Behind the camera

Stern Stern Stern Stern Stern
Oliver Kerstholt Nicola Pitaro

He doesn’t make it easy for himself. Hamburg photographer Johann Cohrs is a specialist in photographing liquids. He doesn’t like it when they get out of shape though, so he only presses the shutter release once he has tidied up the subject. In Cohrs’ world, this means giving the liquids structure: flow lines, transparency, even edges.

This was also his approach to the photos which he took for Passugger in January 2017 (the images on this website). “I wanted to portray the purity and beauty of water,” he said. “My ambition was to recognisably portray water, but to give it an appearance which meets my personal and artistic requirements.” 

Cohrs, born in 1981, sits in his Hamburg studio and tells me how he came to work for Passugger. It is quite obvious that he knows his liquids and that working with liquid substances fascinates him. The fact that he has the patience and love of detail which is required for visually capturing elements which have no solid boundaries also says much about his character. Cohrs describes himself as a perfectionist, someone who sets great store by quality, someone who looks beyond the surface, but also someone who is “crazy” about his work. This is entirely believable, even before he mentions that he was already a serious photographer in the eleventh grade. Nonetheless, he didn’t initially set out to be a professional photographer.

For a long time he imagined he would be an architect. His affinity for architecture is an unmistakable feature of his work, and is also reflected in the expectations and the requirements he sets for himself. On the question of where he differs from other photographers, Cohrs ponders briefly and says, “In my clear, minimal imagery. My work shows the essentials. It’s not self-promoting.” He apostrophises the last phrase with his fingers; he knows this could mean any number of things. Then he adds, “I’m a modest guy and I work hard.”

His inspiration? “Everything I get to see. Art, design, and very often, shapes. I see shapes everywhere. Manhole covers in the street, a fence, doors on the underground.”

But back to his work for Passugger. Initially, he and the art director considered making the Passugger images rugged and dynamic. “That was the first association we made for mineral water from the mountains.” However, lengthy discussions with the company led them to move away from this idea. “The return to local ownership, the company philosophy of course...” He pauses and thinks for a minute. “The attractive, high-quality bottles. These speak to my sense of good product design.” That is how the company opted for the subtle and soft approach that we see today.

The resulting images were created using light provided by lamps from the Swiss firm Broncolor; Cohrs swears by them. He’s also loyal to his camera, a Danish Phase One. For the images, he set the water in motion using compressed air from a compressor, a method he has been using for a long time. “I just wanted to achieve a uniform transparency,” he explained. Later on he mentions that, in addition to his photographic studio, he also has a workshop in which he experiments extensively with materials and their physical states, before putting them in front of the camera.

He doesn’t make it easy for himself.