And for me it is also important, that there is a certain beauty in the picture.
Q1: Please state your name and occupation, please. Where do you live?
A: My name is Robert Lemm, I am a self-employed consultant and trainer and do some photography projects besides that.
Q2: Welcome to The One Photo Interview, by the way. It 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:. I didn’t know about the TOP – always a hard decision – so here we go.
Q3: Any particular reason for taking that picture, Robert?
A: Yes, there are some reasons: it is a pretty new photo, taken during a street photography workshop in Berlin recently and is one of my first shots in this area. I love the focus on a subject in the foreground and a blurred out but still noticeable background in pictures.
Q4: Is this your style of street photography then? Do you think you have a style? If so, what is it?
A: I’m not sure about style and if I have developed one yet. I’m in the middle of doing so I would say. I like playing with focus and out-of-focus areas in a picture very much and this is one reflecting that. That delivers a certain atmosphere, it’s not too common in the street area, sometimes also not easy and quick to compose and a shot might be gone then.
Q5. Tell me what is street photography? Have you got a definition? Let’s hear it!
A:. Street photography to me means simply looking for a scene that can be captured for documentary purpose or to capture a mood or just both. And for me it is also important, that there is a certain beauty in the picture. It is not only about the message or the story, but also about the photo itself as a form of art.
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:. I have been watching the area quite a time since I’m back in photography in late 2006, but actively I started taking street shots just this year, so I am pretty new to this field. There is not really a mentor, but there are people I watch closely as I want to learn from them and their style.
One is for example Thorsten Overgaard. I attended a workshop early this year and learned a lot about basics I thought I would know already. But I actually did not know things to the extent to use this knowledge in a way to be reflected in my pictures plus I learned to operate my photographic tools better. And I learned to always wearing camera. This workshop was very valuable for me.
Then there is for example Knut Skærven (you J ) – I was attending a very special workshop with him recently – we come back to that later.
And of course many other photographers from today and past times who are a source of inspiration.
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: This is quite simple to answer for me: just Leica M. I traded in my Nikon DSLR plus some Carl Zeiss lenses to switch to the M9 in 2010. My current line-up for street is a Summicron 35 and a Noctilux 50, both with ND filters (3 resp. 2 stops) and in 99% I shoot wide open. I like to have full control, no autofocus, no flash, just available light. I was able to do so with my former gear as well but was limited to the small sensor. The M9 with the selected lenses feels like home to me know.
Q8: Are there any particular reason 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: I’m not an only-street-photographer, but an also-street-photographer. The last years I did some landscape and most of the time events and portraits in the music area. Mostly live acts but also studio, for web and CD productions. Then you will find a big portion of car shots – I will call them car portraits. I love particularly classic cars, in a showroom or on the street – I’m taking street photography very literally here.
Q9: Do you know what is the difference between photography and plain picture taking? If so, tell me what it is.
A: A photo as the result of photography is to me something the viewer can think of a story, not necessarily the story I had in my mind when I was shooting the photo, A photo I would like to show around, a special moment captured, but also well done. A picture and picture taking is just collecting moments on the memory card. And if you are lucky you get some photos later while you review them on the screen. Some pictures happen to be just documentary shots whereas some photos might have turned out so not by purpose but why it just happened that this picture has a little story and a quality I define to be a photo.
Q10: Why do you think that all the best street photos are shot in black & white? How do you explain that?
A: I love black and white, not just for street, but in general. Color can be very distracting. But sometimes color can be rocking as well. I sometimes do color key development which I also like to strengthen certain things. But to deliver the message and also reflect photography as art all the fine grey tones or a harsh contrast of black and white are perfect to me.
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: Yes, it is an absolutely a serious type of photography. The good thing is that there are a growing number of excellent photographs from that genre over the years and as more people are interested in street photography and joining in, the result will be more comprehensive with different facets. I don’t mean that people should just go and shoot endless numbers of pictures, but more or less thoughtful photos to let the world see how live in this particular area at that time is respective has been.
Q12: Are there any value in street photography you think, besides your own enjoyment?
A: There is definitely the value of getting a variety of real-life-pictures, some of them very aesthetic, some of them just with the documentation in focus. And think quality comes before quantity here as well, as with all things in life that have a certain value.
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: My own vision is to develop an own style of photography in general and to use street photography as a way to experiment on the one hand but also simply to go out with the camera and take photographs of the places I’m around. Always in a way not to annoy people. I think this is an important point also, as the number of people with cameras in the streets is constantly growing and more and more people are hiding or moving away when they recognize photographers.
Europe has a lot of places with great history to offer, there are plenty of possibilities to create photographs of today’s live in front of a historic background, e.g. a building or a landmark. This combination makes it very special to me. Sure, other parts of the world are interesting as well, but I am European, this is the place I live and here are the scenes I want to record with my photographs.
Q14: One last question: What is the most important thing with a photograph? With any photograph?
A: To search for light and capture the light in the best way it is in the moment of the photograph.
Q15: Is it true then that street photography was invented in Europe?
A: I actually did no extensive research but if I think of Henry Cartier Bresson as one respective the father of street photography this is probably true.
Thank you very much, Robert. Much obliged. Will you see yourself out?
© Knut Skjærven. All rights reserved.
First published July 10, 2013.