I want to feel emotions watching people in their surroundings or by a landscape or simply by the light and shadows, which are the most important ingredients in a good picture.
Q1: State your name and occupation, please. Where do you live?
My name is Frieder Zimmerman. I’m living in Cologne, one of the biggest and oldest cities in Germany, for more than 30 years. As scientist and an engineer of communication networks I’ve been working for a big worldwide operating company. But that was another life…
Q2: Welcome to On the Edge. You will have to pick one of your best street photographs and you are asked to refer to that photo only during the interview. Would that be ok with you?
Thank you for inviting me to this interview. I didn’t imagine that selecting only one photograph could be so difficult. So I answered first the following questions before I asked myself which picture could underline my thoughts. And helas – the photo that I’ve chosen is not a street picture as people normally would expect. There are no people any more in the Venice fish market.
Q3: Any particular reason for taking that picture, Frieder?
In Question 5 you ask me for a definition of street photography and I will give you the answer that most people would give. But for me it’s a bit more. I’m looking for emotions and stories in most of my photographs and sometimes I only find them when all people have gone. The story tells you that the work is done. All fishes are sold. Do you still smell the stench? Only some newspaper to wrap the fish are left. Arrividerci – a domani!
Q4: Is this your style of street photography then? Do you think you have a style? If so, can you describe it?
I don’t know if I have a style. I am in doubt about it because photography accompanies me since student days and I hope that my style of seeing the world changed constantly since then and and I add it should continue to change. Without any change the world stands still and all kinds of art as well.
Q5. Tell me what is street photography? Have you got a definition? Let’s hear it!
Normally people say street photography ist taking pictures in a public space with people as an integral part of the content. For me it’s not enough. I want to see emotions or a street scene which could be part of a story that will continue somehow. I am also addicted to photos without people. Where only their traces are to be seen, their cars, their trash, their life. For me that’s street photography as well.
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?
Don’t know exactly because I have already been photographing on streets when I did not even know the term street photography. As to a mentor: I don’t want to name all these great photographers like Doisneau, HCB, Evans or so many others. I love their pictures but they didn’t influence me. As an administrator of some street photography sites on the internet I see a huge amount of trivial photos but sometimes – BANG – there is the one and only for this day, this week, this month. Such a picture could influence my photography world. Lara Kantardjian is such a person providing photos like that. She taught me to stand still and wait until the “decisive moment” comes to me.
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.
Ha, as an engineer I admit that I am attracted by all that best quality equipment. And I want to influence everything manually, focus, shutter speed, aperture, depth of field and all that. I don’t have any zoom and I hate picture taking with smart phones. A lot of cameras found their way in my cupboard but I am regularly using my very old workhorse Hasselblad and a Contax G1 for film and a newer Leica M for digital pics. But I confess that my photographs are not better than that what others do with their compact cameras. People shoot pictures not the camera.
Q8: Are there any particular reason why you call yourself a street photographer? Many people capture landscapes, seascapes, birds caved in. Do you take such pictures as well?
I don’t call me a street photographer. I do not want to be in any drawer. I quote Saul Leiter, who once wrote “I don’t have a philosophy, I have a camera. I look into the camera and take pictures. My photographs are the tiniest part of what I see that could be photographed. They are fragments of endless possibilities.”
Q9: Do you know what is the difference between photography and plain picture taking? If so, tell me what it is.
I can only answer this question from a personal point of view. Event photography for example is nothing for me. I never, really never, bring a camera to an event in order to take pictures of people. I like to drink with them, to laugh with them to talk to them but I don’t take pictures. Real photography for me is to be touched by a situation. I want to feel emotions watching people in their surrounding or by a landscape or simply by the light and shadows, which is the most important ingredients in a good picture.
Q10: Why do you think that all the best street photographs are shot in black & white? How do you explain that?
Are they? Think of the above mentioned Saul Leiter and his book “Early colours” For me he is one of the best street photographers working on colour films. What about Martin Parr? Or Paul Russel and so many others? Although most of my own pictures are in b&w as well, let me be a bit provocative: If all the old and famous heroes of street photography already had the technical options to take their pictures in a really good quality on colour film, what would they have done? I sometimes get the feeling that most street photographers of nowadays don’t use colour because they want to imitate the HCB’s of the world. May be that some street topics are more impressive in b&w but on the other hand a picture of a bike rider passing by on a street doesn’t become better by avoiding the colour. My opinion is let’s think about more colour in street photography! It could become a real challenge.
Q11: Do you think that street photography is a serious type of photography? Can anything good come of it? How do you see this?
Yes why not? If street photography will be understood as documentary of daily life it is a serious type of photography. But unfortunately it’s becoming more and more difficult in Germany to shoot on streets and to show the result in exhibitions or on digital platforms. And sometimes I have to agree with the critics. Trillions of pics which are not worth to be shown find their ways on online platforms. Do we really want this?
Q12: Are there any value in street photography you think, besides your own enjoyment?
I only can answer this question for me. I’m not a professional. And fortunately I don’t have to earn my money with photography. I’m glad to be part of a group of some photographer friends i.e. the Team “NOVEM” (see on Facebook) who are addicted to analogue photography. I like to meet people who are invited by the interviewer Knut Skjærven to a street meet in Berlin, Copenhagen or elsewhere. I love photography in general and street photography in particular.
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 to see into the future, but tell me anyway.
It would be great if some of the best could continue the excellent European tradition of street photography by developing a new wave and with a new perspective on modern life in Europe. We have a lot of problems to solve in Europe, politically, socially and in environmental conditions. Street photography could help to become aware of all these challenges.
Q14: One last question: What is the most important thing with a photograph? With any photograph?
For me to touch people.
Q15: Is it true then that street photography was invented in Europe?
Oh the world is big and round. Don’t know what happened in Asia, America had famous photographers. For me it starts with the setting-up of MAGNUM in Europe.
Thank you very much, Frieder. Much obliged. Will you see yourself out?
I thank YOU Knut. Hope to see you somewhere somehow! :-).
(See more of Frieder’s thoughtful photography by visiting his site (f11 photography.net.)
© Knut Skjærven. All rights reserved.
November 9, 2017.