Captain Flint – Print (2015)

Interview Photo World Magazine: Captain Flint

Q. When and how you meet Captain Flint and why you began to photograph him?

A. As a doctor and photographer I met Mr. “Flint” the first time as doctor in his house. He has had problems with his spine and wasn’t able to walk.

Q. How long did it take to finish the photo story?

A. Sundays

Q. Did you have specific theme when you began to take pictures about Captain Flint?

A. For the first time: not. The living conditions of “Flint” in my first meeting with him have impressed me. The story has arisen on La Gomera, a Canary Island in Spain, Europe. But his living room seems to come from Germany. A very strange situation. It was a Sunday in April. A strong, gusty wind on the Canary Island of La Gomera. I was sitting in a dark living room. Time seemed to stand still. Around me furnishings in the style of “Rustic German” dating from the 1970s. Hunting trophies, a skeleton, a treasure chest, swords and books. I was not alone. With me was Captain Flint. Little burn holes, caused by one of his about 120 pipes decorated his dressing gown. We stared together at the swell of the waves and listened to music of the 50s – old sailor songs. The windows were closed. Flint was not able to bear draughts, and so the room gradually filled with his pipe smoke. He offered me a lukewarm beer. “You know?” he said and began telling me about his past. This touched me very much.

Q. What were your most concerned about your hero’s stories? What attracted you to continue?

A. The story behind his life. He continued to tell about his career: His training in the German Democratic Republic as a preparator of corpses for medical students and his escape to the West in 1958, his unsuccessful first jobs until he finally found employment with the distinguished medical faculty of Tübingen University. He told me of his love for one of his dogs who died a year ago. “He was my best friend” he murmurs with tears in his eyes. “All our lives we have had dogs. Always Weimaraner. They were our constant companions”. Flint loved hunting by stalking, thinks however, that he has now finished with all that. On the one hand he feelt too old for it with his nearly 78 years of age and on the other hand he thought the animals also have a right to life. During his weekly walks along the promenade with his wife and their little dog he was always dressed the same: a colonial style khaki drill outfit that reminds me of films about Africa and a practical transportable stool. Accessories include a matching hat and sunglasses. Somehow, his appearance just doesn’t fit La Gomera. I ask myself, how come Captain Flint has such a strong symbolic value for him? So strong that the skeleton in the neighboring room is decorated down the last detail.

Q. How you got the idea of each making scene?

A. There was nothing planned. I have visited him and waited what is happening..

Q. What impressed you most about Captain flint’s life?

A. His individuality. He lives not as the public is accustomed to live.

Q. Could you share with us some interesting or unforgettable experiences during the shooting process?

A. All 4 sundays I met him. Every single day have had its own very special little moment. It is really difficult for me to catch one out.

Q. Do you have any expectations as to the reaction of readers when they read your photo story?

A. Of course, I hope that the story triggers similar feelings to the viewers, like it happened to me. Sometimes there was a sensation as I was living his life. I was more or less deep inside of “Flints” story.

Q. In your opinion, what should photographers do if they would like to make great photo story about people? How to build the structure for photo stories?

A. As a doctor I believe in the importance of facial language. Faces are vivid maps of human experience which I have to read to understand somebody else to some extent. In my pictures I like to explore those rare, comical or graphically interesting “coincidences” that daily life offers when people interact with each other and their environment, while always trying to keep a balance between form and content.

A photo story isn’t simply for photojournalists however. Every human being is drawn to stories. Whether you are an amateur or a professional, the photo essay is a brilliant way to bring your images to life and touch your family, friends, and coworkers.

How to do?

1. Find a topic: Photo essays are most dynamic when you as the photographer care about the subject. Whether you choose to document the first month of a newborn in the family, the process of a school drama production, or even a birthday party, make your topic something in which you find interest.

2. Do your research: If you document a newborn’s first month, spend time with the family. Discover who the parents are, what culture they are from, whether they are upper or lower class. If you cover the process of a school’s drama production, talk with the teachers, actors and stage hands; investigate the general interest of the student body; find out how they are financing the production and keeping costs down. If you photograph a birthday party, check out the theme, the decorations they plan on using, what the birthday kid hopes to get for his or her gifts. All of these factors will help you in planning out the type of shots you set up for your story.

3. Find the “real story”: After your research, you can determine the angle you want to take your story. Is the newborn the first son of a wealthy family on whom the family legacy will continue? Or does the baby have a rare heart condition? Is the drama production an effort to bring the student body together? Or is it featuring a child star? Is the birthday party for an adolescent turning 13, or the last birthday of a dying cancer patient? Though each story idea is the same, the main factors of each story create an incredibly unique story.

4. Every dynamic story is built on a set of core values and emotions that touch the heart of its audience. Anger. Joy. Fear. Hurt. Excitement. The best way you can connect your photo essay with its audience is to draw out the emotions within the story and utilize them in your shots. This does not mean that you manipulate your audience’s emotions. You merely use emotion as a connecting point.

5. Plan your shots: Whether you decide to sit down and extensively visualize each shot of the story, or simply walk through the venue in your mind, you will want to think about the type of shots that will work best to tell your story. I recommend beginners first start out by creating a “shot list” for the story. Each shot will work like a sentence in a one-paragraph story. Typically, you can start with 10 shots. Each shot must emphasize a different concept or emotion that can be woven together with the other images for the final draft of the story.
Remember that story telling takes practice. You don’t have to be an incredible writer to pull off a powerful photo essay. All you need is a bit of photographic technique, some creativity, and a lot of heart. And once you begin taking pictures in stories, your images will never be the same.

Q. After finishing the story, when you read the photo story again yourself, do you satisfied with your work? And what is your most satisfying part?

A. This takes time to answer by myself. Sometimes months. But if I got a feedback – like a feedback of your readers – that makes me happy. That makes my day!

Xing Jiang, Editor
Photo World Magazine