Meet Photographer Sepp Dreissinger – the Coffeehouse Is His Studio

The Kaffeehaus is Sepp Dreissinger’s extended living room. In fact, he’s spent a significant portion of his life in coffeehouses. Not having owned a coffee machine for most of his life, most of his days begin at his local Kaffeehaus.

Dreissinger’s real passion for coffeehouses began at university in Salzburg, where, after getting tired of his Stammcafé (regular haunt) always being empty, he organized a reading event to fill it up, recruiting the most famous German-language authors at the time – André Heller, H.C. Artmann, Gert Jonke.

“I made it all happen myself, just for fun,” the 74-year-old native Vorarlberger said, his eyes lighting up at the memory. “I just happened to have a camera on me and took some photos. That’s where it all started.”

One thing led to another, and eventually he’d cultivated and documented such a popular scene that he created an award-winning book, Hauptdarsteller/Selbstdarsteller, which caught the attention of legendary photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, who sent him a letter of admiration.

Sepp Dreissinger has no children of his own, but he sees the creative community as his “family,” and the coffeehouse as the place where they gather.

“I’ve always wanted to bring people together, both in the coffeehouses and in my books,” he mused.

Dreissinger’s lifelong love affair with both coffeehouses and artists also led to his best-selling book comprised of photos and interviews with artists and proprietors, Im Kaffeehaus, a veritable Who’s Who of the Viennese artistic liberal intelligentsia from the past four decades: Thomas Bernhard, Elfriede Jelinek, Leopold Hawelka. The poignant, intimate black-and-white portraits taken at the respective Stammcafés are a testament of their affection for, and ease with, Dreissinger.

Nowadays, Dreissinger bemoans how times are changing. He’s a friend of neither smartphones nor laptops in coffeehouses (“If someone’s phone rings, I leave”), not to mention the full ban on smoking and the lack of readable newspapers. “I bring my own now,” he says.

Needless to say, the pandemic hasn’t helped. By eerie coincidence, two weeks before lockdown, on a whim, for the first time in his life, Sepp Dreissinger purchased a coffee machine.

Now, occasionally, he has his coffee at home.

Janima Nam
Janima Nam
Janima Nam is a freelance journalist, translator, and editor living in Vienna. She has a BFA in film from New York University and a Masters degree (MA) from the London Consortium in Interdisciplinary Studies.

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