Artist on the Moon our interview with Emma Buntrock-Müller. AKA. Emma of the Impact
Emma Buntrock-Muller is a board member of a small stamp dealing company. This position allows her the salary and time flexibility to work on her art. The purpose of her art has always been to fulfill a healthy selfishness. Emma considers herself a storyteller before she considers herself an artist, and she considers herself an artist before she considers herself specifically a photographer. We have conducted an interview with her.
What led you to creation?
My emotional mind. Machinery such as the brain finds ways to adapt subconsciously. To cope with overwhelming emotions System 1 (my emotional mind) slips them over in the form of cryptic jargon to System II (my logical mind). Whatever artwork I've created in my life is my logical mind decoding those cryptic messages. Unfortunately, despite the work it does the outcome is never a clear translation, haha, poor thing (logical mind). I could tell you all the reasons I enjoy creating but that's only the surface level of why anyone creates. When I'm working on a piece it's the rare time my mind is only thinking about the task of building (nothing else!). It's a practice in mindfulness. Have I said the word “mind” enough? Haha.
Every piece I’ve made has been to serve the purpose of not creating a narrative but expressing an existing narrative (or feeling) that needs to break free. Otherwise one may find the hound of the Baskervilles clawing and snarling at their door. When I create it’s organic and hardly ever mapped or planned. I always leaned toward very tangible mediums like acrylics, charcoal, or just hot gluing random bits and pieces of “junk” together.
How do you see yourself as a photographer?
When I started using photography as part of my narrative toolkit the format of how I created had to change. The fundamental lighting, countenance, and mood of my narrative photographs had to be planned to get the outcome I wanted. It was a challenge, and I always enjoy a challenge of that sort. It forces you to think and create differently, you end up surprising yourself. Holding a passion for narratives as a photographer makes the role my camera plays in the general framework a key aspect to how the viewer fits or doesn't fit into an image. When someone looks at an image of mine do I want them to see through the eyes of a 3rd person participant? A voyeur? Are they in fact the subject of the image by viewing it? Are they seeing something they shouldn't? Are they finding a peaceful harmony or companionable darkness? That's what's important to me. I must confess I like to define myself as a storyteller more than as a photographer.
What is the primary meaning behind your photography as a whole?
I like to leave that up to the viewer. Art in all forms resonates with you or it doesn't. That's why I don't really believe in “good” or “bad” art. If you take something away from a work of art whether it be a painting, live installation or movie then it has served a good purpose (even if the artwork upset you). Of course the topic of a piece is sometimes intentionally overt in it's subject matter. That doesn't mean there isn't still plenty of room for personal interpretation and internalization. With my work I feel if my own meaning or “agenda” isn't just on the edge of my art then it is taking up too much space.
When folks ask me about my “dark” narratives they are always interested with how it reflects onto me and my experiences. I believe the purpose of art that means something to you is what does your interest in the piece reflect about you as the viewer? There is an appeal to being anonymous like Banksy. If I was anonymous people would think more about the work then about what I'm trying to convey with it. I think people are surprised when they meet me and I’m not a living female translation of Conrad Veidt as Cesare. I’m actually quite a sunny person. Usually they are disappointed I just like to laugh and joke around or they misinterpret it to say “wow she must be a really complex person.” It's weird meeting people and they expect you to be a certain way. I'm not complex at all, haha.
Like Captain Beefheart says “You gotta see before you see.” Strictly personal.
To be fair to the question I will say that more often than not the perspective of my work is one conveyed through a child’s perspective, unfortunately a child enduring something bigger and darker than they can mentally process the way we do as adults.
Thinking blandly of Odysseus and his “hero’s journey” we observe him within difficult paths. Some paths have been due to his error and others have been due to circumstances out of his control. Of course we know that mirrors our own lives. My art has been about situations beyond our control and the damage and/or growth it can create. How has it shaped who we are? How does it shape who we will be? What is your impact?
What are your inspirations? How do you express them?
My inspirations primarily come from movies the film auteurs, and cinematographers throughout the decades. To throw a few names at you Gunnar Fischer, David Lynch,Robert Krasker, Ellen Kuras, Fritz Lang, Michel Gondry, Yasujiro Ozu, Wim Wenders,Tonino Delli Colli, Raoul Coutard, Jack Cardiff, Robert Burks, John Alcott, James Wong Howe. The list just goes on and on, and I could write in depth how each person has inspired me. I won't bore you with all that. What I'm really trying to convey to you is that I am most inspired my movies. I'm a cinephile!
If I had to pick one example of a film that resonated with my personal visual style (or at least inspiration) it easily would be “Night of the Hunter.” Through cinematography and direction the film reads like a child’s dream. For the majority of the film it is a child’s nightmare. The film has a haunting tenderness to it. Oddly enough the villain of that movie is consecutively at his most terrifying and most comical when he's talking to God. I am most drawn to not only the visual style but the stark contrast of innocence and terror, hope and despair, and of course love and hate.
My biggest inspiration not toward the visual style of my photography and art but the general attitude toward life I developed that has kept me creating is the television show Mystery Science Theater 3000. I would not be an artist or as deeply into film if it were not for that show!
How is it possible that your art is dark but your inspiration is a comedy?
There's a beauty in that! You have to define the narrative! This is what I was describing to you earlier. Boiling it down to it's simplest point MST3K is a comedy. The story line and background have always remained simple to shift the focus onto the comedy of the show and the primary purpose of riffing bad movies (and making you laugh).
If you think about the protagonist of that show (any of the three hosts since it’s conception) the narrative of his situation could easily be turned into a horror story, a depiction of a man’s descent into madness or worse apathy. It’s a show about your average person going about their life to only be captured by mad scientists. He is shot into space and held against his will on a satellite in the hopes to be driven mad by watching cheesy movies.
The captive (our host) in a very Hitchcockian way is a victim of unfortunate circumstance that was out of their control. But do they go mad? No. Our hosts makes the best of their situation with robotic pals on the satellite. Together they sift through any non-sense presented to them and they turn it into comedy.
In a similar way to Robert Mitchum's preacher Harry Powell the villains (the mad scientists) are not only evil but they are hilarious. You could contest that the MST3K villains lack the same depth but I disagree. There are many forms of depth and it's dependent on the viewer; what they can take away from the experience. That was an important lesson for me early in life and it started with Joel Robinson, Dr. Clayton Forrester and TV's Frank.
I believe one of the fundamental parts of the the show's narrative and relationship to the viewer is the action the host takes to directly look into the camera and engages with the audience. It's a scary situation but hey we are all buddies in this together. You can't let the bad guys win. Better yet we all are going to make something scary (they refer to it as “deep hurting” or “nightmare fuel”) into something fun. Without this lesson I don't think I would have become anywhere close to the storyteller I am and aspire to be in this moment.
Comedy, positive connection and laughter are what keep us sane. Comedy is a true gift, one of the greatest gifts you can give. It's a form of charity.
With age I’ve subconsciously been developing the narrative of my photography toward finding an inner light through the depths of any darkness. I actually have a new project idea that really is something I'm doing just for me. After I get the shots I want from one of my “dark” scenes I'm going to add one of the MST3K robots in the shot. Everything will remain the same except for a smile on my subject's face and the bot. I'm interested to see how drastically the narrative will change.
My main photographic projects won’t look anything that reminds you of Mystery Science Theater 3000 but I hope to bring a perspective of levity in the dark.