Every time I go on tour with my camera I draw motivation from the reflection on the idea: My best photo will I take today !
Q1: Please state your name and occupation. Where do you live?
A: My name is Ralf J. Diemb. I’m living in Ettlingen, a town of 38,000 inhabitants, situated close to the French border on the Eastern shore of the river Rhein.
Before I retired in 2007 I worked as a teacher in a Secondary Modern School. In 1983 I joined a group of artists and we took over a former retirement home which had been given up by the owners. Within 2 years we got it up into good condition, built in apartments and studios and founded an “Association of Arts” which has organized more than 180 exhibitions of national and international artists so far.
Q2: Welcome to The One Photo Interview, by the way. This is the TOP Interview. Do you know what that means? It means that you will only have the opportunity to show one single photograph and you will refer to that for the rest of this interview, right? Would that be ok with you?
A: Sure, I won’t have any problem with it.
Q3: Any particular reason for taking that picture, Ralf?
A: The picture was taken in Nice, a favourite city of mine for street photography.
What challenged me was the two women’s body language as they were executing parallel gestures while intending to carry out the same action. I’m convinced that coincidence helped me to freeze the situation but coincidence is a street photographer’s buddy, I think.
Q4: Is this your style of street photography then? Do you think you have a style? If so, what is it?
A: I’m sure that everybody develops a personal style in taking photos. A friend of mine told me the other day that he had recognized a photo I had uploaded as one of mine before he had opened the thumbnail to see who had shot it. I think a photographer’s style will become apparent to the alert eye. I myself prefer to take to heart Edgar Degas’ words : I’m glad that I haven’t found my style yet otherwise I would live a boring life.
Q5. Tell me what is street photography? Have you got a definition? Let’s hear it!
A:. Taking notice of the daily life in the streets, of the interaction between people and of their behaviour reminds me of “street theatre” – waiting for the decisive moments and to catch them is simply thrilling. A short click can tell us a lot about life in an urban community. As the photographer determines the shutter release he can create a situation that shall prompt the observer to make up his own story.
“There is an eloquence in the look of people’s eyes and in their posture which is not less convincing than that which can be expressed by words” (Francois de La Rochefoucauld)
To share happiness, sorrow and grief, fear and sparkling moments and to freeze them – that’s the purpose of street photography.
Q6: Give me some basics. How long have you had an interest in street photography? Do you have any mentors that you have learned from?
A:. My first attempts in photography go back to 1980 when I bought a Nikon F3 and installed my own dark room. At that time I was influenced by Robert Häusser, the only German Hasselblad Award winner, who died on August 5, 2013 at the age of 89. Until 1991 my interests were always orientated toward B/W photography. Then due to of lack of time I had to interrupt my efforts in improving my knowledge of photography until I retired in 2007. Since then I’ve been focusing on street photography.
My interests in street photography then concentrated on the “Masters” like HCB, Gianni Berengo Gardin, Willy Ronis, Robert Doisneau, Izis and Ara Güler. As I have always been a fan of B/W movies I cannot deny that their special aesthetic also has an immense influence on my work.
Q7: Let’s talk about equipment. Some have an almost religious addiction to it. Long lenses, short lenses, rangefinders, non-rangefinders, compacts. Leicas, Canons, Nikons, analog or digital. What is your opinion of this? What is your preferred gear? Don’t be boring when you answer this, please.
A: Since 2007 I’ve been using a Nikon D300 with either a 35 mm / 1.8 lens or my favourite lens, a 24-70 mm / 2.8 for street photography. About 3 weeks ago I bought an Olympus OMD EM 5 which is much lighter and easier to handle when I walk the streets and it has got a very fast autofocus . The Leica Summilux Lens 25 mm / 1.4 really is a true companion. A prime lens saves time as you don’t have to zoom and you always get the same size of frame. The swivel display is extremely helpful for street photography. I prefer available light; I never use a flash.
But it’s a fact that there is no perfect camera because there is always a better one coming to the market. Go out and shoot, forget about the gear!
Q8: Are there any particular reasons why you call yourself a street photographer? Many people picture landscapes, seascapes, birds caved in. Do you take such pictures as well? What I mean to ask is, do you in fact do much parrot shooting in the zoo, or similar non-street themes? Do you?
A: As I mentioned I’m keen on watching people, their behaviour, their faces, their gestures and I love to catch moments that occur as parts of a play – the street is the stage and my photos then are stills of the scene. As a matter of fact street photography gives me the opportunity to tell stories. My intention is to take photos with respect for the people and with a sense of humour. That’s the main reason why I call myself a street photographer.
When I’m travelling abroad I naturally take landscape pictures, too – last year I was on a trekking tour in Nepal and in November I’ll take a roundtrip to Radjastan (India) – in those landscapes and areas you cannot but include those motives into your collection.
Besides, I’m highly interested in the charm and the aesthetic of the (apparent) worthless and things fallen into decay. In this way details become “painted pictures”, frequently abstract but with recognizable figurative elements.
Q9: Do you know what is the difference between photography and plain picture-taking? If so, tell me what it is.
A: The difference depends on the purpose the photos have been taken for.
They can either be snapshots thought to be memories and shot to be looked at once in a while with the family or with friends or they were taken with the demand for a higher standard. Pressing the shutter release might just be fun or it might comprise the intention to discover the uniqueness of the motive.
Q10: Why do you think that all the best street photos are shot in black & white? How do you explain that?
A: . B/W photos are reduced in their statements to the essential things and increase the effect.
Q11: Do you think that street photography is a serious type of photography? Can anything good come of it? How do you see this?
A: Street photography isn’t random – it’s decisive. Moments and situations which we usually pass by without noticing them suddenly get a high regard. Though often reality is falsified and the observer is fooled by the story the photo tells him he can comfort himself by creating his own story. For me street photography is a serious type of photography.
Q12: Are there any value in street photography you think, besides your own enjoyment?
A: Documenting urban life and showing people and their living conditions nowadays is a value that cannot be denied, I think. As a time signal contemporary street photography is a valuable contribution.
Q13: Your vision? What is your vision for European street photography? What is the vision for your own photography? I am not going to ask how you see the future, but tell me anyway.
A: For me it’s important to create interesting projects, not only to take thousands of pictures. Photography offers me the opportunity to get into contact with people very easily, worldwide. So I don’t want to make any difference between European or any other street photography in the world – SP is a global development which doesn’t know any borders.
Q14: One last question: What is the most important thing with a photograph? With any photograph?
A: It should appeal to the observer by wakening his feelings and his curiosity and it should stimulate the fantasy and force him/her to enter into a non-speaking dialogue with the contents of the picture.
Q15: Is it true then that street photography was invented in Europe?
A: “Going Candid” is an expression that was first used in Europe – so we may assume that street photography began its “triumphal march” on our continent.
Thank you very much, Ralf J. Diemb. Much obliged. Will you see yourself out?
© Knut Skjærven. All rights reserved.
First published Auguste 8, 2013.