The following text is a revised excerpt from an interview that Christopher Jarvis conducted with Steff Gruber on the occasion of a conversation about film and photography. Steff Gruber transcribed this and extracted the passages directly related to his work as a photographer, shortening or supplementing them where necessary.
In 2020, some of your photographs will be exhibited for the first time in public. Why have you never shown anything of your photographic work before?
The question could also refer to my films, which were sometimes shown, but with a few exceptions only shown late in the evening on television and otherwise only to a very hand-picked audience. The reason for this is that I find the pictures (and films, by the way, too) to be intimate, private. I only took the pictures for myself. I never wanted to become famous. In this respect I am really modest. How could I measure myself against the great photographers? The fact that I’m now presenting the material has to do with the fact that I’m noticing that I’m getting older. Remembrance of Times Past, could be the title of the exhibition: I look back. At the beginning of the year I said to my assistant of many years› standing: «My God, such a long life, and I have accomplished nothing! She only laughed and referred to about 2000 pages, including scripts, short stories, essays, professional articles and poems. This material is also largely unpublished. When I told her that there were still a few thousand photos left, we decided together to start digitizing them.
During my secondary school years I worked as an unskilled worker at the Conzett & Huber printing works, where the renowned cultural magazine DU was printed. I saved for my first 35 mm camera. After about 400 hours of roller washing, it was 1968: The money was enough for a Nikon F1 with a 50mm lens. In 1970 I hitchhiked through Scandinavia to the North Cape, where my first report on the life of the Lapps was written. This brought me a job at the photo agency Keystone Press in Zurich, where I was allowed to portray personalities like Joan Baez, Klaus Kinski, Bruno Ganz, Milva and Patty Smith. But when I was commissioned to photograph a football match, I gave up the job; I knew I wanted to make art, not applied photography.
Photography and film should remain an aim in themselves in their own life, so never be used to make money…
Photography and above all films have saved my life countless times. This may sound a bit theatrical, but it comes pretty close to reality. The camera, used as a personal catalyst, certainly replaced the psychiatrist in some cases. I had to and still have to photograph the environment around me to understand it.