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Isabelle Wenzel studied to be a photographer, but is also a trained acrobat. 

Usually, she sets her own body before the camera. Within the seconds that the self-timer allows her, she assumes an impossible position and continues to hold it until the camera has clicked. 

Isabelle grew up in Germany and studied in Amsterdam. She came back to Germany when she was pregnant with her first child. She’s been working as a photographer since 2010. 

How does one become a trained acrobat? 

I was always fascinated by acrobats and the circus and as a little child I was very physically active. My mother is a dancer at the theater pedagogy and one of her colleagues who worked at a circus school came to her when I was 5 and said “Wow your daughter is really athletic”. So she told her she’d like to train me for the circus. I was immediately enthusiastic about it and then I went there and I trained for a couple of years with a former Russian acrobat in Germany. 

How did you switch from acrobat to photographer?

Being an acrobat is my formal background and it was really my passion when I was a child. It was a coincidence that I went into photography and the artistic field. When I was around 20 I had an accident with my knee and while I was in the middle of operations I had to come up with something else to do in the meantime. I was a little bit interested in photography but I was not really believing that this might be a job I’d like to reach and I thought that maybe I should study design. So I went to a university and I showed them my portfolio but they advised me to do photography. I started to enjoy it and here I am.

You are the protagonist of your photos, how exactly do you do it? How much time does it take you to set your own body in front of the camera? 

Straight from the beginning I figured photography was very much about this level of trust and power between the photographer and the model. In the beginning, when I was photographing other people, I didn’t really feel good about it because I had the feeling of betraying the model for the photograph, setting my vision on someone else’s body. But there’s also the vision a person has on her\himself.

I found the moment of photographing to be a cruel moment. A moment when the photographer imposes a vision on someone else’s body. So I said “OK, I’ll just use myself in order not to betray anybody.”


I basically built up a set inside or outside, it depends of what I want to do. I place the tripod and I let the self timer roll. I press the button on the camera and go in front of it, at my stage, I do movements and then the camera clicks. I have 10 seconds or so to switch into all of these positions and then I check the outcome on the screen and react to this. I repeat it over and over again and I can do it for hours so It’s like training for me. I collect a lot of material. 

Sometimes I have the image I want straight away but I also really like the whole process of it. I like to get into a flow to get just an image. It’s very much about trial and error and also a very specific way of opening up my creativity because I work a lot with improvisation and reaction to my own moves. It’s a performance with me and the camera. Lately I also started to work with video. But I don’t do live performances. 

Why the body and not the face?

Lately I started to do self portraits but in the beginning I only purely used my body, which made me struggle with the idea of narcissism. I started wondering if I was a Narcissist for only photographing myself. But I was purley interested in a body, in showing a physical form and of course it’s a much easier process if you’re just working with yourself.

The central focus is the body as a physical form, rather than people themselves.

The face immediately gives away a character and a personality and I often think if you look at a face, you stop thinking. You say, “oh it’s a person of this age and that gender”, so you determine, you conclude the things you see. By using a body but not a face, I tried to formulate something that stands for everybody, a feeling everybody can relate with or be inspired by or have their own personal fantasies about. Later the face came back because I had a feeling I was showcasing so much of the female body and that generated some questions about how the female body is used in media and in the images and so on.

You say you sculpt an image by using your body. Has your art generated questions about disability?

I don’t think anybody has done this kind of correlation yet but it would be an interesting way to think about it and i’m really open to interpretations. I think at a certain point you just have to let the work go and be out for interpretation of the person who’s looking at your work. 

Are you afraid that with time your body won’t be able to assume all those impossible positions? How do you deal with that fear? 

I’m already not that young anymore so I recognize I have to constantly train in order to keep going. I hope I will be able to keep doing what I’m doing for as long as I can and when I won’t be able to physically do all those things any more. I think it can be very meaningful and funny if an old lady is assuming all those impossible positions. I just hope of course that my body can still move in a certain way. 

Do you make a living out of your work as a photographer?

Yes, I make a living purley out of my work. Lately I started to do a lot of fashion jobs which of course helped during the lockdown, because exhibitions were not really running that much and a couple of years ago my partner started to help me because I had a lot of work I couldn’t handle on my own. We still work together. 


You are a recognized artist, your work is showcased and awarded, how do you feel with that recognition? 

I think it’s a bit weird. For me this recognition feels like an image which is maybe out in the media world but it doesn’t really affect me as a person. I try to be as pure and honest as possible to my ideas and stay connected to life and why I’m doing what I’m doing. I know I’m getting a lot of followers on Insta but I have a problem imagining that there are really people behind those numbers, it would be different if I went somewhere and saw all these people live. You know, I’m not a rockstar, I don’t see all the crowd, so it doesn’t affect me. 

Do you think artists are too much dependent on curators and gallery owners? 

I, personally, wouldn’t like to have my own gallery because I would need to do work that I don’t like to do, like organizing events and stuff but of course i think curators and gallery owners have a powerful position, they have the platform.

It’s often very much up to luck that you have the possibility to be visible. 

What’s your take on the female gaze in art? 

I’m definitely interested in the female gaze. For me it has a lot to do with the empowerment of our own body. I think I once said that im a feminist but my work is not feministic but in the end, since im using a camera and im looking at myself, ofcourse my work is a femisitic act because there’s nobody setting his\her view on my body.

It’s just me looking at myself and this is very empowering and therefore I’m creating my female gaze.

On the other hand I would really like us to be a step further from where we are now and I think I would more define me as being non binary and I d like this whole topic of gender no to matter that much. 

What do you think about inspiration and imitation in art?

I personally am inspired by many artists, it’s hard to be more specific. I’m definitely really inspired by contemporary dance and movies a lot. But of course looking in general is a very important form of inspiration,not only going to a museum but also being open in the way you look at the world.

If you try to repeat something one by one, you copy someone, but if you’re inspired by something and then take it to your personal experience you always create something new. And, ofcourse, you should try to stay honest to your personal style and the tools you use. You can’t just copy strategies of someone else, it feels empty, you have to fill it up with your personality.

Do people copy your work? 

Sometimes. I think I ve seen things that look familiar to my work but they’re always a bit different, and it has to do with the body but I don’t mind. I work with dancers now and I’ve seen how different our bodies are. If I tell a dancer to do exactly the thing that I’m doing with my body, it looks different because the shape and energy of the body is always very unique. I don’t think if anyone really tried to copy me I would see it because the outcome of the body is always personal and thus different. 

Have you thought of using other means to make the same or other kind of art?

I was currently doing a couple of drawings and sketching to come up with movements to show the body. I think I’d like to imagine working with animation but that would of course mean that I need to get into a new technique and I think I’m interested in doing 3D animation in the future.

What’s your next project? 

Im working on a video right now which is going to be the first long video i’m planning to do. This video is sort of a long movie with different chapters in it but not a linear plot. It’s about me being the protagonist that interacts with a drone. The drone is my companion, lets say, but also filming me and taking images and reacting to my movements. It’s a bit about the idea of transhumanism. I’m trying to create the idea that I’m connected to the drown in a physical and mental kind of way. 

Dont forget to follow Isabelle Wenzel on her Instagram.

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