Diving Into Photographic Water with Matthew Coleman

Published 28th Mar 2017, Written by veronica

Photographer Matthew Coleman uses water as his star component – capturing his models surrounded by it. We took the opportunity to accompany him in his photographic process.

Water has always had a swirling presence in photographer Matthew Coleman’s life. From his childhood days spent on the south coast of England to now, standing in LiTE-HAUS Galerie’s bathroom, in Neukölln, photographing Julia Sabrowski in the bathtub of water. The first time Matthew did a shoot like this, he found the result too weird. Now, a couple of years later, capturing the interaction between his subject and water has become one of his biggest fascinations.

“It’s my element,” he says and continues: “It emerges, in an instant, is giving form by perception, a momentary dance, a union between two separate elements coming together into a single oneness. Pulsating, flickering, fleeting, as if they were tiny quantum particles appearing and disappearing on the cosmos of water. All one has to do is to place a person within it and see it swirl around them, like paint.”

Julia gracefully poses in the water while Matthew’s moving around her with a light in one hand and a camera in the other. The rhythm of his shutter and the sound of the water is filling the room. Sometimes he stops to see if she’s ok, makes a joke or just talks a bit, but mostly he shoots. It seems to be a spontaneous process.

Woman in a bathtub

“Which one should we use?” Matthew asks Julia while holding up three pieces of fabric in different colors. They decide on the white one. Julia hides parts of her body with it, and just like that, they’ve changed the whole set. “I work very much from intuition, trying not to think, but instead to feel,” Matthew explains.

Diptych. To the left: Matthew Coleman holding a camera. To the right woman in white water
Hand covered in wet fabric

Matthew Coleman photographing while holding a light
Woman in a bathtub

After three hours of shooting, it’s time to empty the bath and head out into the grey weather. Strolling down Sonnenallee Matthew tells us how he often goes on nightly photo walks with “drifters, dreamers, or artists” in the area they live in. The project started when he’d just moved to Berlin and hardly knew anyone.

Being a night owl, he decided to kill the boredom by exploring in the dark. “I would walk around with my camera at night; floating, slowly, smoking, looking for points of light within the shadows, or these weird, almost cinematic scenes of shops stuck in a time now past,” he says and continues: “As time dissolved, and slowly I started meeting new people, I’d take them out with me on these walks, and the project ‘Berlin Bohème’ was born.”

Hiding under our winter armor, we meet again on a cold February night. Photographers are like moths: drawn to the light. Matthew stops several times during our walk; he looks at the light almost as if it was something he could touch. He examines it thoroughly and then decides whether there’s a picture in there somewhere.

Most times, he leaves the light behind, without even lifting his camera. “Night photography is a beautiful exercise, mainly because you have to shoot differently – a camera on a tripod with longer exposures, so one has to think as if you’re shooting with film, making every shot count, as everything has to slow down,“ he says.

Matthew Coleman

While walking, we talk about his inspirations: he talks about the artists who have had an impact on him and talks about how poetry taught him to appreciate the small details of the world. After a while, the conversation starts revolving around the ups and downs of being a photographer: how being true to yourself and your art might lead to less commissioned work.

“It becomes a double-edged sword, whereby following your own path, it will lead you in a completely different direction to the rest. My dear friend and mentor, Nick Ballon, warned me about this some time ago, though he also told me to be stubborn and to follow the direction of your true expression. It’s the longer path, though it will be much more satisfying creatively”, Matthew says.

Woman in sitting a staircase

Photos: Matthew Coleman

In a backyard somewhere in Wedding, he stops and asks me to step in front of the camera. He’s seen something he wants to capture. We’re standing on a fire escape; a lamp is making the stairs cast graphic shadows. He constantly changes his angle. At one point, he’s underneath me and then a second later standing right next to me or above me. He asks me to “interact with the space,” and as I sit down and lean over the steps, he keeps shooting. It’s a calming experience.

Matthew Coleman

When the cold has gotten under our layers of jackets, we decide to end our night walk. “Keep shooting!” he says encouragingly, leaving me inspired by his talent and grace.