The following interview with Fritz Liedtke by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 47-49 of the April 16, 2014, issue of Christian Renewal.
Viewing the extraordinary fine art photography of Fritz Liedtke opens your eyes to the unique beauty of each person created in God’s image.
“Everybody has a history, everybody has secrets, everybody hurts,” he says. “I give people an opportunity to be honest about their hidden lives and to create beauty from ashes. I consider this to be a natural outworking of the compassion Christ has developed in me. Good art is incarnational, meaning that it puts flesh to the spirit, it makes concrete something that is intangible. What is inside an artist will naturally be expressed in his or her artwork.”
Most photographers would not consider some subjects Fritz chooses: highly freckled people, awkward adolescents, or persons with eating disorders. But his fine art photos of these people showcase his heart for the hurting and his talent for capturing their inner beauty and strength. He calls his limited edition series with freckled subjects Astra Velum.
Liedtke balances his fine art photography with a successful commercial photography business that includes more traditional subjects: professionals and models as well as graduates and wedding participants. His interest in photography began as a teen, when he carried a Kodak 110 Instamatic on a US tour with his dad. He has a BFA in photography and has won an increasing number of awards over the last 25 years.
I met Fritz at the 2013 Glen West workshop in Sante Fe, and later communicated with him via email for Christian Renewal.
Christian Renewal: Fritz, 2013 was a big year for you. You were the featured photographer at the Glen West workshop in Sante Fe, and you were chosen as one of nine American photographers to exhibit work at the Lishui International Photography Festival in China. What other significant events in your career occurred during the year?
Fritz Liedtke: Yes, 2013 was a big year for me. My photography was shown in and collected by museums, was in numerous gallery shows, and it took me to China for the Lishui Photo Festival. I had work published in a number of magazines, including a feature in Image. I had the privilege of teaching at The Glen, and was invited to teach in Italy at Incarnate (where I am now for a few months). The International Society of Media Photographers chose me as one of their Best of 2013. My limited edition artist book Astra Velum passed the halfway point of selling out. My book Skeleton in the Closet was also published (available on Amazon). So yes, it was a busy and exciting year.
CR: Incarnate in Italy is a three-month immersion experience for artists from around the world, who pursue their artistic calling in a striking setting (the Italian Alps!) and within a creative community centered on Christ. This year’s dates are from February 11 through May 3 (2014). Can you share a bit more about your teaching stint at Incarnate?
Fritz: This is a truly unique experience for me. We are halfway through the school as I write. It is formatted to be both a time of deep discipleship, and of artistic exploration. Its focus is to help students become deep people—deeply rooted in Christ, practicing spiritual disciplines, listening to God’s voice—and from this deep place to create art. It has been a life-changing experience for my students as well as for me. We live in community for three months, studying and creating. I am so impressed with the folks at OM Arts, with whom I am serving here. They’ve put together an amazing program, and I’m privileged to be part of it. You can read a little more about it here.
CR: You mentioned your books Skeleton in the Closet, which features people who struggle with eating disorders, and Astra Velum, available in hand-printed limited editions of photogravures highlighting freckled people. Your portfolios “Welcome to Wonderland” and “Quite Normal” depict adolescents, often revealing their hidden thoughts. These are unusual subjects most photographers don’t consider. What motivates you to work with these unique subjects?
Fritz: If you take a look at my personal work overall, you’ll sense my compassion for the displaced, the lonely, the broken among us. Everybody has a history, everybody has secrets, everybody hurts. This is what I end up being drawn to, and is the connection I see in these projects: I give people an opportunity to be honest about their hidden lives and to create beauty from ashes. I consider this to be a natural outworking of the compassion Christ has developed in me. Good art is incarnational, meaning that it puts flesh to the spirit, it makes concrete something that is intangible. What is inside an artist will naturally be expressed in his or her artwork.
CR: Sometimes the expression of what’s inside an artist will be obvious and sometimes it’s more subtle. It seems to me that photography may be a more subtle medium in general than, say, painting or writing (although both of those can be extremely subtle). It would appear more difficult to be overtly incarnational in photography, although I believe any viewer of your fine art work feels—at the least—a connection to the human spirit. A Christian would—I believe—recognize this as a sense of the divine image. What pieces or portfolios do you view as most incarnational? Or which would you say is your best art?
Fritz: I’m not sure I’d say photography is more subtle than painting or writing, but that it has its own set of challenges. While I can’t create something out of nothing like a painter or writer can (because I have to photograph things that exist in the real world), I still choose what to fill the frame with. This refers back to my answer above: my compassion, for instance, is ‘incarnated’ in my photography.
Fritz: Honestly, I think the most fun work I get to do is with adolescent kids. They’re surprisingly creative and imaginative and sensitive. I feel like they are an overlooked gem in the world, and it’s fun for me to create art with them. Last year I created a new set of images for the Quite Normal series, where I photograph the kids, and then let them write about their lives based on my portrait. Then they write a phrase or two directly on the photograph. I really enjoy watching them open up when they see that I’m actually interested in listening to their stories. Amazing things happen.
CR: What’s the basic philosophy behind your photography?
Fritz: Hmm, if I have one, it would incorporate these elements: Photograph things I care about, try to make the most beautiful images possible, surprise the viewer, surprise myself.
CR: I’m intrigued by the balance you maintain between commercial and fine art work. How do the two create conflict or complement each other?
Fritz: I used to think that if I photographed commercially, it would hinder my personal work. I was afraid that my personal work would start to look like the images I was paid to create. Or that I would use up my creative energy making money, and burn out as an artist. While I certainly have to maintain a careful balance between the two in order to avoid burnout, I find that the commercial work has actually enhanced my personal work. Because I’m photographing regularly, my technical and aesthetic skills are strong and fluid. This means I can approach a personal project with these skills, and not have to start from scratch. I can make stronger personal images because I’m in the habit of making strong images all the time.
Fritz: Since high school, when I first had a glimpse of what good art is, and that I could actually be an artist, I’ve felt a sense of responsibility. Not a burden, but a responsibility to be the best artist I could be. I saw so few examples of Christian artists, that I wanted to be one of the few who actually was faithful to this gift God had given me. But I’m also responsible to be faithful in other areas of my life, including participating in my church community and caring for my family. So I’m careful to balance these things. I don’t want to be one of the artist-stereotypes that throws out everything healthy and good in life in order to pursue his gift. That’s folly. My relationship with the Lord is at the heart of who I am, and infuses everything I do.