Armin Rohde

Stolen Light

Photos Interview: Carsten Sander

There’s a lot going on at Sander I Sohn Gallery in Düsseldorf: TV teams and journalists are holding the door open and passers-by are slowing down to take a closer look at the scene. In fact, it’s Armin Rohde, one of Germany’s most famous actors, currently preparing his first exhibition of photography. And to answer the first question immediately: yes, he can take photographs with impressive aesthetics.

You hardly believe it, but he is excited. “I’m a professional actor and as such, I can judge my own performance objectively. In photography, however, I’m a novice. That’s why I can’t judge the quality of my photography objectively and would never have come up with the idea of an exhibition. I simply relied on the judgment of Carsten [Sander], who looked at my pictures as a professional and persuaded me to do the exhibition”. Definitely a good idea. By the quality of the images, it is deduced that Armin Rohde has been working intensively on photography for a long time. In a very amusing way, that’s not how he tells me.

“I have to look back now. I bought my first SLR, an Asahi Pentax with three interchangeable lenses, in the 1970s. At age 22, still very disoriented regarding my future career choice, I spent a year touring the USA with three guys in a music band. We were rather fourth class, but had a lot of fun. On the way to Montreal, while the others had already given up, a hippie couple picked me up in their van lined with purple plush, on their way back from the funeral of Elvis Presley; so it must have been the 18th of August 1977. After I got out and waved them goodbye, I suddenly realized that all my camera equipment had disappeared. Instead, I found a postcard from Montreal in the pocket of my jacket saying: ‘sorry, kleptomania’, you understand? Yes, that was it with photography. Everything was gone, including the pictures I had taken in the USA. It was particularly bad that the camera equipment had been intended for a possible career choice.”

Portraits of Elke Backes by Armin Rohde

“You wanted to be a photographer,” I ask.

“Like I said, I was still very disoriented. I was vacillating between being a documentary photographer, simultaneous interpreter or a police officer,” is his implacably serious answer, which makes everyone in the room laugh out loud. “As you know, I opted for acting and a professional acting training at Folkwang University, so photography was forgotten for many years. The possibilities of mobile phone photography first reminded me of my old passion, so at the beginning of this year I bought a reflex camera again. Unfortunately, the purchase was not enough. First of all, I had to work my way through countless tutorials, forcing every professional photographer in my area to coach me until one day this amazing moment happened…I suddenly had the feeling of being able to paint with my camera, of being able to express much better what I saw. It was simply unbelievable!” (Rohde proudly shows his camera around.)

This is followed by an extensive technical discussion between all the photographers present – a whole lot – about cameras, lenses and every conceivable accessory. An opportunity for me to have a look at the photographs in peace. There are many portraits of well-known fellow actors, mostly in black and white, but also self-portraits. Aesthetically, all subjects are enveloped by something mysterious and sometimes bizarre. Even if the persons portrayed seek to conceal their mood with professional acting, one always has the impression of witnessing an intimate moment. Time to ask about the circumstances of these moments.

“When exactly do your photographs take place?” “Mostly on the set – during shooting as well as in the breaks. My camera is always there. When I’m shooting, my camera is being held by someone near me. It can be the director or someone from the props. I sometimes interrupt a shoot because I see a good picture somewhere else. In my search for a good subject, I scan almost manically and permanently everything perceived in my field of vision”. “And I photograph accordingly, with the lighting staged for the existing shoot”, I now question the lighting atmosphere of the pictures.

“Yes, I work with this type of lighting, but never photograph the subject in the lighted stage either. I only use the reflected light that develops in the environment. Hence the title of this exhibition: “Stolen Light”. Borrowed light might have explained it more clearly, but it wouldn’t have come across so distinctly”. Rohde explains.

“And why so much in black and white” is one of the most frequently asked questions today. “I currently prefer black and white, especially for my portraits, because I have the feeling that I can therefore preserve their own secrets, their own history. Colour photography has something pornographic for me. As a viewer, you believe that you know everything about this person right away. But as I said, this is just a phase that can change again.”

Let’s take a look at a color photograph. I discovered a picture entitled Princesses that touched me straight away. The focal point of this photograph is the pink, life-size sculpture of a girl who looks into the camera with a defiant, self-confident gaze, stands firmly, her hands on her hips. It is framed by two “real” girls of the same size, who stand next to this unfamiliar creature with a shy, brave look. A cross hangs on the background wall, placed in the middle between the sculpture and one of the girls, further defining the composition of the picture. A closer look reveals that the shape of the cross is made from children’s shoes. Not only the overall composition of the picture is unusual, but also the color combinations and the staging of the light. The green of the dresses is echoed in the color of the wall and the pink of the sculpture in the cross. But above all, it is the intense lighting of the cross that heightens the composition, creating a nimbus that lends a sacred feeling to it.

“The photo was taken during an exhibition by Angela Schilling, an artist pupil of Katharina Fritsch and master student of Tim Ulrich. The sculpture of the girl and the cross are her works,” Armin Rohde explains the scene.


“Is there, perhaps, a change going on now from acting to photography?” “No. Absolutely not. It’s great to see the printed pictures for the first time and not just on the computer. This is really fun! But first and foremost, the exhibition is a non-for profit. The entire proceeds will go to the German Children’s Association, which I support as a patron, again and again.” “In this context, we can therefore hope for further exhibitions,” I conclude.

“Let’s see. There are plenty of other photographs and always great new motifs”, is the promising answer of the versatile artist Armin Rohde (accompanied by a broad, radiant laugh).

More Information

The exhibition is presented until 25.1.2018 in the Sander I Sohn Galerie in Düsseldorf, Fürstenwall 86.

Sander I Sohn Galerie