Marvin Dreblow — Uncanny Valley

Written by Ana Rodriguez. Published on 10 November 2022.
Based on a conversation with Marvin Dreblow in Bremen 2022.

“You know, working in the Wendland, I start my day taking a walk and looking around for interesting scenes.”, said Marvin Dreblow, as we passed a patch of young trees and bushes. I know him from the University of Arts Bremen where we study photography – he in the fine arts department, myself in the design department. We met up for a walk through the Bürgerpark to talk about his art. “Maybe some plants or trees would inspire me to create a certain image. There could be a curved tree that parted into two big branches for example, that would inspire me to reconnect those branches. Then later, if the weather was good, I would come back with my equipment, maybe saw off some parts during the process, put up a white background and take various photographs. A big part of the composition would then be created on the computer.”

Photos: Marvin Dreblow.

The German photo artist Marvin Dreblow grew up in the rural Wendland region as the son of a farmer. He is now living between Bremen and Wendland, using the family owned forest – among others – to work on his art. Marvins artistic practice is influenced by land art – he intervenes in the places and objects he photographs. The process is an important part in Marvin’s work – both the artistic process of manipulating and photographing the real scene as well as the one during digital post production. The fact that he as an artist was present in the scene and impacted it with his actions isn’t visible in the resulting composited photographs – but I subconsciously feel the human presence when contemplating the images. Marvin’s presence in nature had consequences and the photograph is a witness of the manipulations on the real scene.

One of the tools Marvin started his work on nature with, is isolating single objects such as plants or trees from their natural background – as seen in CONSTRUCTED NATURE. Pulling them out of their context creates an estrangement and questions their place in nature as well as putting them on a pedestal. In his more recent groups of work (TAME EVERYTHING and RIGHT OF DESTRUCTION), he began to rearrange objects on scene and in post production – creating impossible frankenstein sceneries.

There is an uncanniness in his images and the degree of immediacy achieved through the aestheticizing abstraction is striking. The presented nature scene can’t possibly be real. It appears as if it was dissected, and I begin to question what has been manipulated. What did the artist manipulate on scene, what was added or removed digitally? “There is a fine line, and if you cross it, you notice it immediately, then it shifts and looks too fake. I always try to stay very close to this line. So that the viewer gets more of a feeling that someone was actually there doing something. Then it gets exciting.” Marvin likes this moment of irritation. In his opinion, due to its proximity to human perception, photographic tools are convenient for a proposition of reality. Photography with its historically grown claim on the real, on the truth, is made for playing with reality. “It wouldn’t work without the photograph, but it wouldn’t work without what happens before it either. I think it’s more about what is left for guessing.” Marvin leaves gaps for the viewer to fill with their imagination.

My mind is wandering from the technicalities of the production of the image to wondering, what parts of the portrayed, supposedly real, nature are actually real nature. I begin to lose grasp on the concept of nature. The images make me question my expectations of nature and landscape. How natural can something be, that was profoundly influenced, contaminated, shaped by humankind? The manipulation of the supposedly natural elements in Mavins work makes it obvious that my idea of real nature and wilderness is a fairy-tale narrative I fall for constantly.

Marvin points out that in real life it’s not like the narration of the infamous Krombacher advertisement, a beer brand, that advertises with green untouched forests. Most German forests are commercial forests and are used for producing industrial wood. Only 3% are considered natural forest – and those aren’t necessarily untouched primeval forests. If any landscape in Europe can be considered untouched by humans… Marvin proceeds to tell me that even he is sometimes trapped in these expectations. During a trip to Harz, a mountainous region with extensive forests, he was disappointed to find not a luscious green pine tree forest but a dried out brown landscape. The idealization of the forest is planted deeply in our minds. “I actually thought it would be interesting for me to go to other places and photograph other things. But I don’t think it’s so much about the places. There could be trees that are a bit older and look more interesting, but the things I photograph are more like placeholders. I don’t think it’s really relevant what kind of nature I work on.”

Although Marvin doesn’t have the intention to be political in his work, his constructed images touch important environmental issues. “There’s a transfiguration of the natural space. After all, it’s a space that has been constructed. But who shapes those spaces now? We need to reconsider and reorganize the current way of dealing with natural spaces such as forests. There really needs to be a rupture and we need to think about how this is going to work from now on.”