It has to touch the person who looks at it and force the person to risk a second look. That’s it.
Q1: Please state you name and occupation, please. Where do you live?
A: My name is Björn Maletz, I was born in 1975 and I do sales and marketing in photography wholesale. Originally, I am a trained photographer. I live in Dortmund which is the biggest city in the Ruhr district. Most of my pictures have been taken here.
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: Yes, that’s cool and makes it a lot easier.
Q3: Any particular reason for taking that picture, Björn?
A: The night before taking this picture I had been talking to some friends about the fact that I really do not like winter and snow. But I had the day off and forced myself to leave the house; there have got to be good scenes even with this weather! This picture matched the general and particularly my mood – it was cold and unpleasant. Therefore I called it ‘La Tristesse’, sadness. I chose it for ‘The one photo’ because it is one of my favourites and I hit the release button just at the right moment. It also reflects life in Dortmund – sometimes grey and hard, but still aspiring and multi-cultural.
Q4: Is this your style of street photography then? Do you think you have a style? If so, what is it?
A: If I do have a style, it is pictures which are pensive and mostly from a distance – it is the way I am. But I prefer to vary my photography in order to keep my own style.
Q5. Tell me what is street photography? Have you got a definition? Let’s hear it!
A: For me, street photography is taking pictures in public spaces; it reflects society even though it does not necessarily have to show people. It can also show the environment we live in or details. In my opinion there are four types of street photography: 1. critical / documenting, 2. humorous, 3. artistic / graphic and 4. trivial photography. This last one includes most of the street photography and also my pictures.
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 consciously deal with street photography since 2009; before I did it rather unknowingly and then kind of got stuck with it. I cannot tell what initiated it. I did not and do not have a mentor. When I am on the go, I look in front, left, right and sometimes back, try to not miss anything and observe my environment carefully. It can get to a point where it is exhausting at times.
I started to look for topics for series and one of them was ‘We are Tremonia’. This one is street photography in Dortmund and was presented successfully at an exhibition in 2012. Another series is ‘Street Food’ which shows pictures of food that has been thrown away or just left somewhere in the city. Do you think I can change the world with that? Or should I rather walk the streets with a broom and trash bags?
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: Haha, I only recently managed to get out of the Leica cult. For street photography, I prefer small gear because I can walk faster then… a camera plus one lens; I like rangefinder cameras with 35 mm. It is very en vogue at the moment! I turn into a total hipster when I take out my Polaroid camera with films of Impossible Project.
In general, I would say ‘It’s about powerful pictures and not about expensive gear!’
For professional and commercial photography it is different. There you do need substantial 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: Yes and no. I do take non-street shots when a certain situation arises or when it is required. But that would not be parrots in the zoo; and I am way too slow for birds.
I also do wedding photography for friends and family.
Q9: Do you know what is the difference between photography and plain picture taking? If so, tell me what it is.
A: Photography is passion, plain picture taking is just fun.
Q10: Why do you think that all the best street photos are shot in black & white? How do you explain that?
A: Well, my picture here is black & white and would not have the same effect with colour. Black & white is the new colour! The first street photos were black & white and that is what we like to cling to. But it is not necessarily the only way, sometimes it is the colour that kicks!
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: Of course, any time of photography is serious, as long as it is done with enthusiasm, a certain love for details and also fun. Then something good will come out of it!
Q12: Are there any value in street photography you think, besides your own enjoyment?
A: To be honest, I have not really thought about this. Some people think that for example taking a picture of beggar and publishing it will wake up the world. But I do not believe this, it will not change anything. But street photography shows urban life without sugar-coating it, and therefore it brings out contemporary documents that can be interesting many years later.
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 vision for European street photography… the pessimist in me thinks it will die down because many people feel that it disturbs their privacy. The optimist thinks it will bloom because it opens up the world. The realist that I mostly am thinks it will just stay as it is. And I think we should think a bit more about the pictures we take and when we take them. I mean, we should think about whether or not some pictures are really necessary.
My own vision? I want to make a living from my pictures and not from selling cameras. The future has got to be great because I intend to live in it! And there is one new big project coming up for sure – street photography and coloured only.
Q14: One last question: What is the most important thing with a photograph? With any photograph?
A: It has to touch the person who looks at it and force the person to risk a second look. That’s it.
Q15: Is it true then that street photography was invented in Europe?
A: Photography itself was invented in Europe; and yes, that goes for street photography, too, if we see HCB as the founder of street photography.
Thank you very much, Björn Maletz. Much obliged. Will you see yourself out?
Thank you, for your commitment and support. And yes, I will find my way! 😉
© Knut Skjærven. All rights reserved.
First published June 7, 2013.