TAKE A SEAT WITH BRITA PLATH
Anyone wanting to visit photographer Brita Plath in her Hamburg apartment in the upscale Harvestehude area finds themselves in front of an impressive stately pile. Plath, who lives with her husband and sons, opens the door with a radiant smile and, from the moment you set foot in the house, her feel for style is palpable. The 328m² of space is coordinated in a relaxed way – pleasing to the eye and harmonious. Everything has been thought through in detail, yet the rooms are in no way sterile; the feel is cosy and lived-in. The photographer agreed to give us a tour of her home for our series of interviews. She talks to us about the idea behind her interior design concept and about her work.
Freifrau: What was the concept behind the way you redesigned your apartment?
Plath: I love design hotels and so I wanted to try and bring that feeling into my day-to-day life. In other words, it was about an interior look that was reminiscent of a fantastic hotel – you know, the kind where you check in and the bedroom, the living room, and the bathroom, the whole suite are part of a unit, something that has been thought through into every last detail. Everything has its place and contributes to the style. I would often come back from that kind of stay and feel that my apartment was somehow incomplete; another way of putting it would be to say that I was missing a concept which brought everything together. First and foremost, I was inspired by Berlin hotels like the Stue, the Sir Savigny, and Hotel Zoo.
Freifrau: How did you go about decorating your apartment?
Plath: We rang up interior designer Frank Otto from Frank Otto Living because we were looking for a specific wallpaper. Then he came by to visit (we were nowhere near ready) and started coming up with ideas immediately. And so we started working with him. I told him about the hotel concept I had in mind and we started talking details. Taking our dining room as an example, we began with the lamp: it had already been hanging there for three months before we found the right table to go under it – and then came the chairs.
Freifrau: So this wasn’t done overnight. What were you looking for in your chairs – and what made you opt for our Leya model in the end?
Plath: What we wanted from the chairs was relatively simple: they had to be comfortable! My husband loves cooking and is brilliant in the kitchen, so we have a lot of dinner guests and also like to eat as a family at the dining table. That means that we needed chairs which were really comfortable – the kind you can just throw yourself into and, if the evening goes on a little longer than planned, stay sat in until five in the morning. There’s an interesting story behind how we found out about Freifrau, though. Frank Otto brought three sample chairs for us to try out – but we’d already tested all of them. Then he came back with a friend and we sat down on the windowsill and had a look at the chairs. All the three of us realised that they weren’t quite right, but none of us could say why specifically. Frank’s guest started sketching out the chair that would be right on a scrap of paper and then stopped for a moment and said: “I think I know the chair we need here.” It was Leya – in the same leather and the same colour as we now have. The guest, by the way, was Jan Wichers, a fantastic interior designer, and I had no idea who he was. It was only later that I googled him and immediately became a fan of his work; he has got absolutely superb taste. Once we had Leya, we soon found our way to the Kya stools in the kitchen.
„Getting them to show their soft side, revealing their beauty and their strength to them in a new way – that is something that touches me personally.“
Freifrau: What a story! Your apartment is proof that you have a real feel for interior spaces and that you get your inspiration from a wide range of sources. Your profession is photography, so that must be of help. When did you start taking photos?
Plath: I’ve been working as a freelance photographer for 13 years now. When I was a student of Business Administration in L. A. and New York, I used to take courses which had elements of photography: the subject of my degree was more my parents’ decision than mine; it was never my true passion, even if there was a time when I thought that was what I really wanted to do. When I fell pregnant with my first son, though, it became clear to me that I needed to follow my dreams. Nevertheless, in retrospect, I’m very happy to have studied the subject I did. It was an education in how to handle money and run a business: as a freelancer, that’s very valuable knowledge! Freifrau: How has your work developed since you started?
Plath: My first client was a legal practice: I had to take photos of the staff. The lawyers would come rushing in, didn’t have a moment to spare, and had to get back for their next call. Trying to capture that situation, to get the right let, and to work through all of the staff photos in postproduction was challenging – and also a fantastic lesson in efficient working. It gave me the opportunity to get a huge amount of experience in a very short time. After that, I moved towards product photography, step by step. That was new when I started, too, because the subjects are completely different. Today, what I love doing is taking my time to produce really good portraits.
Freifrau: You’ve now made a name for yourself as a photographer of women. How did that come about?
Plath: I love working with people – especially with women. Getting them to show their soft side, revealing their beauty and their strength to them in a new way – that is something that touches me personally, too. Sometimes, the women I photograph leave the shoot with fresh impulses to change something in their lives, and that is something I am exceptionally proud of and happy about.
Freifrau: What is your goal when you photograph women?
Plath: Generally, I haven’t met the women beforehand: they come to me on recommendation, from acquaintances or through other companies. Most of them don’t actually know what they want: it’s more of a subtle wish for a fresh perspective, often after a separation, a change of job, or a period in which the children were at the centre of their world; now, these women want to rediscover themselves, both visually and emotionally. I want them to feel beautiful again – and to give them the feeling that they have every right to feel beautiful! It’s about finding your love for yourself.
Freifrau: How do you tease that feeling out of your subjects?
Plath: Most women would like to try taking centre stage, but don’t have enough confidence because they are not used to being the object of attention. As soon as I think that I’ve recognised what my subject wants, I go to work and give specific instructions. That moment is a bit like hitting a switch: the women start to gain confidence and really come into their own. I think women of my age have often forgotten themselves: at work, it’s about being a good, strong businesswoman; at home, it’s about taking good care of their children. This can lead them to ignore their feminine side; we work together to rediscover it. And it always works!
Freifrau: What would you say your secret is?
Plath: It’s always about development, intuition: no one shooting is ever like the other. The first 30 minutes are hair, make-up, styling. The first shots are psychologically important, then we perfect the look, touch up hair and make-up, and when we get to the point where everything is right and my subject feels comfortable, I notice a change. That’s when the second hour starts and we really get down to work.
Freifrau: What is the message behind your photos?
Plath: That’s very clear: every woman has a soft, feminine side – and it’s okay to show it.
Dear Brita, thank you for the inspiring conversation!