to get closer to the people and to begin talking to them about their lives, their desires and their everyday life, which broadened my understanding of the bars and their regulars. Once this step was taken and I knew that our project would be doable, Clemens' and my main question was not any longer, IF we could tell a story about the bars, but HOW we would tell the story. Parallel to that, Clemens and I had long conversations about how we could unite photos and texts in a way that the texts would not kill the photos and the photos would not take the roughness of the texts. Finally, we decided that we would tell the same story from two sides: I would take photos of the regulars and the interiors and Clemens would interview the waiters and bosses to distill an oral history consisting of quotes. Once these basic decisions were made, it was a yearlong process of attending the bars, searching for new ones, getting involved in the everyday life of the bars and their guests and taking photos over photos – same goes for Clemens with his interviews. I can't say that the basic concept of the project has changed over the time, I think it just got more precise because we more and more knew what it was all about. Our aim was to create a kind of historic document, which conserves the bars because we knew from the beginning that in, say, 10 years most of the bars will have disappeared forever.


© Klaus Pichler from the series 'Golden Days Before They End'

People don’t just come here to have fun; they come to drown their sorrows too. [Jara, Espresso Jara]

People in here stick together, «I’ll look after your dog if you carry that ten-kilo bag of potatoes home for me». It’s a kind of parallel economy. They’ll say, «Somebody from the electricity board is suppo­sed to come round to check the electricity meter, but I’ve got an appointment at the job centre. Could you let them in for me?» That kind of thing. They help each other out with some really important things: housing, jobs, food, welfare issues, and all kinds of emergencies. It’s unbelievable how some people get treated at the unemployment office, I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Then, whenever I accompany my customers down there, it’s funny how things start working all of a sudden. A lot of people fall through the cracks. They’re given so many different appointments, appointments they just can’t keep because they’re alcoholics, drug users, sick or whatever. Nobody’s there to look after them. [Claudia, Bierschnaberl]

You’ve been working on this project for 4 years. The story is equally told in photographs and texts, and as a result the book is filled to the brim with stories about these places, the customers and their hosts. How was your working process? Also, I can imagine you both have gathered a huge archive of images and interviews. You want to share your approach towards making the book?

KP: In the beginning of the project, Clemens and me were attending the bars together, trying to understand the basic principles of how they work, what is possible, where the borders are and so on. Once we fixed the concept of photographing the regulars and interviewing the owners and waiters, we decided to split because we found out that we would need different intensity levels for our tasks: Clemens would prefer quiet hours, preferably before the opening time, for meeting with the staff and doing interviews, whilst I needed guests and action, the more the better. During the production process, we often met to have a look on the existing materials, to select images, which shaped the whole project and to discuss what still was missing. We also consciously invited our graphic designer, Roland Hörmann, to enter the project in a relatively early stage because we wanted to have his point of view on how to make a book out of the material. Therefore, it has been a working process with lots of intermediate steps, which altogether shaped the project over its duration. As a matter of fact, the transaction from the (let's name it) 'collection' process to the layout process has been smooth since by time also the concept of the book, the materials, the size, shape and so on emerged from our meetings. In my opinion, you intuitively know that decisions are right if you don't have to think about what to do or how to design anything, but if the idea suddenly emerges in a logical form without any effort.


© Klaus Pichler from the series 'Golden Days Before They End'

This place is like the first stop to a madhouse. [Maria Uitz, Schmauswaberl]
 
It’s like a family, of course! You get to find out everything there is to know about your regulars. If someone gets divorced and has to move, we’ll help get them all the furniture they need. Or, if they’ve just come out of prison, we’ll help them out with cigarettes, free food and drinks. These things happen to the best of us. And people don’t usually forget what you’ve done for them, so they keep coming back forever. [Vanessa Weigert, Ottos Kneipp Stüberl]

When I had a first look at the book I’ve noticed its heavy weight on the one hand and how comfortable the soft cover felt on the other hand. When facing the book’s story I made a similar kind of contrary experience: the images are hard to digest, rough and sometimes even painful. At the same time one can constantly feel the empathy, humor and respect towards the women and men you photographed and interviewed. Looking back at your older work one can already see your strong interest in the uncanny, hidden, dark or secret sides of daily life - but always photographed in an extremely honest and authentic way. Where’s this urge of yours coming from to reveal this kind of topics and places, and how important was it for you to make a book in this case?

KP: Fist of all, thanks for your kind words! Concerning the empathy and respect towards the photographed people of the book (and also of the former projects) I can just say that my roots are also in the working class – my parents were working class people (they are both retired now) and therefore I consider myself as coming from the same class as the regulars of the bars. In my case, I have been lucky that for my parents us kids' education was always an important value and that no one in my close surroundings has had a drinking problem. Knowing that these coincidences shaped my life in the way I am able to live it know, this still makes me humble and respectful and empathic towards everyone I am approaching. This is my base as a photographer and definitely something, which has an impact on the way I am working. Concerning the topics, I have always been more interested in slightly absurd and strange topics, in things which may hurt a little but are definitely worth a closer look. I have the deep belief that even things which are not seen as 'beautiful' or 'interesting' are revealing their hidden beauty when seen closer or approached from the right angle.


© Klaus Pichler from the series 'Golden Days Before They End'

There are a lot of sad, unfortunate people around. Some are so lost you have to take them down to the welfare office yourself. I’m very socially minded – a bit too socially minded sometimes. I’ve been let down many times. One customer had lost everything, she was in a black hole and couldn’t see a way out. I took her in to my home and told her, «Everything’s gonna be ok. We can sort this out one step at a time.» Eventually, we managed to get her a council flat. And then she ripped me off. [Getrude Marek, Salzamt]

The design of the book was made with two basic thoughts: it was meant to be solid and soft at the same time. Every piece of interior and decoration in the bars has to be solid in order not to get destroyed in case things are getting rough, therefore everything is either massive or will be broken and disposed soon. On the other hand, if you take a closer look, you will notice that the interiors and decorations are made with dedication and a love for details – very often made by the regulars themselves because most of them are or have been craftsmen. This we wanted to resemble in the book design. Plus the soft touch coating on the cover is meant to feel the same way old playing cards feel when they have been in use for years – this smooth greasiness which covers every surface in the bars.


© Klaus Pichler from the series 'Golden Days Before They End'

Oh yeah, we had this farmer in here last week, he was already pretty wasted when he said to a workmate, «Hey, you… I’ve decided to sell you those two cows after all.» He’d run out of money, so he sold his cows to pay for another drink. [Daniel Kerner, Schweden Espresso]

I heard this rumor there will be another book publication this year? Any plans for the future you would like to share with us?

KP: Yes, that's true it will be another book, entitled 'This will change your life forever'. It will be on a completely different topic, therefore the aesthetics will be entirely different from the current book which I like – I love the approach that every topic I am working on is having it's own form, concept and aesthetic. If things will go as planned, the next book will be presented at Gazebook Sicily in September.

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LINKS
Klaus Pichler 
Clemens Marshall 
Edition Patrick Frey 
Phospho (graphic designer) 
You can order Klaus’ book HERE