Hello Annika, tell our readers a little bit about yourself and how you got into photography?
Hi Nicole! Thank you for the opportunity for this interview! I am 28 years old and a self-taught photographer from Hannover, Germany. Also, I am currently doing my PhD in astrophysics in Würzburg for which I study the extreme regions around black holes in the center of galaxies.
As for photography, I was fascinated by photos for as long as I can remember. I got my first reflex camera for christmas when I was 15. It was an analog one and I remember throwing away many rolls of film while learning how to handle it. I was just not very successful getting the correct exposure. Nevertheless, I tried to learn as much about photography as possible by studying the work of famous photographers. Until 2011 I had never shown my photos to anyone else but my friends and family. When I went to Spain for a traineeship in 2011 I explored the country through my camera lens and started my photography blog.
You are a self-taught photographer and working currently on your PHD in astrophysics. Both seems to be different worlds. What does photography mean to you?
Yes, these disciplines do seem very contradictory. But if you think about the motivation for pursuing these passions they are not that different anymore. Both astrophysics and photography are ways to discover our universe and communicate with eachother. While science tackles the problem from an analytical and rather exterior point of view, photography is able to explore the emotional and interior side of our world.
In astrophysics, we deal with very fundamental questions like "where do we come from?" or "how did and will the universe evolve?". It is curiosity that drives us. Science gives us the wonderful opportunity to explain our observations of the world. I think there is a misconception about science: many people regard the natural laws of physics as some kind of hard truth. But in my opinion it is a tool to design a concept of our world. It is actually a very creative process. The concept not only describes the things that we see but also allows us to discover new phenomena. We then come up with experiments to test these concepts.
For me photography is very similar. I am curious to observe the world that I live in. Like many others I started doing street photography. But photography is much more than observation. For me it is also a tool to express. My background as physicist certainly shaped my perception of the surrounding. Like in my series "space warp", which puts reflections in cars in the context of Einstein's theory of General Relativity. Lately, I am using photography to study. In my first big project "The world of thoughts" I interviewed a number of people about their way of thinking and portraited them within these worlds. It was a wonderful project about learning how the minds of other people are set. Those projects are my own little experiments and telescopes.
So both my passion for astrophysics and photography are driven by the same engine: curiosity and the urge to communicate our observations to other people.
Your submitted amazing photos of your project „elements of capoeira“. How did you get the idea for this project?
Capoeira is brazilian martial arts which is a mash up of different cultures and people from Africa and Brazil. This mix of influences created a very unique style among martial arts. It is very artistic and may seem like dancing sometimes. I wanted to capture these movements. When I got the opportunity to work with stroboscopic lights the idea for this project was just around the corner.
What would you like to express with your images of the project?
First and for most I wanted to express the beauty of Capoeira movements. The project itself was a study. What kind of shapes are hidden in the movements of Capoeira? Most of the movements you see are attacks in the form of kicks or hooks. But because of the almost playful execution in Capoeira they appear as part of a dance. Music is in deed a very important part of the Capoeira culture. Because of this influence it is often described as a mixture between martial arts and dance: a battle dance. This symbiosis is something that I wanted to show.
The images of „elements of capoeira“ are very well composed. Can you tell us a little bit about the set up?
The set up itself was very simple. Besides the camera and the Capoerista there was just one source of light that was able to produce stroboscopic flashes. Typically, Capoeira is played by two participants. It is like a conversation between both Capoeiristas in which every movement is closely intertwined with one another. But I wanted to study the movements in the most basic form. Thus, the isolated set up of the Capoeirista in front of a black background.
What was the most challenging part of taking the shots?
Definitely the technical set up. It took us a long time to find the correct orientation and viewing angle of the camera with respect to the layer in which the movement took place. This was of course different for every single movement. And not every kind of movement was suitable. In order to avoid too much overlay the motion had to take place rather perpendicular to the camera. Furthermore, every movement has its own speed. So, we had to adjust the number of flashes per second. These ranged from five to thirty flashes per second. And you can imagine that these were quite challenging conditions for the Capoeiristas to perform. It was a wonderful group of Capoeristas who put a lot of effort and free time into the project as well. I am very thankful for that!
How would you describe your photography?
I am still in the process of learning and experimenting. Hence, it is hard for me to assign a certain style to my photos. Lately, my work has become quite conceptual which is certainly influenced by my work as a scientist. When working on big projects I spend much time on the planning and preparation of the image. However, in the moment of shooting everything is very intuitive. Usually the final photo has gone through an evolution from what I had planned. But other projects are about observations in the streets. The common aspect of my photography might be, that I try to isolate an everyday topic or item and then sometimes put it in a new context. Our perception of the world is heavily influenced by habit. Changing the context can change your experience.
Was there a photographer or type of photography that influenced your work or inspired you?
The very first and greatest inspiration was Henry Cartier-Bresson. He is the master and I support his theory of the decisive moment. Then there are many other professional and amateur-photographers which inspire me like Thomaz Farkas, Steve Curry, Vivian Maiers or Lauren Demaison to name a few. Another important photographer is James Balog. While Cartier-Bresson taught me to observe, James Balog and his project "Extreme Ice Survey" inspired me to use photography to raise awareness. It demonstrates that photography and art in general is not just a tool to produce beautiful things. But it can play an active role in shaping the world we live in by raising awareness of problems and solution. So philosophy, science and politics are all inspirations for my work.
Are there any plans for upcoming projects?
Besides finishing the PhD there are a number of projects I'd like to pursue in the future. Two I am very excited to start working on. One is more of a technical experiment to portrait people in a cubistic way. For the other project I'd like to investigate the different kinds of self-control. On top of that, I'd like to try some projects in documentary photography.
Thanks a lot for the interview and good luck with your PhD.
Thanks again for the opportunity!