Originally hailing from Austria, Berlin-based photographer Matthias Leidinger is a young creative brimming with talent and ideas. At only 21, he may just be getting started, but he has mastered the formula of successful storytelling. Hopping between visual aesthetics, he proves the mettle of his craft with contemplative photographs that draw viewers in immediately. His latest project, the IGNANT exclusive ‘AD2186’, offers a taste of his unique gift.
For Leidinger, photography allows him the most fully truthful expression of his vision—it is a means to share a narrative and curate curiosities. “In the beginning, photography was mainly there for me to creatively engage with my surroundings and extract visually interesting components from them,” he tells IGNANT. “Currently, this is taking a strong turn. It is becoming more and more a means of communicating an idea for me. The context in which the images are embedded now plays the biggest role.” His finely-honed eye for light and detail and his remarkable compositional technique make for meditative photographs that strive to be aesthetically pleasing while inspiring emotion and imagination. Visionary and conceptual at the same time, there is an uncompromising integrity and unconventionality in his photographs. “My process always starts with a concept, for which I do extensive research and which often sits on my mind for a while,” he explains about his method. “I then build a visual framework around it, to communicate it to its best extent.”
Since his first engagement with the medium, Leidinger has been holding himself in a space where growth is always on the horizon. For his projects, he flirts with other disciplines to push his photographic research and composition to their upper limits. Evidencing his overriding interest in other fields, such as psychology and science, is his latest project, ‘AD2186’: a striking collection of predominantly black-and-white images, ranging from portraits to landscapes to close-ups of natural forms. The series is inspired by powerful, awe-inspiring events, such as the Overview Effect—the profound astonishment experienced by astronauts when viewing the Earth from Space—and the rare experience of a total solar eclipse. The connection between the two, often described as life-changing events by those who have witnessed them, is rooted in the idea of self-transcendence, namely the cognitive shift in perspective brought about by the confrontation with something greater than the self.
Working creatively within the limitations of his medium and the project, Leidinger depicts the complex awe-sensations and emotions generated by the solar eclipse predicted for July 16, 2186, through aesthetically strong and visually engaging compositions. Curiously, the photographer does not envision the astronomical event per se. Rather, he conveys the wonderment and subsequent feeling of smallness and connectedness with the planet, hinting at how awe may be found in the many sights and earthly experiences that expand our mental limits. With each shot giving viewers a different fragment of reality to contemplate, the series looks at the transformative appreciation of nature and the desire to imagine possibilities outside of our normal range and beyond our perception. Coupled with the shots’ distinctive textures and simple lines, this is what makes the works so uniquely riveting. In our Q&A below, the photographer provides deeper insights into the intricacies of the series—so evident yet unexpected.
How did you start developing this project? And what did you set it to be?
It all started when I was researching the Overview Effect a few months ago. Many astronauts have been said to have experienced a sense of the interconnectedness of all life on Earth and a resulting feeling of self-transcendence. In my research, I came across eyewitness accounts of people who described a similar feeling when experiencing a total solar eclipse. This intrigued me and prompted me to find parallels between these two seemingly different phenomena. The answer lies in the experience of awe and the accompanying relativization of the small self. When faced with this, many people expand their sense of identity—the result being increased prosocial behavior, a stronger sense of connectedness to the environment and nature, and the feeling of being part of something greater.
Where does this fascination stem from?
I think what fascinated me so much about it was the effect on people‘s perceptions. The fact that we live on a small planet surrounded by other planets in the middle of nowhere is, for most people, a cognitive truth that we hardly consider. Yet, in these two phenomena, this cognitive truth is also experienced physically, which gives it a completely different significance.
The series explores concepts of awe, self-transcendence, expanded identity, and the interconnectedness of all life. How are these feelings translated in this specific collection of images?
The solar eclipse that will occur on July 16, 2186, will be the longest total solar eclipse between the Neolithic era and the year 6000 AD—an incredibly long period. Considering that the ‘regular’ total solar eclipse over the US in 2017 was already observed by nearly 215 million people, the 2186 one can be expected to be accompanied by great anticipation and to have a significant impact on people and their collective identity. What connects all these sentiments is the expansion of what one identifies with. It was important to me to work up this holistic view of the world photographically. Therefore, the project contains everything from wide landscape shots to macro shots of animal and plant life to portraits that further address the psychological aspect of the theme. In addition, the idea of anticipation and observation of such phenomena was very significant to me, which is why the more organic shots are sometimes juxtaposed with technical images of a double telescope, for example. Overall, the guiding idea was to stylistically create a feeling that is as timeless as possible—the images should convey temporal neutrality.
Do you recall a piece of scenery or event in your life that left you in a state of awe?
I had a similar experience during the realization of this project. Like all seemingly ‘big’ phenomena that transcend our frame of reference, impressive natural sceneries, for example, can also be triggers of awe. Walking on the rocky island where the landscape photographs were taken had a similar effect on me due to its seemingly otherworldly appearance and the oppressive silence that permeated it.
With ‘AD2186’, what do you want to leave people with?
To return to the Overview Effect, I am firmly convinced that the world would be a better place if all people could see the Earth from above at least once. This is a rather unrealistic scenario—at least in the near future—however, I believe it could benefit the collective human experience if as many people as possible would have the chance to observe a total solar eclipse or similar, once in their lifetime. During my research, I came across the statement that “everywhere in the universe, rocks cast shadows on other rocks but, as far as we know, only here is someone to witness it”—I thought that was very beautiful.