Florian Hetz’s diaristic photo book looks at memory, loss and the “circle of life”

Art has long been practiced for its remedial qualities. When Berlin-based Florian Hetz – a former costume designer for dance and opera – discovered he had severe encephalitis, his life was “put on hold” as his memory started to deteriorate. “In order to fight the memory loss,” he tells me, “I started to take diary photos.” Florian had never dreamt of becoming a photographer, but as time went on and he continued to capture moments from daily life, he started to look at the world a little differently – and with a more photographic viewpoint. 

“The brain inflammation made me quit my career and forced me to take care of myself,” he continues. “For years, I paid my rent by working during the weekends in a famous Berlin club as a bar manager. Ironically, I never cared for techno and night life, which made me really good at my job.” At the end of 2015, Florian purchased his first camera from a friend and that’s when his photographic pursuits started to take the lead, resulting in his first set of exhibitions held the year proceeding. Soon after he was approached by a publishing house to release his debut book The Matter of Absence; the same year he left his job at Berghain and went-full time in photography.

Four years down the line and Florian was handed yet another set of challenges. Coupled with the fallout from the pandemic – which he partially enjoyed as an introvert – his exhibitions were cancelled and, sadly, his father died of cancer. “Very early into the year, it was clear that 2020 wasn’t going to be a normal year, so I went back to taking diary photos again. I never wrote a diary, but the photos work for me in the same way. They immediately bring me back to a particular moment in time.” The outcome of which is his latest photo book entitled Aiko, which initially took off as a means of dealing with the passing of his father. “We had a tough relationship when I grew up,” adds Florian, “but over the last 10 years, we developed a really good one that was based on mutual respect.” It’s important to note that this book, however, is far from a discussion of death, and instead navigates the theme of cyclicality – “the circle of life” – through images taken during a tremulous year. Documented in characteristic diaristic manner of the artist, the work is segmented into seasons; it begins in winter and ends in autumn.

Aiko pays tribute to the little things that we tend to overlook: light reflections on a rainy street, or the first ray of sun after a long winter, or the texture of a plant,” he says. Daily observations of Berlin take a dominant stance throughout this tome, which are coupled with pictures from his trips to Montreal, Vienna, Oslo and Bavaria – 70% of the work is conceived in diary form. Then, sometimes, Florian would meet a stranger and capture them in an intimately soft and relaxed setting, fuelled by a meeting beforehand in order to make them feel comfortable. “During the shoot I basically observe the sitter,” he adds, “I don’t want them to pose and, ideally, I want them to forget all their selfie faces and Instagram poses. I’m quite clear with my directions, but generally I prefer less to more.”

Throughout this publication, Florian shows us – the audience – how photography can be utilised as an archival tool. Somewhat like a souvenir, photography has the power to preserve. Within Aiko, there are countless memories and histories to be unearthed; like a double page spread where, on the left, there’s a pill box and on the right, a photo of a piece of old, sprouting red cabbage on a window sill. “Both photos stand for life and resilience,” he explains. “The medication is a one-week ration of HIV medication and the meds enable people today to live with the virus and have a totally normal life. Through the medication, the viral load won’t be detectable, which means you won’t be able to transmit the virus.” Another picture which Florian is particularly fond of is the image of his father, taken with his reflection in the mirror. “This is the last photo I took of my dad. It’s a very intimate moment, where my mum is changing his pyjamas. Next to that is a photo of my dad and me, when I was two years old. I placed the photo on the bed of my dad after he had passed.”

Aiko is perhaps Florian’s most personal project to date. From the quiet moments to the more posed, the work – staged yet equally candid – provides an insight into his life, revealing his inner self as a person and a photographer. “For many people that know my work, it will be a bit of a surprise,” he states, having mostly published studio works before now. “I hope they will see that these photos are part of my professional identity, as well as my identity as a very private person, and see it as an invitation into my life and the way that I look at things.”

All photography courtesy of the artist 

Aiko by Florian Hetz is published by Paper Affairs Publishers

Reprogramming the Amygdala

How to choreograph a public dance in the age of COVID

If you want to persuade anyone to do anything, there’s a part of the brain that you need to reach. It lives next to the Hippocampus and is named Amygdala in Latin because it is the equivalent size of an almond. It has the important role of processing memory and decision making, and is also where we generate habits. It’s the Amygdala where we become addicted to repetitive behaviour such as our morning coffees or the route we take to work. A lot of people don’t realise just how much the brain avoids having to think. It’s a great work of art with an ability to identify patterns and turn our behaviour into unthinking action in order to conserve energy and instead, focus on threats and opportunities. When we walk up to a door and see a handle we instinctively reach out to pull it without even having thought about it. Only when we realise the door needs pushing, not pulling, do we have to think. It takes a second or two for this to register and is often greeted with a displeasing grunt. Daniel Kahneman characterised this as ‘thinking fast’ and ‘thinking slow’.

Brands have realised this, and they spend an inordinate amount of money and effort to become a part of our habits. You hear brands talking about how buying decisions are ‘emotional’, not logical. I bought a Sony TV many years ago – they’ve always worked well and so whenever I have to buy something similar, I feel a leaning to the same brand. Weird right? No, just the Amygdala doing its job! It says to me “don’t look at everything else, you know Sony works so just get that and move on”.

The thing is, this is true about how we behave everywhere, and COVID has just changed the game. Our habits of travel, going to work, greeting people, not washing our hands all the time, and staying two metres apart just don’t exist, yet. The challenge for the whole world is only just dawning on us. If we are to live with this virus (which we will have to) and we want a functioning economy, then we need everyone to change their behaviour – and that means reprogramming the Amygdala.

As experts in wayfinding, designing systems that make complex places more legible, our job is behaviour change; to tackle and change the way people commute and explore – getting them to walk and cycle more, and to venture into new areas where they don’t think they can. We’re not starting from scratch, we know how this can work.

Legible London maps

Changing behaviour needs concentration. This is the only way to get someone to truly think and this is the only time you have a chance to reprogramme. Many people see our designs for Legible London as beautiful and they might not necessarily realise they are designed that way for a reason. With this project, we needed to engage the public – those who think they can’t use a map – and encourage them to use a map. To do this, we need to initially engage them with a map’s beauty and virtue. From the very beginning, the aim was to teach the public about the city; to learn it quicker and get them to realise just how easy it is to walk. Since the introduction of the system, walking has increased in London.

Legible London Walking Map

In dealing with COVID, we need people to concentrate. We are going through a global pandemic so we need guidance about how people should ideally behave so they can ‘dance’ without stepping on each other’s toes. To concentrate the mind, we need to use a formal public information language, which is not advice, but that is required. This has to be clear and unambiguous and it has to pass the ‘thinking fast’ test. It also has to be recognisable yet temporary.

COVID icon and symbols

From working across many cities, campuses and complex buildings, our practice often witnesses the limits of people’s perspectives. We are sight creatures and if we can’t see something, we can’t comprehend it which is why the climate change emergency is so hard for us to grasp. COVID is invisible, so how do we make it visible? We need to communicate how we want people to behave right at the point of action. We’ve proposed a COVID symbol that does a number of jobs making the purpose of the guidance clear. Research from Wuhan shows how door handles are a major source of transfer so the idea is to place these icons on surfaces that render the greatest danger.

How COVID icons can be applied to public transport surfaces

What fascinates me with previous challenges has been the complexity of aligning multiple organisations. When we designed Legible London, we found 36 different pedestrian systems in the city’s central area alone. These were recognised by only 2.7% of the public and 36 systems were a result of everyone looking after their own area. Where was the imagination? The area we should be coordinating is the range of peoples’ journeys. This is why we have one road sign system which takes us from Land’s End to John O’Groats. This is also the Amygdala kicking in – it has the desire to learn one system. Silicon Valley knows this only too well, that’s why we have such dominant singular social media platforms. Every organisation needs to work really hard to coordinate and do the same thing – religiously, everywhere. The unit for COVID could be the city, or city area – it’s about how far we are travelling. Ideally this should be a national system.

The challenge to develop a language that resonates with the public and to get many organisations to work together is not insignificant. How well we do this will have a direct impact on the R number, outbreaks, deaths and how well the economy and peoples’ jobs are affected. For London, it took us many years lobbying with a big idea to get everyone to work together. With COVID, we don’t have the time, we need to act now.

The silver lining: There is an opportunity that the behavioural change applied to COVID will stick. People have already told me they have bought a bike for the first time and cycled to work – they hadn’t realised how this was possible previously, and say “this has changed my life”. There you go – that’s the sound of the Amygdala being reprogrammed.

Tim Fendley is the founder & creative Director at Applied

Images courtesy of Applied 

Going Viral

Pierre Flasse reflects on the future of music post-lockdown

Coronavirus has been an all-encompassing maelstrom that has affected every walk of life. As we grow accustomed to our own company, we’re turning our minds to the future, and how our society might change. The music and art worlds are reeling from the impact of a life behind closed doors. For lockdown entertainment, the National Theatre (alongside other arts organisations) have begun streaming live shows accompanied by a plea for money. A shocking article by The Stage released the figure that one fifth of all musicians think that coronavirus will end their career.

The consumer’s access to music has only been partially affected. Streaming services remain strong and Spotify still reigns on high. Surprisingly under lockdown, they have noted a slight drop in listening hours from isolated countries. Our demand for music is still being satiated by a robot, but the real element lacking is the taste of live music. A Spotify playlist can’t recreate the buzz of a throbbing amp or live instruments. This is endemic of what we’re really lacking in lockdown – the social aspect of music.

The industry has reflected this. The reason why chaos is ensuing owes to the fact that the social side of music pays musicians, gigs and venues. Although Spotify has announced a Covid-19 support fund (they might finally start paying musicians!), there have been some more realistic and ingenious ways to try and tackle this. It’s worth mentioning organisations such as Resident Advisor that have run fundraisers for venues with a huge page of references to charitable causes. Help Musicians has dedicated a specific emergency fund to musicians that have run out of money, and PRS have even dedicated some funds to give back to musicians.

Many artists have tried to start live gig streaming from their homes, with the very first Instagram TV gig from Swae Lee and a real Tiny Desk “Home” concert from Lianne La Havas. Despite this, the experience falls flat compared to the real thing. The content is washed with a macabre sense of faux reality – partially due to the environment and partially due to the loss of intimate connection from human physicality. We’re losing the very essence of music, feeling the sonic waves reverberating through our cells. Live music in this format is lacking: it is no substitute for the energy and life of live music. Even so, it is currently the closest thing we’ve got.

In 2018 MelodyVR took this a step further and for fans that had missed tickets to their favourite artists’ shows, they streamed the concerts to their VR headsets. It’s a new initiative that has worked with over 850 popular musicians such as Lewis Capaldi, Wiz Khalifa and even the London Symphony Orchestra. Whilst this is perhaps a fleeting glimpse of the future, it still loses the essence of live music being played and amplified in front of you, now transmitted through headphones. It’s possible, that combined with other new software such as Strap by Woozer that this could break the new frontier. This Strap transmits musical vibrations through the body, sensationalising the experience much closer to live music. Despite this, it’s perhaps a luxury that only the most popular artists can afford with many independents, and less popular genres without any airtime. That’s without even mentioning the cost of a VR headset and their lack of dissemination through the wider population.

Online music reflects a wider issue that we began seeing at the turn of the decade, with many artists cancelling tours, aware of the environmental footprint that they left behind. I am completely behind this decision as it represents a conscious recognition of the impact of their music. However, if the future turns to paying to hear a stadium rock band through a live stream on your laptop speakers, it does beg the question: what’s the point in paying for anything different from Spotify? If you lose the raw excitement, emotion and experience of a live venue, then what are you paying for? And if you’re not paying, then how does the artist sustain themselves?

This meets another issue: bars and restaurants are shut across the globe in tandem with music venues. The very same financial issues are facing these enterprises, aside from the fact that music venues aren’t in a position to offer takeaway food. A very real and sobering reaction to isolation is that many music venues will have to close from a lack of exposure to a working economy and musical landscape. It’s not just music venues whom face this, but all independent stores, and artists. Musicians and music suppliers have both been hard hit with the entire traffic of society held at red lights.

This wasn’t just a new story as coronavirus hit. For many, the virus has been a nail in a steadily burrowing coffin from lack of support from the government. According to the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers, close to 50% of clubs open in 2005 have gone out of business in the last decade. It’s hard to specify one sole cause, but in many towns and cities there is a recognised lack of support for smaller and independent venues. For example, in Manchester it’s widely recognised that the council is reducing licences for venues out of the city centre to try and centralise gigs and music, causing a stream of popular venues to lose patronage. There needs to be a joint recognition from governmental forces – local and national – to protect the individualised communities and music scenes that represent the UK today. Austerity might be “over” but we’re likely about to face another recession, and they need to work twice as hard in tandem with individuals to build pillars of support for the industry.

Will we have a music scene to return to? Venues and artists are vocal, but individuals and consumers need to support them in any way possible: buy the albums and vinyls that you’ve been putting off, support online fundraisers and keep the word strong, online and in person, to keep access to music ongoing and thriving.

To read up on many more causes, follow this thread on Resident Advisor to see the range and breadth of communities supporting the music scene