313onelove is a love letter to detroit techno
Berlin-based photographer Marie Staggat took impressive portraits of Detroit’s techno legends. On the eve of her book launch, we spoke to her about her love of music, the project and what it was like to meet The Electrifying Mojo.
Detroit techno had a few notches in its belt some years before Marie Staggat moved to Berlin after finishing high school to study photography. To make some money on the side, she started working the door at Berlin's legendary techno club, Tresor. She quickly met the DJs of the time and started getting more and more into music. "I think music is timeless. There are some records that always work. But I wanted to meet the people behind these records. So I flew to Detroit to start taking pictures of them."
The resulting book, 313ONELOVE, is a collection of 170 portraits the artist made of people who influenced the musical history of Detroit. She flew to America eight times to do so, each time returning to Berlin with more fascinating faces and stories. Among those she portrayed are Carl Craig, Chez Daimer, Dez Andres, Juan Atkins, Kenny Larkin, Kevin Sanderson, Mad Mike Banks, Mike Huckaby, and Moodyman.
Staggat sees the DJs up close. She focuses especially on their ears and hands. "Those are a DJ's tools, they can't work without them. Of course you need a brain and a heart too, but those are hard to photograph. There are also normal portraits of course, but in most of them I get very close up," she explains.
On the eve of her book launch in Berlin, we had a conversation with the photographer about her love of music, the project, and her experience with The Electrifying Mojo.
How did you get into photography?
Unfortunately, I don't have any amazing story to tell, like, "I was twelve and I knew that I wanted to become a photographer and travel the world." I moved to Berlin in 2006, after high school, and started studying photography. Ten years later, I'm still in the same business and I run the office. You only get a little money when you're studying, so I started working the door at Tresor. It was a side job, that's how it all started. That's when I started gearing into Detroit techno for the first time. I learned a lot about the relationship between Berlin and Detroit and of course I met a lot of artists.
And how did you start this project?
I was pretty impressed with the sound, obviously. But at some point that wasn't enough anymore and I wanted to find out more about the music and the history. I wanted to see Detroit with my own eyes. So I flew there for the first time in 2010. It was pretty exciting, cause I had no idea what to expect. I knew that I would capture my journey with photographs. I was so fascinated with Detroit.
What were you so fascinated by?
I can't really put that in words. You have to go there and see for yourself. The city has a really original vibe that I haven't felt anywhere else. Detroit has a really crazy aura, it's like a black hole that sucks you in. You can't describe the talent the people there have. They're all real musicians, they play instruments and they consciously mix genres. Everyone is really warm and they let you in once they trust you. People always told me that it's dangerous and you have to watch out, but Berlin can be that way too. The people don't have anything, or they have very little, and still so much comes out of this nothingness. We don't have that here in Germany, although I have to say that a lot has happened in the last six years.
Do you think that poverty is the main reason that there's such a developed music scene?
Yes, it clearly is. My friends have often said they didn't have a cent back then, but they made music and danced. Music and dancing gave them hope. They could hold on to it that way.
Why didn't you only photograph DJs that are known in the mainstream?
It was important to me to get deeper into the subject matter and not only to photograph a few people who also have a name in Europe. So many of the people in the pictures were essential to the development of Detroit's music history. But they aren't necessarily known on the other side on the pond. Without them, the entire story wouldn't have been told. I wanted to know where they're from and what drives them and why they do what they do.
The proximity in your photos is very fascinating. How did you manage to gain so much trust from the people you were photographing? I can imagine that it was hard in the beginning, like "Here comes another white girl from Europe who wants something from us."
People in Detroit really skeptical of outsiders in recent years due to they way the city is portrayed by the media. I started out with a having a little bit of red because of my connection with Tresor. I had a few contacts through the club, even thought the project doesn't have anything to do with Tresor. That's how I was able to photograph the first artists. After some time, I had a certain reputation and then people who didn't want to be in front of my camera at first, let me photograph them in the end. I think they just realized that I wasn't full of shit and that this was actually going to become something. The book is the best evidence of this. I'm also going to donate all the money I get form it to charity.
It is my own project. I'm going to work with kids from different hoods there on a music project. I'm going to have music class for kids after school, so they can learn to play different instruments and have something to do. This is another thing you can't really imagine existing in Germany. We don't have that. Kids are picked up by the school bus and then they get dropped off again after school. They don't have any money to do anything. They just sit in front of the TV or do stupid stuff on the streets. The city has so much talent and I want to support that.
Did anything spontaneous happen when you were shooting for the book?
Have you ever heard of The Electrifying Mojo? He was a radio host back then and influenced pretty much every musician in Detroit. A lot of the artists told me about listening to his show in their beds after bedtime. There are no pictures of him, he doesn't do interviews, and 80% of people in Detroit have never seen him. And I spoke to him on the phone. In the bathroom of Urban Bean Co. downtown. I asked him if we could meet up; he didn't want to, but he gave me his blessing for the book. He's a hero in Detroit. When I told my friends about it, they were really impressed.
Why did you decide to only use black and white photography?
In black and white you don't have any factors that distract from what's being said. Color is a distraction to the eye. You end up focusing on certain points in the image. When you remove color, you can concentrate on the image in a totally new way.
By now, it's been a while since Detroit's big rise with its techno scene. Can you still feel those times on the streets today? In the clubs?
You can feel music on the streets of Detroit. You hear people singing, you see people dancing, it's a very lively place. But you often forget that the electronic scene is really small there. It's smaller than you would think here in Europe. If you're walking down the street and ask someone if they know who Juan Atkins is, they're probably look at you confused and ask who that is. The image we have from the city is the one it projects out into the world. It isn't the same one the people there have. And you can't have insane raves there like in the 80s because stuff has to close down at some point according to the law. If they had a club like Tresor there, then you would be able to feel it every weekend.
Text Alexandra Bondi de Antoni
Photography Marie Staggat