Social Life at Beach – Print (2014)
When I received an email from China asking if I would be interviewed for an eight-page feature in the prestigious Photo World Magazine I was, quite frankly, gobsmacked. It is incredible to me that people the other side of the world are following and enjoying my work on a regular basis. I know I have some readers … but China? Well, as you can imagine, I was thrilled.
After a number of email exchanges and an online interview process, the article went to print. I have just received a copy of the magazine and here are a few pictures of the article – taken by the editor of Photo World Magazine Xing Jiang -.
I love how the photographs of my newst series Social Life at Beach have been printed lovely and big over the full eight pages. How exciting to be featured so prominently in such a prestigious international magazine.
Interview Photo World Magazine: Social Life at Beach
Q. Is this project about your memory of a vacation? Or, if not, what is the purpose and intention in shooting the project?
A. No, 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. Do you often go to the Canary Islands? How did you get the idea behind each shooting scene?
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.
Q. What is your greatest feeling when shooting this project? And what is your role when you stand on the Canary Island of Tenerife and when you face the tourists?
A. The view through the viewfinder generates tension on one side and at the same time tension release on the other. All events around me are compressed more and more into a single little moment. Now it is up to me to capture it in such a way as to make something special out of it. In this case I am a quiet and sometimes grinning observer. Arrive at the airport, then a guided bus ride of up to one hour to the hotel complex. There, unpack the suitcases, put the swimwear on and head to the beach. In the evenings, dress-up for the buffet, then afterwards perhaps, a drink at the bar and then off to bed to be ready to follow the same procedure the next day. Day after day after day. The freedom of the all-inclusive holiday lies precisely in the lack of freedom that you have outside the limitations provided by what the hotel has chosen to include. The various little hassles of daily life and work are taken away and so there is a lot of time to be spent lavishly on having a very organized time with nothing to do. This is one way to spend a holiday!”
Q. Could you share with us the shooting process?
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.
Q. Do you feel there is any difference between being a tourist and being a photographer who records the tourists?
A. Since I have lived on the Canary Islands for several years, I don’t see myself as a tourist. That’s why I see the hustle and bustle on the beaches with far more objectivity.
Q. Did you meet any interesting people or have any interesting experiences during your shooting process? Could you share some of them with us?
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
Q. What is your opinion on the function and impact of Vacation on people’s lives?
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.
Q. Do you have any expectations as to the reaction of readers when they read your project?
A. No, I don’t have any expectations. There are many people who are put off by the series. One can only ask themselves: “Why”?
Q. How about your own vacations? Where do you usually go on your holidays and what kind of vacations do you like?
A. I haven’t had a proper holiday for two and a half years now, but personally I would prefer an “individual trip” with all its benefits, to drift, to stay longer at the place you are attracted to, to make excursions, getting to know and trying to understand the people and the country, to stop time when you feel like. A wonderful thought!
Q. In your opinion, what are the major characteristics of photography that attract so many photographers and readers? How do you evaluate a photo as good or not good?
A. That’s a difficult question. Most likely it is the transiency of a moment captured by a camera, which is so fascinating to us. Basically every photo taken therefore has the right to be regarded as a good photo. To present this quality to a larger audience though, it must “work (function)”. In the genre of street photography, this is the most difficult part. The small details decide whether a photograph is coherent or not.
Q. What is your usual work and life like?
A. Originally I come from Munich and now live and work as a doctor on one of the smallest Canary islands: La Gomera.
(More: Question No. 2)
Q. Have any particular photographers had an influence on you about the concepts and techniques of shooting?
A. I don’t actually have a role model or favourite photographer. But I could look at images from other photographers for hours, on the internet, in exhibitions or elsewhere. Looking beyond one’s own nose is what stimulates me and let me work on my own style.
Translation by Michael Werner and Bruce Long