The interview, Billy & Hells Text by Pirita Litmanen
Billy & Hells, Anke Linz (1965) and Andreas Oettinger (1963), are two photographers working together in Berlin.
They are known for their vivid colored portraits. They met in 1986 and have worked together ever since,
having exhibitions around the world in Amsterdam, Tokyo and Los Angeles, to name a few.
How did you find each other?
Andreas: We met in a nightclub in Nürnberg. It was Anke’s birthday and she was standing there with a rose in her hand. It just caught my eye. At the time I was studying photography in Munich and assisting a photographer so we ended up in the same city.
Anke was working in a portrait studio. She is self-taught.
It was a year later in 1987 when we met again and started working together. Our first project was taking pictures in the dark, in a cellar under a cemetery.
We used to take pictures of each other, our friends and music bands.
In 1995 we started to work under the name of Billy & Hells.
How would you describe your style, how did you find it?
Andreas: We don’t do describing. It’s horrible to think about your own work in that way.
But if we must I would say we take portraits and make color studies. It’s about mirroring.
Anke: Our work is very straight focused, simple, a lot about color. The importance is in the communication between the photographer and the model but also between the viewer and the model.
The portraits need to be very authentic. In reality the pictures have nothing to do with the life of the model, it’s only a reflection we have on this person.
Andreas: In our series of portraits, there is one true person and the others are mirrors; one real nurse and the rest are created.
The funny thing is that in the galleries, we never sell the real person. We’ve never sold the real sister or the real Indian. It’s always only the copies, the made up characters, that get sold.
The style? That was a pure accident. Basically we used to work with analog cameras, bringing black&white and color pictures together. We found the look just by trying.
But nowadays we don’t work with analog anymore.
Anke: We got sick of smelling the chemicals. We had 17 different darkrooms. Even in the tiniest apartment there was one.
When we finally found a way to work with a digital camera and reached a similar result, we were very happy. It was a compromise because analog was perfect and easy for us.
Digital is not aesthetic. It’s a zero image of light, of colors, of everything. You have to put the mood in it or it will stay as zero.
Analog came together more easily, the moment was always there when you pressed the shutter.
Andreas: We sold our analog equipment on eBay, our assistant took the darkroom and now we are analog-free. Except for one Polaroid camera.
How do you divide the work between each other?
Andreas: She is the AD when I am taking a picture and I am the AD when she is taking a picture. We havent thought about it much further.
Anke: We always try to build a structure for the work, nothing strict, but we need it because otherwise we will forget what we are actually doing.
Where do you find ideas and inspiration?
Andreas: Our ideas are very spontanious. We don’t push them, we have no schedules or plans. If it comes to us we create it. Otherwise we just let it be.
Anke: The problem is not a lack of ideas. You see people in the street or a face of a model and that’s enough. You can find the story anywhere.
What are your dreams and goals?
Andreas: I think we achieved our biggest goal last year. It was a photography gallery in LA, representing all our heroes from the past. And we got in. We were very proud.
So what about now?
More landscapes, more portraits, more detailed color studies. Big changes? Maybe.
It could be the right time to step forward and to change direction.