Man-Made Nature

Mathias Mahling

What does the term “art” mean to you?

For me, art is an inspiration and a way to express myself. Art is a way of provoking thoughts. Art encourages interpretation - puts you in a certain state of mind and puts you into other spheres. Art is movement. And of course, Art is a matter of personal taste and opinion. 


There is a clear sense of space, place and abandonment within your work. What draws you to the subject matter?

I’ve always had a thing for imperfection. I don’t like brand new, perfect things as much as I like them when they are dirty and worn down. Only then they are truly unique and have a story to tell. For example, I really like it when I see my worn down camera and I remember all the rough paths I took it on and all the amazing places I have shot with it. So of course when I started shooting abandoned places, I was addicted very quickly.  


Thematically there is a clear coherence within your work in terms of message. What are you looking to say/ convey?

For me personally, my work is about beauty. I see myself more as a designer, rather than an artist. I want to create beautiful pieces of ‘furniture’ to decorate and beautify rooms and spaces. I want to show people, how beautiful places can be - even when they are abandoned, forgotten and left to rot. I really love the extra layer of depth, that decay adds to ordinary things. My approach is, to make them look warm, inviting and beautiful, rather than emphasizing sadness, darkness or depression.


Can you describe and explain your process? Perhaps focussing on a particular location or image?

I am always on the hunt for new places and locations. It is a never-ending process of research and networking. I keep adding pins to a massive map - and eventually i will make a big trip and visit them. Sometimes It’s a time consuming and tedious process, but it’s also very exciting and rewarding, once I'm actually standing inside the places, I've spent so much time looking for. Often there is only limited time to take pictures. So i go for the best and most beautiful shots first. Once I've got those, i explore as much as possible of the structure, to make sure i don’t miss any opportunities. I may never have another chance. If there is still some time left after this, I try to think outside the box and i look for more creative shots and unusual angles. At home, the pictures are put into a database and i edit a different shot from a different location every time, rather than creating entire sets for each place.


We’ve already talked about the importance of space and place within your work, but what draws you to particular locations?

The main criteria in my selection process is beauty. I will always go for the most glamorous, most stunning and most amazing places first. So a lot of my shots are taken in villas, castles, palaces, manors and ballrooms. But I am also fascinated by unique places that you don’t ever get to see otherwise. Treatment rooms in insane asylums, satellite dishes of a NATO station at the top of a mountain, discarded cars at the bottom of a quarry. In deserted places it is very quiet and peaceful. There are no crowds, no barriers, nobody to tell me where i can and cannot go. Nothing is off-limits and I can completely focus on myself and my work. I try to express this wonderful atmosphere in my photos.


How do you see your work developing?

There is still so much to see and so much to shoot out there. So my credo for the future is “Never stop exploring and increase the perfection in imperfection”. But i also aim to get even more creative in my photography and to try out new perspectives and unusual photo techniques. I want to get more creative and experiment with more abstract views and angles, so the viewer only realizes at a closer look, that they are looking at a photo of an abandoned building. Also i want to explore ways of making my pieces more unique, rather than just printing them on paper. Sometimes there is a lot more to you than you think and believe.


What makes a ‘good’ photography?

For me ‘good’ photography means having a clear vision that is being pursued and to be able to capture that vision. Attention to detail is very important for me. I want to have the feeling that the photographer is passionate about their subject and always tries to make the best out of their work. I also think that a lot of the ‘magic’ comes from good post-processing that is unique and recognizable.


The images you produce are striking and really capture the viewer, what are you trying to leave the viewer with? A feeling? An emotion? A narrative?

Often people say my photos make them sad, and they ask me if i am sad when i go to these places. For every abandoned church, villa or castle there are hundreds that have been looked after and kept in excellent shape. In my eyes, the decay and the imperfection makes an abandoned place much more special and beautiful. I don’t feel sad for the places, but rather i feel privileged, that i get to see them with this added layer of beauty. I want people to accept and embrace the transience of everything in this world, rather than getting depressed over it. I want everybody to deal with this topic in a positive way - seeing the glas as half full.