Interview Wolfgang Burat

Michael Stipe photographed by Wolfgang Burat (1985)

Wolfgang Burat was one of the co-founders of legendary SPEX magazine and one its photographers since day one. He still lives in Cologne and works in his Südstadt based studio. Below you’ll find a translated version of the interview I made with him back in 2009 for the documentary SPEX project I created at ECAL in that year. Boy, this seems like a long time ago …

(All these amazing photos in the text are by Wolfgang and taken from his website.)

Wolfang, what’s the story behind the foundation of SPEX?
Initially it should be called fivefivefive/555. The name Spex is coming from spectacles/specs or x-ray-specs. The association was to have a certain view/perspective. Peter Bömmels then started the first initiative and we began to meet regularly in pubs, apparments, parcs, … an the circle grew.

How was the process designing a SPEX issue back in those days?
Analogical magazine-making meant that texts were put on sort of “flags” which were glued together according to the layout and the templates for ad’s. These collages were then reproduced photographically and transfered to the printing machines. (Note: Read more about the process in an interview with SPEX designer Christoph Pracht.)

How did a typical workday look like?
Editors, writers, photographers, designers, were simultaneously directors, advertising sales managers, printshop helpers, project managers etc. … so the day by day structures were pretty diverse. From the first calls in the morning to the conversations throughout the night …

Are you looking back happily on the 80s?
Happy sure!!! If you forget about the clothes and haircuts it was an amazing time …

In the 80s Cologne apparently became the mecca of the contemporary art, design and music scene. How was the energy in the city? How was it really?
We were the energy …

How was it like — also in regard to today — to publish your own magazine? And how did you manage it financially?
We were partly supported by a print shop and successful artists. But the main financing was self-exploitation. The downside was the fact that privately you couldn’t get anything done … lots of work, lots of fun …

How old have you been when SPEX was founded? And how did you came to do it? What did you do before?
I was 24 at that time. I met the others in the pub’s, clubs, the neighborhood … I was studying “photography engineering” and I was working as a delivery trucker.

What are your favourite musicians and LP’s from back in the days?
Puuhh … Wire, XTC, the first Cure record, the Crepuscule Label, DAF (Deutsch-Amerikanische-Freundschaft) etc. …
Actually most of the time I copied the records of others with tape recorder, but I mostly enjoyed going to live acts … depending on the season three to six times a week!

Thank you, Wolfgang!