This week, it’s a pleasure to introduce to you Heike Winter and Stephan-Maria Aust, whose high-end coffee table book StreetLyrics is being published under our imprint Galadriel Publishing. Heike’s poems and Stephan’s photography have done a magical job to bring this amazing book together, and we were anxious to learn how they conceived the book and shaped it. Here’s to the interview:
1. What inspired you to take on a project like StreetLyrics?
During Stephan’s art exhibitions, people responded very positively to hear the stories behind the images or read poems in relation to the images and it was a logical conclusion to do a book for all these and all other people.
2. The subject matter for your book is truly interesting, finding cultural connections between the German and Scottish through street art and manholes. Please tell us more about it?
The book is part of a long-term project started back in 2005 in the Brittany. During my (Stephan) ongoing work on this theme, I realized there seemed to be leads of culture visible at the manhole covers in the different countries I visited and even differences between one town and another. After several years and more than 2000 unique images I was able to locate every spot by just looking at the manhole cover. So this was a strong hint about the link between manhole covers and their ambience to the special culture of the location. There seem to exist connections between other countries as well as between Germany and Scotland. Even between for example Scotland and Spain or Germany and Sweden. The manhole cover project has grown to a a lifetime project. So stay tuned.
3. You have used Scottish Gaelic as a medium in your book along with English and German. Although Scottish Gaelic is making a comeback in recent times, it is largely considered a ‘dead language’. Do you believe that reaching out to your readers through this ancient language can play a role in helping revive it?
Yes, definitely. We believe in that and hope to give a dying language a push in revival. Because every language is culture and when language dies also a large piece of culture goes away.
4. Heike, using poetry as a medium to convey your thoughts on German and Scottish culture is a bold move. You cover a diverse range of subjects through your poems in StreetLyrics. Please tell us about how your thoughts evolved through the process of writing this book, especially the poems?
In the beginning of my poetry, there were no thoughts about making a book. When I’m touched by things, by people or what else, I can express my thoughts in poetry and I never had the feeling it was something special that should be published. The StreetLyrics poems weren’t written aiming on the German or Scottish culture but may be the manholes talked to me in their language, so people may be able to feel the different cultures.
5. Stephan, please tell us about the photographs in the book. Every single picture illustrates a different manhole. How did you go by the selections and decide which ones to photograph for StreetLyrics?
The first point is: I didn’t take the images aiming on a book. The idea was making a book out of what was present in a huge stock and to combine them with Heike’s poetry. A selection took place out of several hundred pre-selected manhole cover photographs with the idea of grouping pairs of images, which gave me the idea that there is a connection between each other. This was a selection process from the depth of my heart and focusing on more than an optical or designing level.
6. I have to admit that StreetLyrics is an unusual project. We don’t see many coffee-table books that relate the geometry of manholes to poetry. Did you always have an idea in the back of your head to work on a project like this?
Quite shortly after the start of Stephan’s manhole cover project in 2005, he had the strong feeling that adding whatever kind of text fragments to the images, would help to find a way into his work for the beholders. Like presenting a short part of a red ribbon to create one’s own unique story, which arises in one’s mind while observing.
He is a photographer and not a writer, and meeting Heike was like triggering a starting gun. On the beginning there was the wish to combine the international manhole cover photography with the poems. We were sitting together with hundreds of manhole cover pictures from all over the world and tried to decide which images worked together. At the end we picked over 60 images and the most of them were from Germany and Scotland. So we said sorry to the ones from Ireland, Adieu to the French manholes, we had to say hej då, tot ziens, ciao and arrividerci. The decision to do the book in German and English followed for international purpuses. One day later, without saying, Scottish-Gaelic joined the project as the protolanguage and from this moment it felt like a part of the world’s soul had joined in.
7. Please tell us about the translations in the book?
Since the book deals with three languages simultaneously, we understand there has been a lot of translations and reworking involved.We decided to do the book as a trilingual one without knowing, how to practically do it and were to find the people we needed for this effort. First of all the poems of course had to be “transformed”. We were very lucky to meet Magz and Gillebrìde joining in for a perfect team. Right from the beginning they had a carte blanche because we knew that it is nearly impossible to translate poems. The poems were transformed into the local languages and that made it like three independent poems for every manhole. An extraordinary collaboration.We had so many helping hands. Another example is Michael Klevenhaus from the Scottish-Gaelic-Institute in Bonn. We asked him to do the foreword. He looked at the book and realized the idea. His foreword blew us away because he verbalized all the connections between poetry, images, languages and cultures. He connected us to Dr. Rena Gertz. She did a brilliant English foreword translation. Rena was so helpful in some smaller translations as well and yes you are absolutely right: There was a lot of translating and reworking and it is almost a miracle that it took ‘only’ 12 month from starting that project until the final book presentation in Glasgow last year.
8. Tell us about your journey with Galadriel Publishing (a subset of Bombadil Publishing Group)?
We sent a lot of applications to German publishers to get the book into the market. Unfortunately, none were brave enough to support such a unique project. That was one of the moments we thought about cancelling the whole thing. But it is a project from the heart and we decided to do it completely by our own as self-publishers. Just in that moment of decision, we received an email from Andreas Wolff from BBC Alba. Some days ago, he had met Marianne from Bombadil and it was his feeling to set a link. We presented the dummy and the idea to Marianne and she gave us 100% the opposite of all our experiences with German publishers. She gave us a lot of support within the last minute and we are more than happy that StreetLyrics was published under the Galadriel label. So it seems that when it comes to braveness, Scotland is way ahead of Germany!
It was and still is a fantastic collaboration with heart, respect and professionalism. And the best: we had fun together. This is not the most important thing when you do books — it is a highlight, in this project and in life too.
9. Stephan, tell us about your favorite poem from StreetLyrics?
Tell me about your favorite child of your own? Aside of all the other touching poems, ‘Duisburg 21’ is a very special one for me. I have a very intense and personal connection to this photograph and Heike managed to express the sheer desperation I felt, when I heard about the ‘love parade’ disaster in 2010 in Duisburg. I was born in this town and knew the place very well and 21 dead and lots of injured and mentally harmed people due to the incompetence of the local authorities made me very sad and angry.
10. Heike, please tell us about that one photograph from StreetLyrics that absolutely won your heart?
Difficult question. Every photography is so special and it depends on my daily mood. Today, I like the friendly touch of Callanish or Münster. Yesterday, I loved the ‘heartbroken’ Dumfries and may be tomorrow I fall in love with Duesseldorf. I really like Duisburg even I know the disaster behind. This manhole is a good example for me showing the connection between Scottish and German culture.
The manhole reminds me on a Celtic cross and together with the German candles in the background it is a very proud and hopeful manhole. But I have to be aware: Always when I have to answer questions like this I have that unpleasant feeling to debase all the others and deep in my heart there is the same attention for all of them.
11. Lastly, are there any plans to collaborate on another wonderful project in the near future? If so, please tell us?!
At this moment, there are new and exciting ideas but no concrete projects, we would like to announce.
I (Heike) feel that every of my coloured brain cells will burst soon and I certainly look forward to it, having no idea who will be hit by this explosion. Attention: It can strike everybody! *laughs*
I (Stephan) am concentrating on my upcoming exhibitions in the Highlands and in Germany and I started a new theme which deals with the waters of the Atlantic and the Scottish coasts. But manhole covers I’m always focused on.