Interview in Skin Deep Magazine, Issue 241
with Dirk Behlau
Over the last few years, Dirk Behlau has been almost permanently on the road cataloguing the tattooed counter-culture with his trusty camera all in preparation for the release of his book, ALIVE… and now the day of publication is finally upon us, let’s take a look.
TELL ME A LITTLE ABOUT THE MONSTER BOOK - I’VE OBVIOUSLY SEEN SOME OF THE SPREADS FROM IT AND IT LOOKS FANTASTIC. IS THERE A THEME AT WORK THROUGHOUT THE BOOK GIVEN ITS TITLE?
I chose the title because it's a big synonym for doing what you love, living your life to the max and with passion. The people in the book live their very own unique lives - they are “alive" - because they are not following the mainstream and play by their own rules. And then of course, there’s the album "Alive II" by KISS which is one of my favorite records. The title is a massive homage to Rock'n'Roll. I remember opening that gatefold LP cover as a kid. I was so impressed with that live shot of pyro and fire.
YOU SEEM TO BE TRAVELLING MORE THAN EVER - I CAN’T KEEP UP WITH YOU. FOR THOSE INTERESTED IN MAKING AN ATTEMPT AT A SIMILAR CAREER, TELL US EXACTLY HOW MUCH YOU’VE TRAVELLED TO PUT THIS BOOK TOGETHER AND MORE IMPORTANTLY, HOW YOU’VE MADE IT WORK FOR YOU. IT’S PROBABLY NOT AS EASY AS IT LOOKS IS IT.
That's true - there’s more than a lot going on - right now I'm in Vienna shooting for a client. The photos in the book are from the last four years (my last ‘Hot Rod/Kustom Kulture Lifestyle’ book came out in late 2010) and are a ‘little’ selection of my favourite moments and shots. They are from California, England, Italy, Sweden, France, Germany… it was kinda hard to break down the photos because I shoot so much cool stuff all the time. Until the deadline I was continually thinking about removing and adding photos, but any project like this has to have a deadline and you have to bring it to an end. I shot a lot of cool stuff within the last few days in Austria but it won't be in the book.
THERE’S SOME BIG PRODUCTION VALUES AT PLAY HERE - RIGHT DOWN TO THAT TRANSPARENT COVER YOU’VE GOT WRAPPING AROUND THE HARDBACK COVER. BEAUTIFUL. IS THIS SOMETHING YOU KNEW YOU WERE GOING TO DO ‘BIG’ BEFORE YOU BEGAN?
I had the whole concept in my mind before we started working on it. The format, the look, the layout. I have a lot of design books on my shelves and I love big books with class. Simple but elegant layout with very few gimmicks. The transparent dust cover was something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I'm not a big fan of the normal paper wrapping, it gets damaged very quickly. My last book - Kool Fellas, Ltd - was smaller than this, so with ALIVE, I wanted a big, bold coffee table book. 320 pages, lots of full page photos and right in your face. My publisher totally got it from the start!
THIS IS A BOOK THAT SHOULD COME WITH A BIG SLAB OF A VINYL ALBUM IN A SLEEVE AT THE BACK. FOR ME, IT’S VERY INSPIRED BY OLD SCHOOL VALUES AND, JUST AS YOU PLANNED, IT’S VERY, VERY ‘ROCK N ROLL’ - WAS THAT THE INTENTION WHEN YOU KNEW YOU WERE BRINGING THESE LIFESTYLES INTO THE PUBLIC EYE?
Actually, the limited edition version - which has a black transparent cover - comes with a CD by my favourite surf-band from SoCal, The Dynotones. It's the perfect soundtrack while diving into the book. I designed the album as well so it's the whole package. There will also be stickers and a t-shirt in the limited edition package. It's my way of bringing the Kustom Kulture lifestyle into the public eye. It's about friendship, passion and having a good time.
I GUESS SOME PEOPLE MAY NOT BE INTERESTED IN THIS, BUT I AM, SO I’LL ASK IT ANYWAY. WHERE
DID YOU GO FOR THE PRINTING? CHINA? I KNOW THINGS TAKE A WHILE OUT THERE (MOSTLY IN SHIPPING) BUT MAN, THEIR WORK IS FANTASTIC AND AT A FRACTION OF ANY PRICES YOU CAN FIND IN EUROPE.
The publisher produces in Asia and it takes three months before you get the copies but it's worth the wait. Making a book like this is heavy - the price is around 50 Euros and you just can't do it like this anywhere in Europe.
I’M PLEASED YOU SAID IN YOUR INTRODUCTION THAT WHAT YOU DO IS ABOUT PEOPLE - I DON’T THINK THAT’S BEEN STATED ENOUGH. IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THAT INTEREST IN PEOPLE AND THE HAPPINESS THEY FIND IN WHAT THEY DO, YOU WOULD BE A MUCH LESS INTERESTING PHOTOGRAPHER.
It's quite simple. I only shoot what I love and when working with people, I usually get a very close connection to them. They are all more or less what I call friends. It's about the people and their world. Just shooting the person without knowing anything about the character is useless. It's their lives that make them who they are and you have to look behind the scenes - they are alive - there we go again with the title.
DOING A BIG PROJECT LIKE THIS HAS TO EXCITING AS HELL - HAS THE AUDIENCE FOR YOUR WORK JUMPED OUTSIDE OF EUROPE AND ‘GONE GLOBAL’? I KNOW YOU SPENT SOME TIME IN THE U.S. LAST YEAR.
It's for the people in the "scene" but it's also for people who are interested in subcultures, in good photos and in coffee table books too. (That is actually a genuine subculture, just ask Taschen. Ed.) My clients are global - brands like Harley Davidson in the U.S. and other companies from the automotive sector. I think I've ‘gone global’ for a couple of years now. I also work for a lot of magazines in the US - we had the film premiere of the documentary film I did with my buddy Jesper Bram from Denmark - Flake & Flames - in Long Beach, SoCal last October. Is that global enough for you?
I GUESS THE MORE WORK YOU DO, THE MORE YOU MUST GET ASKED TO DO. WHAT DOES THE
REST OF THE YEAR LOOK LIKE?
I'm really a lucky guy. Sometimes I wake up and still can't believe how it all worked out. I have a great girl and kids, good friends around the world and lots of cool projects coming up all the time. I do a lot more besides photography - I have a beer brand on the German market called Hell Yeah Beer, a clothing brand with two other friends called Snakebite which is jeans, jackets - things like that. I direct music videos for international bands, design record covers and so on. So shooting photos is just one part - although it’s a big one. The rest of the year, I'm busy with more shows, conventions, shootings and so on. There's always those moments though where I think ‘what the fuck?’ For example, I’ll direct a music video for an American metal band whose records I bought when I was still in high-school - that’s just crazy.
Interview by Sion Smith