ROBERT A SCHAEFER, jr, kindly agreed to "talk" to me about his residence in romantic Barcelona.
Your work has received numerous international awards, most recent being a Bronze Medal in the Professional Photographers of Architecture Division at the Moscow International Foto Awards. You also have recent memories of an exciting artist's residency, "Can Serrat," near the gorgeous port of Barcelona. Thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed about your experiences there.
It is I who thanks you, Joan, for inviting me to say a few words about my incredible experience in Can Serrat. One of the main reasons I wanted to get the residency program there was the close proximity Can Serrat has to Barcelona. I had last been to Barcelona in 1974, way before it was greatly overhauled and beautified for the 1992 Olympic Games. I was still a student of Architecture in 1974 and wildly interested in the very unusual architecture of Antoni Gaudí. Unlike the currently situation, it was not so easy to get into some of these structures Gaudí designed and built, and I even had to get written permission from the city government and take it with me. Lucky for me, I spoke Spanish very well. So with all these wonderful memories of Barcelona, I was very excited to get an artist residency so close to Barcelona - there was a great bus connection with a stop just outside Can Serrat, and in forty minutes I was in Barcelona photographing all aspects of its architecture for my proposed project. Spanish cuisine - especially from this region of Catalan is one of my favorites, and the meals at Can Serrat were such a treat. They were lovingly prepared by the two directors Marcel who is actually from the local village of El Bruc and Katrine who is French and from Paris. I can still taste the Paella which was served on a huge rectangular rock slab used for the communal table. It was outdoors with a trellis of vines over it in which several of their cats loved to hang out and keep us company while we were eating. These meals lasted for hours as it was really the only time we came together as a group so there was a lot of debriefing as to what I had experienced and photographed in Barcelona that day or how someone’s painting was coming along.
First, could you share your greatest moment? Perhaps a serendipitous meeting, or a sudden glimpse of sunlight on an ethereal tower…
My studies are in Architecture (BA of Architecture from Auburn University in Alabama my home state and an MA of Architecture from the Technische Universität in Munich, Germany so it will come as no surprise that my imagery in photography is very influenced by Architecture. One of the great architects I studied was the German - Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe who was invited by Walter Gropius, head of the new design school called the Bauhaus in Weimar, to teach there. It was during this time - in 1929 that Mies Van Der Rohe won a design contest for a pavilion to be erected at the 1929 World’s Fair in Barcelona. It was built on the grounds of the World’s Fair and its modernity caused quite a sensation. He also designed the furniture which included rather wide lounging chairs known as the Barcelona Chair and still manufactured by Knoll Furniture Company today. When the Fair ended in January of 1930 the Catalan city government of Barcelona contacted the Germans in Berlin to ask where the pavilion (it was entirely denotable) should be shipped. Unfortunately, Adolph Hitler and the Nazis had come into power and the reposed was to destroy this degenerate design as it was not wanted. This might have been the end of the Barcelona Pavilion except that in 1986, the architects of Catalan decided that the Barcelona Pavilion deserved a better fate, so they gathered as many drawings that history provided, approximated dimensions and rebuilt it on the very spot it had held during the Fair - on Montjuïc across from Plaza España. Having researched Barcelona before flying there for my residency, I knew that this incredible piece of architecture had been rebuilt, and I found it on my very first day in Barcelona. When I stood in front of it, I was in total awe of the incredible proportions it has. I was so overwhelmed that tears streamed down my face while standing in front of this icon of modern architecture. I spent hours inside it experiencing its perfect dimensions and taking endless photographs for my residency project.
There must have been down times, perhaps even moments of panic. Any culture shock? Tell us about it.
Actually, the only negative aspect of the residency was that so many of the other artists participating in it were from the US, Canada and Australia, so there were few chances to improve my Spanish which was another reason I was interested in a residency in Spain. Of course I spoke it with the directors and when I went into Barcelona, but I had hoped to speak it constantly. Also, although my Spanish is very good, my Catalan is zero - and sometime I would encounter the inability of the locals to understand Castilian Spanish.
What inspiration did you bring away with you? How did this exotic experience affect your subsequent work?
Besides my wonderful encounter with the Barcelona Pavilion, I also was quite inspired by the work of Gaudí and in photographing his wonderful Park Güell overlooking the city of Barcelona as well as the Sagrada Familia which is filled with the incorporation of natural forms of plants and flowers into the architecture. I recorded all of these architectural elements with my digital camera (Canon EOS) in raw format and made digital negatives out of various selected images. These I am printing with the Cyanotype Process (12” x 15.5”) to add to my series of Architectural Blues Series. Also, I am working on a future exhibition of many of the Barcelona images to be held in New York City.
If there was one Spanish artist (dead or alive) you would have loved to find there, who was it?
I would love to spend days with Antoni Gaudí. I did make it to the city of his birth - Reus where an incredible museum has been built to inform visitors of his vision. Though I had seen many of his buildings before, I was amazed to find out many things I did not know about him. He designed a building for the city of New York though it was unfortunately never built. Besides architecture, Gaudí also designed furniture and was very innovative with structural design so that his parabolic arches not only added grace and beauty to the interior of a structure like the Sagrada Familia, they eliminated the need for flying buttresses, which are so incorporated int the design of Gothic Cathedrals. Gaud also designed columns supporting the outlook of Park Güell. They are hollow in their core so that when it rains there, the water runs through drains in the ground of the outlook, into the columns and is then collected in a sistern and used to irrigate the beautifully landscaped grounds of the park when there is not enough rain. I would like to hear his opinions on some of the current world architecture. as well as suggestions to provide methods to capture rainwater with aspects of the architecture and then use it for irrigation - especially in large cities like New York or those with water shortages such as Yemen and Perth.
Thank you, Robert, for sharing your wonderful experience.