Unleashing Raw and Lustful Photography

By Marili - 6 min read

Marius Sperlich takes provocative portraits—but he insists the controversy is all in our heads.

Marius Sperlich’s (@mariussperlich)work is a tour de force of creativity, imagination and technical skill. Obsessed with how photography triggers our imagination, he shows the human body froman unusuallyclose perspective. We caught up with Marius at EyeEm’s Berlin Studio to talk about the line between provocative and empowering photos.

How did you get into photography?
When I was 9 years old I started skateboarding. My father gave me my first skate movie and I was totally stoked, because it inspired me to create something myself. I got a video camera and from there I started doing my own films.

Although I had a lot of fun shooting and editing, it was all incredibly time-consuming. This led to the point where I decided to focus on photography instead. With photography you’re freezing the moment- it’s there for you to catch- and I find it more authentic in a way.

To finance my studies, I worked as a party photographer and for start-ups for a while. But when I came to Berlin, I wanted to do something different, something that pushed me out of my own comfort zone. That’s how my current style evolved.

Your work is at once provocative and empowering in its aesthetic. Is this a style that developed over time for you?
I’ve always been one to have a project going at some stage. It’s really about evolving and finding new ways to tell a story. At first I took those classic bold and colorful shots, but that was what everyone was doing. I figured the photos didn’t really have any clear idea behind them, and they weren’t powerful enough to create a feeling in the viewer.

I’ve always loved uncomfortable stuff, so I figured I could take very close portraits. That’s what got me started on what I do now, I discovered that being close makes a huge difference when you’re shooting faces…

Why is that?
You create something that is anonymous, but at the same time incredibly detailed, personal and unique. When you see full body shots of a person—in advertising for example—it allows you to compare your own body and looks to the person you see on the picture. But the anonymity of close-ups means you wouldn’t be able to recognize the subject on the street. At the same time, it’s an incredibly personal and intimate perspective.

What inspires your work?
People. It can be anyone. Whenever I hear stories or see emotions in my surroundings, I take it in. That helps me create feelings in my photography. I’m don’t think you can create a sad picture if you don’t really know what sadness feels like. That’s why I let every emotion in.

There’s an interplay between pleasure and pain in your pictures, especially through your use of props. Could you talk a little about the motifs?
If my photos weren’t so real and pure, people wouldn’t really pay attention to them. We live in a society with predetermined structures. Many people want to be different, but they can’t because others tell them what they should do. That’s both a blessing and a curse.The photo with glass on the tongue is an example of how people’s scars aren’t always seen on the outside, but only on the inside. I want it to be pure, I want it to be real. The pain in my pictures is always pain caused by the set structures of our society.

Same goes for the gif of the eye: You are forced to open your eyes and look at things. Someone else wants you to see something, someone else is telling you what to do. The force is the pain in this. After all, pain shows us that we are vulnerable and my message is that you should do whatever you want, and be yourself.

Your photos show almost exclusively women. Why is that?
I get a lot of questions about this. Some people think I take overly sexualized photos. But I think that impression happens only in the mind of the viewer: My close-ups just show a body part and they play with whatever somebody sees in them. I want to capture strong women in strong images, nothing else.

In your opinion, are there any boundaries when it comes to creating work with provocative visuals?
Pure nudity is my boundary. I focus mainly on eyes and lips because ourfaces are one of the strongest indicators for emotions.
They are all communicative tools for us. You’re going so close, you’ve probably never seen emotions so closely before. That’s a game changer becausethe face is the only place feelings can be shown in the same ways for people. For example, you can cry when you’re happy and you can cry when you are sad.
When you see someone crying and covering their face it can be so overwhelming. But if you rather just concentrate on the face, it’s really focused and I believe it has a stronger impact.

Imagination triggers my work andmy goal is that my pictures create an overall feeling which gives the observer more space for interpretation. I create photos that are beautiful but also make you uncomfortable.

What have you learned from your shoots?
Photography has taught me how to deal with people. I like to say that I am like a hairdresser: Everyone I work with always tells me what is going on in their lives. I have met so many interesting people who shared both disturbing, sad and some really cool and inspiring stories. That’s what I really love about this job.

Finally, tell us about your upcoming projects. Where would you like to head with your work in the future?
I’ll always be an artist and a photographer. Photography allows me to meet a lot of interesting people so I just want to continue to create, and see where my work can take me.In two years, I want to move to New York and live there for a while. I have never been there, butit seems to be such a great place.In October, I will be in LA for one month and do some work with MAC. I will go with one of my make-up artists as her assistant to explore new ways to do my work, and take it to the next level.