May 21, 2024

Interview with Depeche Mode photo book photographer Michaela Olexova: ‘We’ve all moved on, both professionally and personally’

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Back in the good old days, there was BONG, the official Depeche Mode fan club magazine which ran from 1988 until the closure of the club in 2002. Not that there was nothing before that as the magazine was previously distributed as a newsletter format publication known as the Depeche Mode Information Service, which ran from 1981 through early 1988. Anyhow, that all lays now in the past. Many friendships were built via the magazine, many relations as well and many readers were introduced to other bands such as Nitzer Ebb, Front 242, Pouppée Fabrikk, Cat Rapes Dog via the magazine’s penpal section. The last editor was Michaela Olexova (1994 – 2002) who also closed the doors of the magazine in 2002 with BONG 52, in beauty we must say and with a special attached CD holding 3 rare promo only remixes. Over the years we all also got to see her photographic skills as she became the in-house photographer for the magazine.

20 years later, Michaela revisited her photo archives and compiled the best pictures she took of the band during her reign in BONGland to publish them as “Dream”, a curated collection of Depeche Mode photographs from the period 1994 – 2002. You can order your copy right here:

We hailed Michaela who lives in London with her husband, daughter and cat.

Professionally you work as a website designer, photographer, digital creator, educator, and founder & creative director of Feel Good Websites these days. I see you deliver website templates, is that for WordPress only or for several different CMS types?

Michaela Olexova: My expertise is a brand and website design using the Squarespace platform which is a modern, clean and user friendly strategic tool to help you launch and grow your online business. I’m also about to introduce a new online course to help people create an authentic brand from the scratch that ignites their creativity, inspires them to dream big and believe that anything really is possible.

Let’s dive into the past. Being the former editor of the official Depeche Mode official fan club magazine Bong in 1994 – 2002, you have had some really direct access to the band. Is that still so now, I guess not, do you miss it?

Michaela Olexova: It’s been 20 years since the Bong magazine finished and we’ve all moved on, both professionally and personally. So although I’m still in touch with a few people I used to work with and may catch up with the Band members when they tour, we don’t have any more direct contact. It was a really exciting period in my life and I do miss it occasionally but it gave me so many wonderful memories which I wanted to bring back to life in this book.

Is the Depeche Mode era for you closed with this book now?

Michaela Olexova: I’m still a big fan of Depeche Mode and their solo projects so it can never really be closed… However, this book is one of my dreams come true, as the book title suggests, so I’m super happy and grateful that I can share this personal tribute with the world after all those years as a celebration of Depeche Mode, their music and their fans.

One thing I have realized when going through the book is that those past 20 years have flown away as if it all happened just yesterday. I guess it was also a trip down memory lane for you? How do you look back at that period?

Michaela Olexova: Yes, you’re absolutely right, it doesn’t feel like 20 years ago at all! The Bong magazine gave me a creative platform to explore my many passions and skills, whether it was design, photography, writing, music or production, and I was really lucky that I had the freedom to develop lots of my ideas and the Band trusted I was doing a good job. I guess this experience significantly influenced not only my life but also my career as it lead me to where I am today, running a creative design business and empowering women to dare to live their dreams.

How did you pick the pictures for this book and what order did you go for to present them in the book? I guess you ‘sit’ on a lot more material? What material did not make it and why?

Michaela Olexova: When I started organising my photo archive during the Covid lockdown, I realised I’ve got over 1,000 Depeche Mode photos. There are lots of photos from various tours, studio, behind the scenes and private photo sessions, so I decided to organise them in two chapters – Live and Life. I also had a good idea of the book format and knew I wanted to include about 70-80 photos in the final book so I made several shortlists. First, I went from 1,000 to about 300 photos based on my personal preferences, but also the quality of negatives, and then from 300 to the final 73 photos based on my intuition which then had to be scanned and digitally restored.

Your main focus is on Martin Gore and David Gahan, am I wrong these are also your favourite band members? By the way, where were those Martin Gore pictures taken, was/is that his own house’s garden?

Michaela Olexova: It’s funny you say that but it never really was my intention! The reason you see so many photos of Martin and Dave is simply because they’re both centre of the stage during the live shows and that’s all to it. There are also some great photos of Andy Fletcher on and off the stage – I especially like the ones from his visit to Prague – or Alan Wilder who left the Band soon after I started working with them. As for the photos of Martin Gore, they were taken at his country house in May 1995 when I was preparing my photo exhibition of portraits in Prague at the time and he kindly agreed to do a quick photo session to support my project.

I especially like that you also included non live pics in “Dream”, including studio sessions pictures made in a more relaxed atmosphere, or was that just the surface?

Michaela Olexova: The studio photos were taken over two days I spent with them at Rak Studios in London during the recording session of their album ‘Ultra’. I was there to do interviews with all the Band members for the Bong magazine and everyone was really relaxed and happy for me taking photos of the creative process. My favourite pictures are of Dave rehearsing for the song ‘The Love Thieves’, it was just him on the mic and me taking the photos inside the vocal studio which was a really special moment and I’m glad the relaxed atmosphere shows through these candid pictures.

I don’t know if you have a preferred era of the band visually? I personally was always quite attracted by the 1987 and 1989/1990 visual era of the band, I guess because that’s also when they released my preferred Depeche Mode albums. What about you and why?

Michaela Olexova: I guess the time around ‘Music For The Masses’ is really close to my heart as it’s when I discovered Depeche Mode and got attracted to their music. Growing up in the communist Czechoslovakia with hardly any access to the music or culture from the western part of the world, I was fascinated by their music, fashion, style and visuals. With Anton Corbijn’s moody black & white photos and videos, they managed to create a unique brand that was so different to anything or anyone else out there.

Doing promo for this book from the UK has been a postal nightmare, I see it happen with lots of products being shipped to the EU from outside the EU which don’t get delivered or in the best case get returned. Having your own company Feel Good Websites in the UK as well, do you see more of this Brexit ‘fun’ happening?

Michaela Olexova: Yes, I do but it’s not fun at all! To be honest, I was shocked how difficult it is to deliver a book from the UK to Europe. It’s still a mystery to me that the fans in USA, Brazil or Japan can receive their book within a few days while some of the fans in Europe have to wait for weeks or months because their delivery is stuck at the customs. Luckily, I run a digital business so I don’t have to deal with things like that on daily basis but there’s other post-Brexit issues which make things complicated for both, business owners and customers, and that’s a real shame.

author avatar
Bernard - Side-Line Staff Chief editor
Bernard Van Isacker is the Chief Editor of Side-Line Magazine. With a career spanning more than two decades, Van Isacker has established himself as a respected figure in the darkwave scene.

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