ARTIST PROFILE + INTERVIEW: Matthias Koenigswieser

Artist Profile

Matthias Koenigswieser is an LA-based fine art photographer and filmmaker from Vienna, Austria.  He creates emotionally charged, intense imagery of people in dramatic settings on analog film, using only available light.  His work has an intimate scale, yet often feels mysterious and hard to interpret.  He captures his models in pensive, moody poses and environments, creating memorable, often unsettling works.  He recently exhibited his photographs at Ace Hotel Downtown LA with SAGE Projects.
Snow White.

Artist Interview

I On the Arts: How did you get started making art?  What made you choose photography as your medium?

Matthias Koenigswieser: I partially grew up in rural Austria, and a pivotal moment in my life came at the age of thirteen––feeling the urge to preserve moments of fun and adventure playing with my friends in the fields and forests. With a video camera, I felt I could capture these precious days and be able to relive them at any time. I also started to develop a great interest for technology. I became obsessed with studying video and audio equipment catalogues, and would go to local electronic stores only to challenge the sales people for their knowledge. Three years later, my mom made my dream a reality and I got my first camera. At 16, I was proud owner of a blue JVC VHS-C camcorder and from that moment on I was documenting every moment of my life. 

A lack of employment and finances after graduating film school led to a personal project involving still photography. I thought I could buy a roll of film which would set me back only $17 after processing and scanning, and sell prints at the weekly farmers market to pay the rent. Although this plan never worked, a seed was firmly planted and a love for photography started to develop and hasn’t faded since.

I shot every film stock available at the time to experiment and create a library of looks I hoped to later apply to my motion picture work. 

A big personal break through came with purchasing a Hasselblad medium format film camera. My good friend who had studied photography was just switching over to digital, and she was very generous in selling me the camera in mint condition at a great price.  Suddenly, my work became more focused. I loved the way light registered on the bigger negative, and capturing my subjects in greater detail inspired a new way of approaching my work. I loved framing in a square as opposed to wide format aspect ratios (as I was used to in motion pictures).

Working with this camera takes great care and is a meditative process in many ways.
I’ve added a Pentax 6x7 to the family among many other small format cameras throughout the years, but the Hasselblad has remained my favorite tool.

IOtA: What subject matter inspires you the most? What teachers or other artists?

MK: The three main ingredients and inspirations in my work are people, locations, and light. I thrive in working with limited resources, and enjoy the fragility of working exclusively with available light. Coming from a motion picture background working with large crews, it is refreshing to scale down the process to the bare minimum: subject, location, light, shutter.

Growing up in Vienna, Austria is culturally immersive. Somehow all the visits to the Art Historic Museum as a kid must have left me very inspired by classical painters. Van Dyck, Rubens, Caravaggio, Vermeer, and Brueghel are some of my favorites, to name a few. I never consciously paid homage, but their influence is hard to deny.

IOtA: Your works have a sort of melancholy, intimate feel to them.  does that come from your relationships with your subjects or from a more internal place? 

MK: I enjoy photographing subjects whose stories I’m aware of. Sometimes I pose them in a way that might reveal a side of their personality, and sometimes they mirror a part of myself. My images certainly come from a very internal place. My goal is to create an emotional experience for the audience but without trying to do overwhelmingly so. It’s in the subtleties. 

The current exhibition, Chiaroscuro, essentially showcases select images taken over the course of the last four years. Some of my personal favorites are from the very beginnings of when I was still very much unaware of my process. It is these shots that are some of the most internal ones. 

IOtA: How do you pose your models? Is it collaborative?

MK: It’s certainly a collaboration working with my models. However, I like to pose my models in a very specific and staged way. I have a very clear idea of what I’m looking for going into a shoot. 

IOtA: What's the story of the photograph of the man in the drained-out pool [Take Shelter]?

MK: The pool is in my grandfather’s backyard. The person in the pool in my uncle. He’s playing a caricature of himself in the photo. The image is metaphorical, but I’ll leave it up to the viewer to decipher the meaning.
Take Shelter.

IOtA: What kind of stories do you tell with your photographs?

MK: My imagery is primarily abstract and only hints at narrative. Essentially I’m telling a personal story, but the narrative changes with every viewer bringing their own life and experiences along.

IOtA: What do you hope your viewers take away from your work?

MK: I have personally always enjoyed art that aesthetically lures you in and evokes a feeling, making your brain cells spark a little. Thus, in this same way, it is my goal to create work that resonates in one way or another with the viewer––perhaps creating an emotional exchange between observer and image.


  1. Excellent candid interview with such great questions. An in-depth account of the artist's background and creative process!


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