For Berlin-based photographer Philippe Gerlach, home is not a fixed place. Born in Grenoble, France, Gerlach spent his childhood moving from one remote location to another following his father’s itinerant career as a crystallographer. After studying photography in Linz, Austria, he relocated to London to work with British photographer Nick Waplington. It was here that a chance circumstance led Gerlach to reassess the meaning of “home” when he met his now-girlfriend Talin, the enigmatic center of his project You Are my Home.
Tell us about starting the project.
“You Are My Home started in 2009, when I met Talin in London. She’s from Linz, where I studied, and we’d already met there when we were younger. The story of how we met later is quite strange. I knew her mother from working at the film festival in Linz and she knew I’d moved to London. In 2009 I got a call from her asking if I could pick her daughter up from Heathrow.
“Talin was 20 by then and had basically fucked up a lot at school. In a last-ditch effort to fix the mess Talin had gotten herself into, her mother signed her up for a seminar in London—a get back on the straight and narrow kind of thing. But instead of going to the seminar, she stayed with me. We spent two days together in London before I had to fly to Paris for work. I told my boss Nick [Waplington] that I was too lovesick to keep working for him. His advice was to ask Talin to live with me in London. I did and she came to stay in the bedroom behind Nick’s studio. That, as they say, was that.”
What did you do after London?
“Talin wanted to study film at La Femis and I just wanted to be with her, so we moved to Paris. We lived there for one and a half years in a 15m2 apartment. There were no doors in the apartment, no privacy. The fact that we stayed together through that was a surprise to both of us.”
And you hadn’t been together for that long yet.
“That’s the craziest thing about it. We really only knew each other for two days, but even then it was so clear to us. Until then I had only had long-term relationships and Talin was more or less dating someone new every once in a while. We are complete opposites in so many ways, but it works.”
Does Talin ever get tired of you photographing her?
“Until now she hasn’t. I am constantly taking pictures of people around me, especially those I am close to. If someone has a problem with that it rarely happens that we become close friends.”
You Are My Home and Gosia, your previous project, are both intimate observations of a muse and girlfriend. What relationship comes first, muse or girlfriend?
“It happens simultaneously. When I start a project it overtakes me. My relationship with Gosia and the project started when I was at university. I was supposed to be working on a set of different projects for school, but at one point I just had to tell my professors that my project with Gosia was the only thing I cared about, that Gosia was the only thing that interested me.”
So the project becomes your life?
“It is the centerpiece. And it’s an amazing feeling when everything comes together perfectly. You have this great relationship and engrossing project. But if one part of this dynamic is off, it takes everything down with it. If we fight then I don’t feel like working on the project, and then everything just comes to a halt. It’s the worst, but also the best aspect of it because it can take you as high as it can take you low.”
Doesn’t that make it difficult to live with your work?
“Yeah, sometimes I think to myself that the project isn’t going very well and I catch myself wondering if it’s Talin’s fault. It’s a horrible thought—so unfair to put so much pressure on the person you love.”
Since relationship and project are so intertwined, how has the project evolved over the years with the relationship?
“Moving to Berlin has caused a huge shift. Prior to that Talin and I spent almost 18 hours a day together in Paris. We were both new to the city and barely had any friends. But when we moved to Berlin, Talin started classes at the Babelsberg Film School and we were forced to spend more time apart. With her away I had to reorient my work and myself. What I do requires time. It’s not like we can just get together for a few hours and stage something. That would be ridiculous.”
You have moved a lot in the last few years. What does “home” mean to you, what is its significance in the title of your project?
“At some point I realized that my concept of home was entirely based around people. Talin is my home and when she is not around for longer periods, I feel like I am homeless. She is my work and everything else. Without her I am left with nothing.”
Does that scare you?
“Yes, a lot.”