Yes! Not only street photography was invented Europe, but everything that street photography is based on was invented in Europe.
Q1: Please state your name and occupation, please. Where do you live?
A: My name is Martin U Waltz, I’m a photographer based in Berlin, Germany. Most of my work is shot in Berlin and on a more general level most of my work is on Berlin. Also I happen to be one of the founding members of Berlin1020, a Berlin based street photography collective.
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?
A: Sure, happy to. Yet I prefer to see my work in the context of a series rather than as an eclectic single shot.
Q3: Any particular reason for taking that picture, Martin?
A: There are several reasons. Ranging from colors, light and basic composition to the more complex topic of meaning, which in this case is a reflection on religion in the 21st century.
Q4: Is this your style of street photography then? Do you think you have a style? If so, can you describe it?
A Let’s say it is a typical shot for me. It is well composed, very clean, nicely lit and bold colors. Beyond the obvious pleasantness and the immediate accessibility there is a deeper layer of meaning that may or may not be grasped. All this might be considered as a description of my style. I feel my visual voice has become quite varied over time – meaning my images can look very different one from another. So an a purely visual level I’m not sure I have a style anymore.
Q5. Tell me what is street photography? Have you got a definition? Let’s hear it!
A:. Street Photography to me is a visual reflection on the human condition. Certain conditions apply like being shot candidly in a public place and the resulting image may not be overly processed. Of course anybody with a basic knowledge of quantum physics will doubt the existence of such a thing as candid photography. Yet this is a different discussion entirely.
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 started doing street photography in my teens – without any knowledge that were was a genre called street photography. Decades later I started to study street photography more seriously, looked at established work, read a lot and took a series of street photography workshops. I learnt from many photographers, painters, writers, filmmakers and poets. So I have a hard time pinpointing a particular mentor.
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: Not boring about gear, oh my that is a challenge. I feel gear and gear talk in street photography is overrated. Street photography is not very demanding in terms of gear, so anything goes from middle format film, DLSR, mirrorless to smartphone. Gear simply does not matter. I see a lot of crappy work shot with Leica gear worth 20k € and at the same time there is excellent work done with 500€ Rico GR. Right now I very much like the mirrorless Fuji X series. I feel most comfortable shooting with a 28mm or 35mm lens (full frame equivalent) with the occasional use of a 50mm or a 85mm.
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?
A: I see myself as a photographer who does a lot of street photography. I think the reflection on the human condition in urban space is a topic that matters to me. I really enjoy other genres of photography as well particularly portraits, urban landscape, architecture and the occasional seascape.
Q9: Do you know what is the difference between photography and plain picture taking? If so, tell me what it is.
A: Is there a difference? Not so much in the resulting images I feel. Intent and concept of the photographer are key in my opinion.
Q10: Why do you think that all the best street photographs are shot in black & white? How do you explain that?
A: I’m afraid I do not agree here. Modern street photography is shot mostly in color for at least the last 3 decades by now. So is pretty much everything in contemporary street photography that is considered to „the best“ measured by whatever standards. Very few top level players like Tatsuo Suzuki still shoot in black and white exclusively.
There is certainly a huge body of excellent street photography in black white. This is historic work, the past of street photography.
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 certainly has its merits as a documentary of day-to-day urban life. In a broader sense it is a visual reflection on the human condition. It does not get much more serious and relevant. Like all artistic endeavors I feel street photography is best considered as purpose-free.
Q12: Are there any value in street photography you think, besides your own enjoyment?
A: Given the vast amount of people who like to look at street photography there seems to be some value in it.
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.
A: I don’t think that there is such a thing like European street photography. There are Europeans doing street photography for sure. But there is no distinct European style in my opinion. The world of street photography is global.
For my own photography, I’m interested in incorporating various styles of photography in my work beyond standard street photography. I’m fascinated by the idea of mixed and yet consistent series. I have lost interest in single shots. The standard thrill seeking single shot approach of contemporary street photography is a bit too limited for my taste.
Q14: One last question: What is the most important thing with a photograph? With any photograph?
A: Impact. Emotional impact. That’s the litmus test.
Q15: Is it true then that street photography was invented in Europe?
A:. Street photography without the ground breaking works of Atget and Zille? Without the intellectual and artistic concept of the flaneur as defined by Baudelaire and Benjamin. Without the integration of the surreal into the documentary by HCB? Unthinkable! That was the long version to a very decisive: Yes! Not only street photography was invented Europe, but everything that street photography is based on was invented in Europe. Ranging from the art and culture to the tech. How would street photography would have developed without Leica for example?
Thank you very much, Martin. Much obliged. Will you see yourself out?
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