Today we are talking to Berlin-based photographer Frank Lassak. You can read more about Lassak and his prior work here, but today we will be focusing on his latest project, Dream Control. The Indiegogo campaign for Dream Control will run through February 28, 2019. In addition to being able to reserve a copy of the book, you can get additional perks like REM Goggles, signed special edition prints, and a once-in-a-lifetime chance to participate in a photo session at the Musée de Cinéma et Miniatures in Lyon, France.
Tell us about your latest project, Dream Control
Dream Control – When Freedom Ends is both an art book with staged photography, essays and stories … and an exhibition.
The book describes and visualizes the fascinating and terrifying aspects of a future amusement park for sleepwalkers. At the same time, it is an invitation for the readers to scrutinize the value and integrity of allegedly life-enhancing services, whose primary aim is to jeopardize the clients’ ability to lead a self-determined, sovereign life.
The exhibition is fully immersive and invites visitors of the museum to visit the so-called Somniverse – a virtual environment where sleepwalkers experience tailor-made dreams. In addition to the pictures from the book (chemical photo prints, sized 160 x 100 cm), there is a soundscape (lasting more than 8 hours, equalling the daily opening times of the museum), several screens with continuous loop videos, showing interviews from behind the scenes of the production, and selected miniatures that were used as backgrounds in the photos. We are also preparing some interactive elements, such as cut-out life size figures of the officers in the Somniverse – so people can make selfies with them, etc. Lastly, there will be a soundtrack for the series, but that is still in the works.
How was this idea born?
The project started in November 2017, when I was researching a story about the manipulative nature of hyper-commercialized social media. Inspired by Neal Stephenson’s novel Snow Crash, which I reread 25 years after having devoured it already in 1992, the idea emerged of a saturnine corporation that drew its power from sophisticated behavior control in disguise of social entertainment. While the entertainment industry has conquered almost all areas of life but the realm of the subconscious, it is quite likely it will expand into that field in the near future. DC Corp., the fictional company that runs the so-called Somniverse in the book, is loosely based on the model of today’s multinational enterprises and an example of scrupulous entrepreneurship in the age of surveillance capitalism.
Please tell us about the process of creating this
The staged photographs were produced using artistic miniatures from the famous collection of Musée de Cinéma et Miniatures in Lyon, France. Actors and actresses, including Oscar-winner Christian Harting (Son of Saul, 2016) were photographed separately in a studio. In total, the production team consisted of more than 50 specialists, led by my trusted creative director Lena Naomi Krebs. All pictures of the series were recorded on film, scanned in high-resolution and digitally post-produced. The resulting composite files were transferred to film again (4x5“ format), for archival purposes.
Printing of the book will commence in March 2019. In order to be able to produce a larger print-run, we – the team of Efacts Photography in Berlin – have started an Indiegogo campaign so people can pre-order the book at a special price, or get limited edition art prints of selected images of the series. And those who'd like to participate (as actor/actress or as part of the crew) in an exclusive photo production in an original film set at the museum, have that opportunity, too, on the Indiegogo campaign page.
What events inspired you to create this?
Frankly, “Dream Control” and the Somniverse are possible future trends or derivatives of what we know today as social media: a sophisticated system for behavior control, run by ruthless entrepreneurs or corporations and partly controlled by government organisations. In fact, there have been (successful) scientific experiments in the field of social dreaming and controlled dreaming, and I guess it's just a matter of three or four decades that a thing like the Somniverse may become reality.
Do you have a personal connection to dreams that inspired you? Are you a lucid dreamer?
Dreaming is an essential part of everyone's lives, I think. Whether you're a lucid dreamer or not – a dream is the brain's best method to cope with what the consciousness has to swallow each and every day. It's private territory, sacred in a way, and the realm of dreams shouldn't be accessible to third parties – unless that access is granted for reasons of therapy. Thus, the concept of the Somniverse is kind of a dystopian outlook. At one point in the book, a cyborg character tells the dreamer: “The Somniverse has become a cesspool of greedy rascals. Stay away from that miserable venue and keep your dreams to yourself.” This pretty much sums it up, I guess.
What artistic and craft means did you employ to give the images a truly dream/nightmare-like feel?
The question was: how to integrate actors and actresses in those fabulous miniatures, without having to shrink them. But seriously, there were a few questions that had to be answered before the production could start. Like, how do you photograph a miniature that is approx. 40 cm wide and 100 cm long, if you want to have all those tiny details in focus? Apparently, the Scheimpflug method is the answer. Yet, even with Scheimpflug macro photography is tricky. The Fuji GX 680 with its outstanding lenses and movable front standart was the best choice for me. 6x8 negatives were large enough for the planned print size of the pictures, and medium format film is obviously much easier to handle than large fomat.
Lighting conditions in the museum were all but ideal, and the miniatures had to be photographed through thick protective glass panes – think about reflections. So the typical setup of the camera was like this: 65/5.6 lens, linear polarizing filter plus 82B filter (I used Fuji Pro 400H daylight film and had to use the color correction filter, as the miniatures were internally lit with tungsten lights.)
In post production, a special grading was applied. I had developed it with Philipp Schmitt, who did most of the composing work after scanning. Each scene has its own grading – reflecting the subtle nuances in atmosphere and mood of the portrayed situation. Most importantly, we didn't want to make the pictures look as if they came out of a sci-fi movie. They had to appear credible, authentic. As if you are reading a book that illustrates some events that lie in the past. Some people call this style retro-futurism. I'm okay with that.
Tell us about the backgrounds in these photographs. They are, in fact, incredibly detailed miniature sets. Can you talk about this collaboration a little bit?
When I discovered the Musée de Cinéma et Miniatures in Lyon, it was a revelation. The venue is home to more than 100 meticulously crafted miniature scenes, some of them resembling pre-CGI era scale models of film sets, some showing the interiors of ocean liners, others depicting the mundane reality of 20th century streets and buildings. In short, an ideal collection of authentic scenes suitable to be used as backdrops for this series.
Thirteen miniature masterpieces used in Dream Control were created by Dan Ohlmann, the museum’s founder. Most of his works are assembled in 1/12th scale, each taking up to one year to finish. In total, Dan created 30 miniatures over the last 25 years. Ronan-Jim Sevellec, an artist from Britanny, was another major contributor. His miniatures were used in four pictures. Additional pieces were provided by Alan Wolfson (USA), Mathieu Chollat and Michel Perez (both from France).
Dan was delighted when I asked him if we could use selected miniatures from the collection of the museum. He had seen some of my previous works, like Welcome to Twin Peaks and True Velvet and felt that we were riding the same wave, in terms of movies/directors we like and artists we admire. He has an even stronger passion than I for the paintings of Edward Hopper, for example. So we sat down, wrote up an agreement and drafted some ideas on how the exhibition could be presented in the museum – and that was it. Later, when the project was in full swing, we met several times for updates and clarifications. All in all, the collaboration was as professional as it could possibly get.
It boggles the mind to even think about all the planning that went into this. Can you tell us a little bit about how it started to come together?
There was a considerable amount of planning and coordination necessary to let the production run as smoothly as possible. After I came back from location scouting in the museum (aka: making low resolution digital preview pictures of all available miniatures of the collection), creative director Lena Naomi Krebs and I had to select those scenes that were most suitable for the series. We needed a few weeks to agree on this. So, right after we had assembled the first collection, we received an email from the museum that not all selected miniatures could be used – for reasons of artists' rights. As a consequence, our original selection of scenes had to be altered. In fact, six miniatures weren't available and had to be replaced by others – which also made it necessary to change and rewrite the story of the sleepwalker. Then I went back to Lyon for a week to produce the negatives for the series.
In the meantime, we had organised castings with more than 250 actors and actresses. 29 of them finally played a part in the series. Once the casting was completed, we had to design the optimum production schedule, as we only had eight studio days to produce all 20 scenes, making sure that all actors and actresses would be available on a given production day. A huge task, but doable. Film productions work pretty much like this, and I had gathered some experience in that field over the years.
This must have been an amazing experience for all involved. What an average day on set was like?
A typical studio day had 12 hours, 8 am to 8 pm, with a few breaks inbetween. We worked a lot with the actors/actresses in order to make them „feel“ the situation they were supposed to play. In front of a green screen this is quite tricky, but in the end it paid. Another important thing was the lighting: each actor or actress had to be lit matching the lights and shadows of the background, i.e. the lighting situation had to be adapted to the miniature scenes. Marc Orsini, who was responsible for studio lighting, did a great job: only minor imbalances had to be fixed in post production. The costumes and make-up department were performing equally excellent, especially when it came to SFX make-up and exotic garments, like the burlesque dresses that were used in one picture or the uniforms of the admins in the Somniverse. Those are original 20th century Prussian uniforms. All in all, a huge production effort with a highly skilled and motivated team. Not to mention the love we shared, keeping stress levels at a minimum.
What is the next step for Dream Control?
There will be several exhibitions in Europe – and hopefully also in other parts of the world. As of now, we have confirmed shows in Lyon (in the museum), Rome, Vienna and Berlin in 2019 and 2020. The book will be presented this year at Vevey Photo Festival (Switzerland) and Belfast Photo Festival (UK). And, of course, I'm hoping for skyrocketing book sales. :)
And what is next for Frank Lassak?
When a project is finished, the next one already lurks around the corner. The subject will be completely different; the working title is An End to Jealousy. Again, it will be a photo story. Set in Italy, it is somehow inspired by Bertolucci's (1900) and Tarkovsky's (Nostalghia) movies, but the story happens in modern times. It will be told as a diary, from the perspective of a woman who is unhappy in her relationship and looking for possible ways to revive passion and romance. Soon, however, she and her husband find out that being creative (in terms of how to negotiate the rules of their relationship) is the only way for them to continue. I won't disclose more at this point, because I don't want to spoil it.
Anyway, the production will take place in April/May, and some actors who participated in Dream Control will be part of it again. Technically, it's also going to be quite a challenge, as we will use three different film formats: 6x14 medium format, 35 mm and Polaroid. The medium format frames will be blown up to 140 x 60 cm and displayed as backlit transparancies in the exhibition. I'm looking forward to showing the new series and book in 2020.
And yes, I'm also going on holiday later this year, most probably to Italy.
The following are a selection of images from Dream Control, by Frank Lassak
Frank Lassak lives and works in Berlin, Germany, where he runs his atelier Efacts Photography since 2009. His works nowadays focus on staged cinematic scenes, narrative photography and portraits of actors and actresses. Frank became internationally known with his body of works circling around the movies of David Lynch (Welcome to Twin Peaks, 2017, True Velvet, 2011) and the paintings of Edward Hopper (The Hopper Files, 2014). Several of his series were shown in solo and group exhibitions all over Europe, for example in London, Rome, Vienna and Thessaloniki.
Since 2014, his home gallery is The Ballery in Berlin.