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Learn From Experience: Paul Henschel

What are the rules of your photographic work?

I don’t over plan. I have a little concept in my head, but I don’t work conceptual. I’m always down for a cooperation with the ideas of the subject I photograph (even if I decline them sometimes). I like to see people photography as a cooperation.

I try to be in an atmosphere where I’m comfortable and can create a personal atmosphere. I don’t like being distracted by too big setups or assistants.

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

The key for me is to keep things fast and simple. This doesn’t mean I never use or like complex lightning settings, but I have these only if it’s really necessary for my vision. Know what you do, but be open to try out new things. This is my ideal approach from a technique point. This sometimes brings me to another level of happiness with my own work, sometimes you fail, but its good you tried. It is a constant trial and error process.

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

I remember people thinking I would be a spy or make speed control if I photographed on the streets of Berlin. I just always had the feel most people don’t like being photographed.

When I did my exchange semester in South India, I was shooting a film documentary about construction workers to finish my course. This changed my view: I was overwhelmed how happy and proud people can be being filmed or photographed,

Another big influence for me was starting working in film business. The nature with film is that you need a bigger team, bigger gear, bigger budgets to make a project happening. This makes photography on the other hand so simple and enjoyable: you need none of this.

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

I had barely difficult situations. A few times I just felt no connection between me and my subject I photographed. Even this can be a good situation. I figured out you can still have interesting results while feeling not that comfortable yourself. Of course, I don’t prefer this, but it can be an interesting process to go through.

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

I’m in Berlin and have constant contact with all this open-minded hedonistic people here, but to be honest, I don’t feel being a part of that lifestyle to the fullest. For me photographing is a way to stay in touch with my environment I would say.

I also ask you to share a bonus trick among your secret techniques.

I would say keep yourself and your subject happy is key. Either you have interesting natural light or you need to create it.

Tell us about your equipment, what kind of cameras do you shoot with?

I am using a Canon 5D mostly. I need the speed of a digital camera to keep in the flow. When I do a shoot, I usually do a lot of settings and want to progress to keep up with what I have in mind. I also use analog point and shoot cameras like the Olympus Mju occasionally. I can see the advantage of film, slowing down your workflow and I like the color aesthetic of film, but I’m not a big fan of the workflow with buying film, developing it, scanning it. Too time consuming for the number of shoots I am doing.

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

I guess at early as possible is good, but in my case, I started pretty late. My first camera I had when I was 21 and for a long time I was not feeling like a real photographer.

I have problems telling I’m a photographer as this term is used by plenty of people I was judging as not being “real” photographers or artists. People might think the same about me. The definition of being a photographer I’m questioning anyways.

What makes a photographer a photographer: If you have a photo camera? If you shoot analog? If you are photographing regularly? If you are noticed by others as photographer? If you can make your living by it as a profession?

What have been the consequences of COVID19 in your work?

As I usually shoot people: I’m less open to shoot, people are less open to shoot. The result is I shoot way less photos. I was thinking starting to photograph objects but I’m just not fascinated enough by them to do it.

Are there any books you would recommend?

  • Boogie: Belgrade Guide
  • Martin Parr: Small World
  • Helmut Newton: Private Property

What stimulates your creativity, what inspires you?

I get mostly inspired by personal memories: remembering my childhood, my grandparents, places I visited, specific conversations and moments and remembering their specific absurdity.

To a small certain amount observing or getting an understanding what others people work and life is look like can be inspiring too for me. Especially lifestyles I have not much to do with can be in a distant way appealing.

Paul Henschel