What are the rules of your photographic work?

I constantly make new rules for myself to limit my thinking and to not get lost in space. Then i start feeling constrained and I lose my inspiration, so I break the rules and free up. This circle repeats every other week.

Is there a particular combination of techniques and tools that you think makes the difference?

No. I usually have the picture in mind and then I think of what tools or techniques are needed to get it the way I visualized it in my head.

Tell us about an experience that definitely changed the way you work and made you grow.

I had a really hard time shooting pictures in Berlin the first years I lived here. Somehow I did not manage to click with the way the city looks and feels on a creative level. I loved living here but I did not find a way of shooting here that was satisfying. So I mostly shot when I was traveling . The experience that changed me, was going through a Berlin winter being desperate to shoot and ending up creating and building scenes  and moments myself. Moments or color combinations I did not find outside. This had a huge impact on my work as I stopped taking pictures and I started making pictures.

Was there ever a difficult situation? How did you react? Tell us.

Oh yes. Doing creative work is always difficult. Trying to find my voice and my style, saying no to many things i also liked, was one of the most difficult things i ever did. On a more granular level, I often encounter very banal problems when build things, like not finding the right screws, having to create rain, or simply not being able to build what I have in mind.

How do you relate to the environment and the subjects you portray?

I love simple things, everyday things. Bananas, flowers, cars, tape and tiles. I love to focus on those things and honor  them by thinking of a concept and taking my time to create a picture. Almost like building little shrines for the mundane. When it comes to people it is much harder to understand what draws me to certain people. In general, I could say I portray people I find interesting. But there is also an aesthetic that seems to connect all those people, i think i have to find what that connection is yet.

I also ask you to share a bonus trick among your secret techniques.
Mix it up! Shoot a fruit like you would shoot a portrait, and shoot a portrait like you would shoot a still life. Put water on fire or write a letter on someone’s arm.

Tell us about your equipment, what kind of cameras do you shoot with?
I shoot mostly on film, my favorite 35mm is a Voigtlander Bessa R2S, my favorite medium format camera is the Mamiya 6 I recently bought with that amazing 50mm lens. I have way too many cameras. I am addicted to reading reviews, falling in love with gear and collecting it. But in the end, I always come back to the realization  that I progress in my work, when I think about the pictures I want to take and I forget about the gear.

How do you relate to your customers? Do you choose them or do you let chance bring them to you?

I do not have that many customers to be honest, as I mostly work for myself. I earn my living as a designer and I am happy to keep it that way, as my photography until now is a pure and innocent way to express myself and to have fun. I do some commissions that are a lot of fun, but they find me, as I do not look for work actively.

Do you think there is a perfect age to start being a photographer?

No. Lately I discovered so many amazing young photographers, they are like not even 20 years old and do crazy stuff I could not dream of doing. On the other hand I think, having lived more before picking up a camera can also lead to strong work. But I would start young anyways, it’s easier to be brave and to suck at something when you are young.

What have been the consequences of COVID19 in your work?

Luckily, i learned to shoot with very simple things i have around me before COVID. Now i could just take my time and executing many ideas i wanted to do since a long time. I had some ideas of large pictures with many people in it, those will have to wait but other than that i was very lucky. Think of all those travel photographers!

Are there any books you would recommend?

I like Luigi Ghirri’s “The Map and The Territory”. And the big red Ren Hang one. Still have to buy that one thou.

What stimulates your creativity, what inspires you?
Colors. Details on the way to work. How my girlfriend dresses. Japanese suburbs. Things that are here for a long time. The ugliness of cars.

Valentin Cheli