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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Thomas Herbrich: Magic Man

Using models, stock imagery and digital manipulation, Thomas Herbrich’s work unfolds from his unlimited imagination

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Digital has unleashed the potential of our imaginations, and few know this as well as photographer Thomas Herbrich. A master of manipulation, he relies heavily on image processing and real-world model-building to create images both comical and impressive in their technical expertise. Herbrich’s unique sense of humor and proficiency with a computer make him popular with clients. Above: Information Flood for GEO. He was asked to come up with a concept based on the specified theme; Herbrich photographed 1,000 printed pages of various shapes and sizes, then reduced them in size through photocopying.

A city is draped in red silk, with gentle waves of fabric spilling over high-rises and trees, and covering the streets. A horde of elephants is marching single file across a precarious bridge. An Air Milan flight is being fueled with crisp, clean water. The images that come from the mind and studio of German photographer Thomas Herbrich defy logic and inspire imagination. Herbrich has created an astounding body of work full of magical imagery, working with small-scale models, stock imagery and studio photography to craft images that arrest the senses.

Mercedes Soap Road, with 2,000 commissioned bars of soap
Herbrich’s fascination with creating imagery counter to reality started with his very first photograph. At the tender age of six, he took a photo of a firecracker exploding in a model plane. The plane caught fire, and Herbrich caught the image. Though his first photograph wasn’t in focus and “bad” according to Herbrich, it nonetheless started him on a road of creative interpretations through photography. When he grew up, Herbrich decided to study photography in a professional studio working under the guidance of a studio photographer, a common practice for education in Germany. During this time, he learned a great deal about lighting, still imagery and the craft of photography.

“I learned still-life photography there, and even today my photos are still-lifes,” Herbrich explains. “In a still-life, you arrange objects, and I now arrange photos to a final photo-composition.”

Though he gained essential skills in this environment, he wasn’t satisfied with the creative outlet.

When Herbrich was 24, he saw the film 2001: A Space Odyssey in the theater and his life was forever changed. The next day he told his mentor that he would no longer be coming to work, but rather pursue filmmaking and create effects like he had seen in Kubrick’s masterpiece. Seeking a project to work on, Herbrich met then-unknown German director Roland Emmerich who was putting together a film called Das Arche Noah Prinzip. The film opened at the Berlin International Film Festival in 1983 and was Emmerich’s first big success. One critique, in particular, compared the special effects to those in 2001.
I was in the film industry, but it wasn’t what I had expected, he explains. You are always only a little cog in that crowd of movie people. The final movie has only a little of your style. So I went back to photography.
“That was my work,” Herbrich says proudly. Working on the film was an important stepping stone for Herbrich because it allowed him to pursue his creative imaginings and ultimately resulted in the realization that he didn’t want to be involved in filmmaking.

“I was in the film industry, but it wasn’t what I had expected,” he explains. “You are always only a little cog in that crowd of movie people. The final movie has only a little of your style. So I went back to photography.”


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