Online (2009)

MW

What inspired you to start taking photographs, and what is the primary inspiration for you to keep working in this field?

OW

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.

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.

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’m never 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.

It isn’t very usual anymore, as it was when I first came to La Gomera, where I live and work today, that I take photos of the scenery of the Canary Islands. Such photos show the viewer the calm in which the partly dray, sun burnt scenery lies while at the same time reflecting the strength and variety of nature in its quite special colors.

I need a lot of time to take photos; this is one reason why I’ve been taking photos seriously for over a year. I primarily use analogue film, with different cameras, 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.

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.

MW

In your opinion and experience, how can emerging photographers evaluate themselves as ready to start promoting their works and seek broader exposure for their photographs? What is one vital action you would recommend photographers undertake to find their audience, be included in exhibitions, and gain professional representation?

OW

For me, in whose life photography plays out a rather big role, I pursue the audience for my work. However not being a professional photographer as such, it’s certainly not an easy undertaking to give young and ambitious photo artists good advice on their way to professionalism. Maybe suggestions can be gleaned if I speak about my photography and myself and how I pursue images and an audience, and how it is important for me.

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve counted myself as a so called “street photographer” since 2002. I like to drift, completely without rushing or a hectic pace. The photo is not in the foreground first of all, rather quite a lot of human interactions and meetings that originate from it. I am an “autodidact”. 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.

First of all, joy is very important for me in my pictures. At the same time I would like to speak through them, and have what I want to say with my pictures understood. I use my pictures instead of words, as a photographer I reveal my own quiet messages to others, particularly like-minded people who are open to sharing them. If my pictures didn’t interest anybody and no one liked them, they would have missed their purpose, for me they would be worthless no matter how high the photo-technical achievement presented. Therefore
I see little sense in keeping a lookout for motifs that have already been shown successfully by other photographers.

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.

However, to find inspiration in the pictures of other photographers, in exhibitions, in publications or the like, is very stimulating for my own photographic interests, it is especially important for me and conducive to good work. It allows me to view my own work anew. To quote Amy Stein in Two Way Lens:

“They should be extremely honest with themselves about where they are in their career and brutally honest with themselves about their photographs. Put in the time and don’t show the work until you have a lot more than just a couple of good photographs.”

Before you enter, do your homework and make sure the reviewers, judges or past winners are a good fit for your work.

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. As an “amateur photographer” 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 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.

MW

How did it come about that you achieved the status of successful, professional photographer? What steps were involved in reaching your level of success?

OW

As an “amateur photographer” and “autodidact”, photography is not my true profession. It is my big passion, almost and addiction which I pursue very seriously when my occupation as a doctor allows me time for it. Today I still make my pictures by the method I’ve described, and I will probably continue to do so in the future.

Photography, in my very personal style, has become the elixir of life for me. It gives me strength, it makes me happy and I like being able to share the joy that I experience through it with other people who are attracted to my pictures. If someone asks me if I want to show my pictures in exhibitions, then yes, I really like to do that as often as possible. When the moment comes that there are more rather than fewer exhibitions, I’ll have to say that I have become a professional photographer to a certain extent, as long as its about the refinement of my personal style as a “street photographer”. I especially like to show my pictures to people who view them as everyday stories. If they can understand my pictures, that level of “professionalism” is basically enough for me.