Bamboo: Lighting up the Island
By Cat Weisweiller
If there were ever an island personality with a story or two to tell, it would be Bamboo. Widely known across the island, Bamboo is a visual artist who’s been enchanting party people with his light projections and distinctive visual effects for decades. ibiCASA caught up with him to have a chat about his extraordinary life.
Bamboo was born in Heidelberg, Germany, in 1949. At around 15, he set off on his first journey of discovery; hitchhiking to Denmark. “Make love not war” was the motif of the time, and something he depicted to great acclaim as a street painter. On his return, photography surreptitiously touched his life. Predominantly wanting to get access to a car racing track, he applied as a photographer to secure a press card – by his own admission sporting a laughably rudimentary camera. Despite being dwarfed by consummate pros brandishing around five hi-tech cameras apiece, it was his shots that were snapped up by all the major editorials. Little did he know then that this would be the precursor to 13 years photographing the Formula 1.
“I always knew I didn’t want to be trapped in an office, and I didn’t want to be beholden to an alarm clock. Photography, with no restrictions on place or time, promised me the freedom I craved.” In 1968, aged 18, Bamboo took himself off to New York. He funded his two month stay doing street art – which again proved to be a surprisingly lucrative venture. Meantime, his passion for probing, observational photography deepened.
Next came a five month trip across Africa and India. Certainly no mean feat at his tender age, particularly as this was at a time when world travel was rare, and travellers set out without imagery or knowledge of the destination that lay ahead. Despite this, he boldly ventured forth on a shoestring budget, and happily made friends sharing the progressive sounds of Deep Purple reverberating from his “avant-garde for the time” single tape machine. “I revelled in this sensory onslaught of new sights, sounds and experiences.”
His appetite for exploring people and places was only set to grow, leading him into two years of reportage. However, this was reportage of the rawest kind: baring the underbelly of criminality – from marriage swindlers and fraudsters to murderers; fundamentally, a look right into the depths of humanity. Although Bamboo was well travelled for a man of his age, and particularly for that era, this phase of his life was a stark eye-opener: “I was still quite naïve at the time, so this was a harsh reality check; almost as if the blank hard disk of my mind had been flooded with new, surreal, sensational and at times alarming information.” However, this brave delve into another world resulted in his pictures being widely featured across the leading investigative publications, including Geo, Stern, Spiegel, Paris Match, The Sun, Ele Ela, to name but a few.
In his mid-20s, Bamboo moved to Rio; his next ambitious quest being to find the ‘Great Train Robber’, Ronnie Biggs. Needless to say, a tenacious Bamboo found him. However, over time they formed such a firm friendship, that Bamboo stuck to a firmly held principle that he’d “never cross the line for a headline.” Their ludicrously hedonistic sessions together stayed safely lodged in Bamboo’s memory, never to see the light of the undeniably compelling press headlines they could have drawn. Instead, he concentrated his creative efforts on photographing Ronnie at home with the Sex Pistols, and holding exclusive rights to capture the stills of their film, The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle, shot in Rio.
In 1980, in his early 30s, Bamboo happened upon Ibiza by chance. After years of globetrotting, he knew the time had come to find a proper base. He’d never before heard of Formentera, but suddenly found he was drawn to this small, lesser known island in the Mediterranean. He landed in Ibiza, booked a ticket to Formentera, and charged an estate agent with finding him a house for long-term rental. Despite her best efforts, nothing suitable presented itself. Reconciled, he boarded a flight back to Palma, intending to return to Germany. However, his onward journey was interrupted by a sudden offer of a house in Ibiza. Instinct drove him to grab the next flight back here. The house in question was a 200-year-old finca, up in the hills outside Sant Joan. It was “love at first sight”.
This marked a huge turning point in Bamboo’s life. Funded by the sales of his photographs, which by then were being sold by agencies all over the world, Bamboo nestled into a simple existence in alignment with nature, spiritual experimentation, and reconnecting here with many people he’d previously met in Bali and India. He took up painting again: “We had no phones, no electricity, no distractions, it was like early retirement in a young body.” He also developed a fascination for Japanese Sumi-e brush painting; intensified by an 89-year-old Sumi-e master who had seen his work and invited him to be his personal student in Japan for four months.
Soon after, the burgeoning full moon party scene in Sant Joan put a kibosh on Bamboo’s early retirement plan. The parties, those of Ibiza legend, were free, out in nature, and gaining rapidly in popularity. As they grew, Bamboo increasingly struggled with their paltry décor, until he realised, “Hang on, I’m the one complaining, and yet I’m the one equipped to do something about it.” And so came about Bamboo’s trademark projections, totem poles and papier-mâché sculptures.
In the mid-90s, the police cottoned on and put a stop to the revelries. However, Bamboo’s reputation for masterfully supplying visuals for parties fervently lived on. In fact, it wasn’t long before he was approached to do projections for Germany’s globally renowned ‘Mayday’ rave. Bamboo’s trademark projections predominantly take the form of black and white images enriched into colourful creative compositions via graphic design, often incorporating esoteric imagery.
What followed in terms of Bamboo’s visual services to clubland – across the island, the Spanish mainland, the rest of Europe, transatlantically and even Asia – is too long to impart here. Suffice to say, amongst other places, Amnesia, Ku, Pacha, Privilege, El Divino, and a 10-year residency at the Time Warp techno rave, in Germany, saw Bamboo illuminating the party scene with his unique work. In addition to this was a 7-year stint in the promotional team at Namaste, and ongoing collaborations with DJs like Sven Väth and renowned nights like Manumission. All the while, Bamboo was also supplying the local fiestas of Sant Joan and Sant Josep, as well as the Flower Power parties in Formentera – a service he’s been religiously providing since 1999. Moreover, his photography and Sumi-e work have regularly been exhibited across the island at Bambuddha Grove, Nagai and the Ruta del Arte.
Around four or five years ago, Bamboo refined his zealous round of the club scene into predominantly supplying private parties and smaller venues like Atzaró – often designing full audio-visual experiences, by enlisting other expert friends in the field to join his opulent operation. Seven years ago, he also started up in earnest with his photography again, committing the island’s nightlife and his world travels to celluloid. Far from resting on his laurels now, Bamboo (together with a team of island artists) continues captivating exclusive private parties, weddings and local fiestas with his projections. He also remains passionate about doing his Sumi-e brush painting and, on top of that, is writing his much anticipated autobiography. This is not to mention a photography book he is busily compiling: Ibiza-Bangkok Route 69. •