So was he self aware of his work as art?
He knew that fancy people were interested in his artwork. He had been discovered a little when I went there, but not so much. I did buy prints that were just under his bed, but he also certainly was aware that he did great work, yes. And he lived in the same place where they were shot—the ceiling had graffiti on it. He still lived there and I went before he died. And I think he knew there was a revival. I don’t think he was an outsider artist, I think he knew about art and he knew what he was doing. He was documenting an obsession.
No, I think art. I don’t think anthropology. He was obsessed by this little group of people, he wanted to belong. The same way I felt when I taught in prison. It’s people that are nothing like you that accept you. And that is a good feeling for me, so I think it was a little bit like that. I doubt he was a tough guy, it didn’t seem like to me he ever would have been in a motorcycle gang. But I would never be in a motorcycle gang either. If I could beat up people and win, then maybe I would. But I would lose, so I don’t.
I would want to hang around with these people, and I mean I hung around in high school with girls that were like this. The bad girls that everyone would call the whores. They were my friends. I was their fan. They let me watch them put on make-up. I could watch them put on their make-up for days.
I couldn’t get a sense for how many were in this subculture.
I don’t think there was that many. I think there were 30 or something. So you’re thinking in the entire nation of Switzerland there were these 30 people that looked like that. So it was a fashion cult in a way, disguised as a gang.
Could anyone have photographed these kids and they’d be amazing photos?
No, because they had to let you, you had to gain their confidence, they had to trust you and then they’d perform for you. So it was the trust. And they saw the pictures and liked how they looked so they kept going.
(© The Estate of Karlheinz Weinberger, from Rebel Youth, Rizzoli New York, 2011)