Menno Aden is fascinated by the influence of architecture and design on spaces and the people who inhabit them. The 41-year-old artist has explored both the exteriors of residential developments and interiors of corporate buildings in his home city of Berlin, rearranging images of each into grids and panel mosaics, occasionally transposing them into video works.
But the inspiration for his more recent project, Room Portraits, came from a photographic food diary, in which he shot his meals by standing on a chair and aiming his camera downward. This view put more emphasis on the space than the food, and he wondered if he could capture an overhead view of an entire room.
In an early attempt at home, Aden took multiple images, moving a chair around a room, then trying to stitch them together in Adobe Photoshop. He quickly discovered this was no easy process. “The different angles and the lens distortion made it impossible to fit single images together,” he says. So he began pulling out and compositing mid-frame slices of each image, a process he says took “many days.” However arduous, the success of his first room birthed an obsession.
In choosing rooms, Aden is first drawn to colors and interior elements, then grids and symmetry that might make it work as a composite. A practice shoot, using a wide-angle lens on his tripod-mounted camera, helps him to visualize the whole; then he starts the more extensive shoot, often with help from an assistant. Using a monopod—or, in high-ceilinged spaces, a tripod with a boom arm—he moves the camera around the room following ceiling gridlines and uses a remote trigger to fire. He composites the final image, made from slices of about 150 photos, on his computer. The process can take from 6 to 30 days.
He has included people, but usually avoids it. “With people in the rooms, the question of who is living there would be answered,” Aden says. “Without people, the furniture starts to speak to what kind of person is inhabiting that space.”
Shooting from above, however, can make even the most obvious candidate for a Hoarders episode look neat and organized. “This happens because all the things on the floor such as the furniture flatten into two dimensions,” explained Aden. “I knew about it and I wanted this organized look over chaotic spaces because it makes the viewer feel elevated—sublime—but to be honest I didn’t know that an untidy room would look so organized, too.”
Aden admits he is often scouting rooms and other types of spaces constantly. “When I find a good one [space] I walk through a room, stare at the "oor, and note the furniture or the structure of a room. If a room interests me, I’m making plans where I’ll put the camera and check the height and material of the ceiling,” wrote Aden.
From there, the process begins with Aden taking wide-angle images to get an overview of the room. If he’s still interested in the aesthetic, he elevates his camera (with or without assistants) sometimes with a monopod or tripod, other times with a boom. The camera is often controlled remotely. He takes about 150 pictures from the elevated position and then begins his post-production processing and final editing.
Aden isn’t limited to private spaces. He has take images of stores, in elevators, and also in basements and parking garages, which are some of his most abstract work. About the garages, Aden explained: “One day I stumbled upon the basement garage of a supermarket where I was buying some food. I noticed the dirty and oily traces cars make that went over some lines in the parking lots. I took some test pictures and liked the lines—they remind me of calligraphy ... so I started to do a series that could easily rede!ne the term ‘oil-paintings.’ ”