Sitting down to write my second blog post during these times feels strange to say the least, since I had initially planned to focus solely on my personal photographic journey. It seems off to follow this classic approach by explaining "what makes me tick" without mentioning the big fat elephant in the room: the global COVID-19 pandemic. Directly affecting us as humans and our society, it has challenged many creatives and their work negatively one way or another.
I'll wager, that many of you reading this had great things planned for 2020, all sketched out and ready to roll. Welcome to the club! :) Some of my ideas, projects, and shoots had to be put on hold or scrapped because they were simply not feasible during the ‘Rona. This virus caused us to take stock, to re-think many aspects of our lives and to find new ways to co-exist with it. Instead of giving it more screen time than anybody would care for, I want to shine a light on some positive changes this has had on me, as it affected my mindset as well as the way I see and photograph. If life gives you lemons…
The nostalgic beauty of archives
The images I am sharing in this post were all made with various mobile phones before the Corona Crisis. I can't remember taking these, but that's the beauty of going through old memories, especially when you have accumulated a sizeable pile of digital and analog images. During one particularly rainy day in the first lockdown with nothing better to do, I worked up my motivation and got to work on my archives. On the one hand, my archives consist of well sorted commissioned work, on the other hand of personal photos which were often neglected and/or forgotten. The latter chaos was in dire need of some love and attention.
Occasionally, I would revisit certain events or trips for old times' sake, but this time around I went all out with a checklist and Excel sheet and went to town on it, starting from the very beginning. This task of returning order to chaos ended up being the last thing that I thought I would find solace in. My motivation and drive took a big hit through the Corona measures, but looking at some of these long lost memories helped me relight that fire and also soothe a bad case of the travel blues.
Most of these images mean nothing but at the same time they mean everything. To me, this is the power of personal photographs. That instant they transport you back into a vivid memory, emotional state or life situation: Nostalgia, sometimes so overwhelming you can smell the favorite perfume of lovers past or the boiling tarmac of some random parking lot in the hot midday sun.
After living in my neighbourhood in Berlin for over 7 years, I became a bit bored with my surroundings. You just get used to something after a while and it isn't special anymore. Then came 2020 and once it was on a roll it became an unprecedented era. It was both something I didn't want to remember, but at the same time felt the need to document. A lapse of normality. Weird moments, happy moments, sad moments. I didn't want to look back on that year and have almost no personal content because of a lack of drive. After the first lockdown in spring, I had a camera on me pretty much all the time and went on photo walks more frequently. It felt natural and I didn't force myself to think of a Corona specific project. I just photographed what I saw and when I felt like it.
Everything is temporary
This has been somewhat of a personal mantra for a while and feels more relevant now than ever. The segment of time we are going through is temporary and we will overcome it. Just like that, photography at the heart is temporary. It is a visual documentation of a time and space of something that happened. The moment you photograph the present moment, it becomes history, a memory. Seeing and noticing your surroundings plays the key role in that process. What may seem interesting to you and catches your eye's attention may be something completely uninteresting and mundane to another passerby.
Achieving a basic understanding of this philosophy took me many years and I am still learning every day. I like to think of it as a lifelong creative process, because I believe mastery is never achieved in photography. We will not arrive at a point where we will say "I have done it all!". Time will affect you, your interests will change and so will your photographic approach. That is why the significance of something that we photograph today may not be evident to us at first, but may come back around later in life.
If there was one defining moment which led me down this path, I would choose my second trip to Tokyo in 2013. By that time, I had explored many popular spots in the city and had no "travel pressure", something especially us Germans seem to feel: Experience a maximum of things humanly possible in the limited amount of time you have. 1 star out of 5, not recommended. Instead of planning specific places to go to, I just picked a train station or neighbourhood and just wandered around. I ended up finding interesting and weird things that way that probably only a handful of people would photograph. It reminds me of "the journey is the reward" philosophy, as these memories mean more to me than the sights and sounds I had planned for.
Tokyo is a city of rapid change. When you return a year later, a new highway bridge is completed or a new 60-story skyscraper is standing in place of an old building. In my case, I discovered a place called Miyashita Park near Shibuya Crossing in 2013 (pictured above). This was a parking garage with a rooftop skate park, a soccer field, a climbing wall and boulder rocks. The roof was lower than the surrounding tall buildings which gave it a likeness to a valley encompassed by towering mountains. It was a sight that I have never seen before and revisited it on pretty much every subsequent trip. In 2017 it was gone, reduced to a barren sandy field for a new construction project for the 2020 Olympic Games. Cities will literally move mountains when preparing for these events. They need to shine on the global stage when the whole world is watching them.
I don't want to get too dramatic here, but you often don't realize what something means to you until it is gone. The park has since been rebuilt with a new rooftop park, but the building itself is now a shopping mall and it lost its original charm completely. That is why I am glad to have personal memories and photographs of that place in time.
Cherish every moment, no matter how insiginificant. Try to be connected to the place that you are in, be rooted in the present moment, be attentive and just let things come towards you and let happenstance be your guide. Think of it as a state of mind. Don't force it, follow your intuition and don't judge yourself or the potential worth of your photos. It will have a direct influence on the way you see and notice things in your surroundings. When you are done taking photos: Keep a solid archive. It is a place to revisit old memories, it can give you strength in testing times and it can inspire you and give you new ideas for projects.
Writing this felt natural to me and even if I din't talk a lot about myself, it gave some insight into my process and how I photograph today. I will conclude with more content in due time and I have an exciting feature and interview that I want to share. Stay tuned!
Take care and go make photos,
PS: I couldn't get into the Tokyo images more in the scope of this post. They mean a lot to me and will get their own space soon. In the meantime, here is a link to my Tokyo gallery: