Love Me provides the intimate moments we’re in desperate need of right now
With his new book, photographer Josh Kern makes us long for the lighter days ahead.
A picnic in the park, being kissed by your loved ones and your best friend cracking up with laughter are just some of the things we wish we could have access to right now. Instead, we are subjected to this strange journey of social distancing that we weren't really prepared for. But let us not forget that we’re all in this together. At least, there’s a way of feeling some sort of temporary intimacy again: by simply looking at it.
If you don’t believe us, you’re probably not yet familiar with the affectionate work of German photographer Josh Kern. Last year, he published his first book, Fuck Me, a visual diary of skaters, lovers and self-portraits that made all of us feel less alone. What started as a form of self-therapy turned into a profession. At first, the 26-year-old felt like he didn’t fit in but in the end, there’s always a place to hide from this exact feeling -- even if it’s behind a camera.
His new book, Love Me, features his favourite humans and an unforgettable trip to Ukraine. It’s a mix of honest photography and words from his personal notebooks. “For me, love is when you do things for someone or something without expecting something in return -- to dedicate yourself,” says Josh about one of the best things in this world.
“I want feelings instead of distraction, I want open windows instead of air conditioning,” says one of his personal notes glued next to a blurry picture of two people hugging each other in the street in the middle of the night. The kind of words we should all stick to in hard times when isolation makes us feel far away from our family and friends.
To spread some love, Josh gave us an exclusive first look into his new book and told us some literally hidden secrets.
First things first: how has your life changed since we last spoke?
It didn't change that much personally, at least from the outside. I am a lot more emotionally stable, everything just feels quieter. But when it comes to photography, I started to think more of the process instead of the final product.
So what’s the story behind your second book Love me then?
I only try to express the chaos and ecstasy that comes along while making it. Right after my first book was published, I started to make a ton of new book dummies. I can’t even tell why I was so obsessed with creating something new, but somehow it was the only thing I cared about. In the beginning, I was afraid of repeating myself, so I searched for something I haven't done before but it didn't feel natural at all. It took me about half a year before I decided to use notes from my personal notebooks. They never fit 100% -- sometimes there's a connection, like both were taken on the same date, but mostly it's the mood that matches.
And what about the title?
It was stuck in my head. I like the fact it's two extremes: Fuck me and Love me, and yet they amount to the same kind of thing. I thought a lot about how my photography comes across to other people and how much of myself lies within it. There's always this space between wanting to be liked by others and wanting to do exactly what feels right to me -- I drift into both extremes.
Some of the pages are “invisible”, glued together on the ends. Why did you decide to leave it up to the reader to decide if they want to see it or not?
It started when I was on my way to class. I had this really big book dummy with a lot of pictures and didn't want people to flip through the pages for ages, so I glued a third of them together. In the end, it was exactly these pages my class was most interested in -- this is how I came up with the whole idea. The more personal moments are the hidden ones, it was easier for me: I know you can open them but you can also decide not to.
It’s quite intimate to share all these personal moments with an audience that will probably consist of mostly strangers. Did adding those notes make it even more intimate?
To be honest, sharing all these moments is so much easier than before. Mostly because of my first book, but also because I realised there are so many people out there who just feel the same as I do. But in general, the book isn’t so much about every single page. You could probably throw out random pages and I wouldn’t really mind. It’s more the attempt to express the chaos and ecstasy in my head that people can probably identify with it. The pages are only created in order to be created, not in order to be something. I could destroy them right away, it wouldn’t make any difference. It’s not that I don’t care about my work, it’s rather the opposite: I love it with all my soul.
Is there a memory in the book you’d love to go back to?
Probably the moment when I began photographing my girlfriend Asli. While we started to get to know each other, the only thing I could think of was taking her picture. But somehow I was too shy and it really drove me crazy. After a few weeks, I finally started to overcome my fear. During this time I was really worried that I might have lost the joy of the act of photographing itself. But when I took pictures of Asli, I only did it for myself in order to be with her, instead of getting a good photograph out of it.
What does love mean to you?
I recently read The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm which changed my perception of love. For me, love is when you do things for someone or something without expecting something in return. To dedicate yourself. And it doesn't even have to be a human, it can also be photography for example. A lot of people have a problem with love because they ultimately think it's about being loved, but I don't think you will become happy when you're loved. It’s more the other way round: when you give love, when you give something of yourself.
Love Me, published by Eigensinn, will be available for purchase here on 5 May.