Social Life at Beach – Online (2014)
Interview with Klassy Goldberg
With summer in full swing, hitting the beach is in our To-Do list—where the sun, surf, sand, skies, wildlife, and people come together to inspire new photo opportunities. Photographer Oliver Weber is no stranger to beach living. Armed with his camera, he has taken to the shores of the Canary Islands, a place that attracts millions of tourists around the world and relies on tourism as a major part of its economy. There, he has captured the curious world of tourism—from the bizarre to hilarious to melancholic. It’s all documented in his series, Social Life at Beach which caught our eye recently. We sat down with this La Gomera-based street photographer to chat about this series and his body of work.
Q. Hi Oliver! Welcome to 500px. How and when did you discover photography?
A. Thank you, Klassy, for your warming welcome. I can’t remember anymore when my big passion with photography started. I do remember with great pleasure that in my childhood I absolutely wanted to become a detective! From the outset there was this urge to grasp the things that surrounded me and to look into them with my always curious eyes. Even today, that hasn’t changed! Everything that moved around me aroused my interest. Observing my environment was exciting and gave me, as a boy of seven, a gigantic sense of joy. In particular, small, everyday situations with animals and people did it to me. So it didn’t take long before I went out with my first camera, a Minolta Hi Matic, as a small detective on a photo tour. Unfortunately the pictures from these exciting exploratory exhibitions have been lost.
I think back with pleasure to this time, and even today the overwhelming joy and passion in taking photos seizes me over and over again. Holding onto my environment with its small everyday stories, above all, about the people who I meet.
Q. What’s in your camera bag? (or What equipment do you usually shoot with?)
A. I dont have any camera bag. 😉 Analogue I am shooting with a Konica Hexar on Kodak TRI-X 400 Iso film, digital with a Fuji X100.
Q. How do you describe your photography style?
A. Since 2002, I’ve pursued photography, if you want to put it this way, seriously. The so-called “street photography” has arisen through my creating different cycles. It comes to life through spontaneity and the feelings and recognitions within situations and moods. You never know what will happen next. The art is to use foresight to grasp the right moment and take the picture. Once the moment is over, it is lost for good.
Even today a good and successful photograph lies not in the superficial controlling of the photographic method, rather in an important aspect of the application of different recording devices which I steadily pursue further. I take photos because of the pictures, because of what I see, how it feels, the motifs which fascinate me within the people and street scenes, in nature and in scenery. I would like to hold on to all of this forever, to own the visual image that has fascinated me at the location, and take home with me to look at it again and again. And I’d like to share my joy in my pictures with other people; I like to fascinate them as viewers so they cannot forget my pictures.
Before I thought of attracting attention to my kind of photography, of having my first exhibition or my first book, I actually dealt more with myself and what I would like to achieve, instead of my pictures. Rather quickly I recognised that for me, serious photography is something that requires a lot of time and skill, an immense amount of sensitivity, major empathy, and endless perseverance in the darkroom too. I often ask myself how my own setting relates to the photography, what my personal values are in the photograph.
I am especially interested in people. With my pictures I would like to show how they really live. Therefore I go out to people with the intention of understanding them, of telling their personal stories sympathetically in my photos. I don’t take a photo of people because they could deliver good photo motifs or push character representations of individuals that are of interest to a particular exhibition.
What I take photos of, move me internally, it inspires me to speak through my pictures. I concentrate upon the motifs that interest me personally. Thus I can venture into the feelings, the life settings, and the core of the people and make my picture when the right moment comes along. By that practice I have developed my own ability to not orientate myself exclusively by the works of other photographers. This is for me a basic condition of being able to take photos successfully.
Q. Let’s talk about your series Social Life At The Beach. Where did you come up with the inspiration to shoot tourists while on holiday?
A. Not so far from Tenerife lies a small, contemplative, wild, little island called La Gomera. I live on this island with my wife, a couple of chickens, cats and a field on which we grow vegetables and fruit. We’ve already been here seven years. We both love this island very much. It is so different to the south part of Tenerife where the series got created. If you want to leave La Gomera though, you have to take a ferry and inevitably will be confronted by the contrast of the armada of hotel complexes in the south of Tenerife, before you can take your flight to wherever you want to go in the world. This is where the idea to document this unique tourist scene came from. I personally have never done an all-inclusive holiday so far. I started the series Social Life at Beach in 2012 (it is still evolving) on the Canary Islands and it documents the life of tourists who surge in from all around the world. They form their own society on the beaches and promenades, interact (actually only) with themselves and with the life of the island, but still stay connected with their own world and don’t get any actual and peculiar closeness with the nature of the volcano islands. My intention is to show the bizarre and sometimes melancholic hustle and bustle of tourism with all its cliches.
Q. What influenced your choice of location? (Why did you choose to shoot in Canary Island of Tenerife?)
A. Finally holidays come around, Finally sun, beach and the sea? Or maybe a long weekend in one of the world’s capitals? A private, isolated place would be worth a thought too. Who doesn’t relate to these “difficult decisions” in planning a holiday of only three weeks for the year. It should give us a valuable time of recreation, let us keep a proper distance from all the hectic elements of daily life. Everyone has his or her own favourites and preferences, me included. There are various options to consider and plan so as to spend a holiday as you want. One of these is what I document in this series, as objectively as possible. This is one way to spend a holiday!
Q. From the POV of a documentary photographer as you, can you share 1-3 tips on how to photograph strangers? Do you have any tricks or tactics on how to approach them, and what you do to capture them intimately?
A. My premise is the absolute respect for the people in compliance with a moral system. I also don’t “shoot” people with a tele lens from a far distance. I work with a 35mm lens instead which gives a certain closeness with the subjects. Doing this with a digital camera makes it easy to check the results immediately. If there is a photo worthy of possible publication, either in an exhibition, as a print or online, I show the subject the image and wait for his or her reaction and explain why I took the photo and for which project.
Generally the reactions are positive and if not, then I won’t use the image at all. To ask people on the street for permission before you take the photo would destroy the whole situation. Therefore lots of images are in my archive which I am not allowed to use because I don’t have permission from the subject or it is against my personal moral system to publish images which show the subject in an “unflattering” light.
As a general rule, I drift along on the streets; things don’t come to me at a hectic pace or in a rush. Photography is not actually at the forefront of my mind, rather it’s about having a lot of human interaction. The image through the viewfinder creates a sense of eagerness in me, as well as a sense of relaxation at the same time. All events condense around me in one moment. Then it’s a matter of capturing it in such a way that it becomes something special. My photos aim to reveal deep insights into human lives. The situations hit the essentials of what develops while watching people’s lives and tell unmistakable small stories. I try to be never to be an outsider to the story. Photography is, for me, a picture language that everyone all over the world can understand. This makes it valuable as well as inimitable and this is why I love it so much.
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Any imitation of another photographer’s style on an ongoing basis brings no satisfaction and it doesn’t prompt me to find my own style, to take my own individual kind of photos which are able to speak for me. I am lucky, because I dont have to earn my money with doing photography. So I have the opportunity to express myself freely because I seldom do “photography-to-order” or commissioned work, and therefore I want to be a photographer working from my own impulses and agenda.
I have found my own style, it develops constantly but viewers can still understand what I want to say and hopefully recognise me in my pictures each time. It inspires me to find the perfect expression of my personal style, and pushes my photographic sense forward. I question my activities and myself self critically and honestly, particularly in regard to discussing the production of photography with other photographers.
While refining my own style I am certainly not a photographer who is only in love with his photographic equipment and completely forgets to take the making of pictures seriously. If one concentrates his interests more on the photographic instruments than on the real aim of creating pictures which reflect his own personality, one will very quickly lose that real intention. You can make good pictures that speak to the viewer with any camera, it doesn’t matter which type or brand it is. I think while on the road to a good photo, every photographer should try to combine the following qualities in their work: a picture should attract attention; the intention of the photographer and the sense of the picture should be clearly recognisable; the photo should stimulate the senses – feelings can release feelings; and finally, it should reveal a graphic creation.
Eventually every photographer should find their own photographic style, their future path. Then it seems to me, you come into a good time with a steadily growing need to show others your own pictures, in exhibitions for example. Today there are endless opportunities to show, discuss and exchange ideas about the process of photography with a wide and interested audience. Also through this process, it’s certainly advisable to discover more and more new ways to refine and perfect your own photography and to inspire yourself. Its especially helpful to be inspired by the work of like-minded photographers with similarly high aspirations, and to see what they have to show.
Q. What was your most memorable experience while shooting this series?
A. “Social Life at Beach” is, unlike my other series , not laid out to linger on one motif for a long time (although I like to do it). There was surely one or more funny moments between me and my subjects, but nothing that lasted. In my series “Marrakech” though, which I shot on film, I allowed myself to take a lot of time, peace and quiet to approach the project. There is a portrait of a man and I spent almost the whole afternoon with this man in his modest home in Marrakech. He invited me to enter his place, we drank tea and had a conversation with “with only gestures and facial expressions” . At the end of my visit, I asked him if I could take a photo of him, in the end I got two. What I want to say is: there are projects or situations in photography which need time and more, and then there are others in which you have to be quick, like in the “Beach” series.
Q. Out of all the photos in this series, “Social Life At The Beach”, which one would you say are you most proud of?
A. I would not highlight a single photograph. I see the series as a whole in context.
Q. What are your thoughts on post-processing? Is it important to you in your body of work, and to what extent do you use post-processing/editing tools?
A. I need a lot of time to take photos; this is one reason why I’ve been taking photos seriously for over years. I primarily use analogue film, with my Konica Hexar, sometimes black and white and also sometimes colour. The process in analogue photography from the original image up to the finished print is clearly longer than the process of using digital photography. This time frame, using analogue photography, allows me a greater objectivity in evaluating my own pictures. For this I had to educate myself pretty hard – to transform the same work flow for my digital works. Photoshop I use for changing contrasts, sharpness and graduations. Not more.
Q. Any future or upcoming projects, collaborations, gallery exhibits in the works for you?
A. I am very happy about a second Edition of my book “Social Life at Beach” which will published September this year by Seltmann+Söhne Verlag, Hamburg, Germany. Also there will be run an exhibition of the “Beach” series at the same time at Galerie Lichtkreuzung in Munich, Germany –
In addition I am glad about a collaboration with two Photo Agencies: Redux Pictures, New York and Eyevine Photo Agency, London.
Klassy Goldberg, Editor