The documentary work of German photographer Robert is as impressive as it is extensive. His brilliant photographs take us to remote locations all over the world and shows us the reality of the people living there. Thanks to Yvette Depaepe for conducting the interview. You will find more photos in the end.
Briefly tell us about yourself, your hobbies and other jobs.
I am Robert, just Robert. Besides my family and my profession as a manager, my passion is photography.
How has your history and life experiences affected your photography?
I have no historical experience which affects my photography, nor has photography experienced me in terms of changing my life. My life experience itself was the reason to pick up a camera and to record life around me. Life is so different and so challenging. Life itself is a process which continuously changes, influenced by so many things, including yourself. So … the camera plays only a subordinate role.
Which are your most important experiences that has influenced your art?
I am not doing art at all, therefore: there is no experience. But as a matter of fact, over the years I became better and better. I developed an eye for good scenes and a good sense of where to find them. I've learned that a story alone does not make a good picture, neither does skills in photoshop. Good control and basic technical knowledge does! If you able to keep control you can concentrate on your picture!
What first attracted you to photography?
Nothing special to be honest. First it was the camera which attracted me and later, after developing film, the results combined with the learning curve and the understanding of a different way to look at things. For me it was just a recorder.
Describe your overall photographic vision.
I am sorry, but I do not have a photographic vision like you have in mind. I like to do all types of photography from Macro to landscape. I favor the human being of course, especially portraiture, which keeps me close to the people.
Why are you so drawn by documentary photography?
It's real life with nothing else but the nature of the scene itself. It's the one second which makes the difference between a good shot and a bad shot. The challenge is that you only have one chance. Everything needs to be perfect in this very moment you press the shutter. It's the way I need to approach people or a scene. It's the discovery and challenge going to places nobody normally goes. It's the way of being there together with the people, just staying with them for a couple of hours, seeing how they live their life.
What is more important to you, the story behind an image or the technical perfection?
What does story and technical perfection mean? I cannot tell for sure, but what I understand is that people are different and will see things differently based on their background and life story. Pictures are interpreted differently by different people with different experiences. Technical? That is a good one! In the end, what does technical mean? Nowadays almost everybody can use a Dslr with little effort. The cameras are so technically advanced that most don't even know how they work, which makes the question in front of the audience obsolete. Of course I like technically perfect pictures and in the documentary field we face so many challenges, like un-educated so called photographers who are judging pictures. In this field it is a must to be accepted.
What many excellent photographers can see is that a lot of pictures which are called documentary are not truly documentary, but heavely manipulated. Therefore, the normal viewer does not understand what it means to click documentary in a remote village without electric power or water from a kitchen tap surrounded by a politically or naturally hostile environment. So the only chance a documentary photographer has is to master the technical challenge and to have a glamorous well lit picture in line with the main stream.
What generally is your relationship to your subject matter beyond being an observer?
I am not an observer at all. To be a good documentary photographer you have to be a part of the scene, so it will not be possible to remain an observer. Never force or provoke a picture but be a part of it, since your camera and yourself is your communication tool. People ask : “If the photographer is part of the scene, is such a scene still authentic?”. Yes it is and even more so. Look at the greatest documentary photographers, look how close they where to their subjects.
What is your most important advice to a beginner in documentary photography and how do you get started?
Go to a photo school and learn how to photograph. Learn all about technique, composition, colours, grey scale and all the mathematics. Learn about light. Practise long and hard on how to communicate and how to get along with people and strangers. Get rid of all modern gadgets like smart phones and all that other fancy stuff. Just yourself and a good camera is needed. In the end, find a good mentor who will help you grow.
Who are your favourite photographers and more importantly, how has your appreciation of their work affected how you approach your own photography?
I have no favourite photographer, so nobody has influenced me. I like old style photography on film like in the old days. I learn a lot from it. Getting affected by others photographic work is not my goal. Finding my own style is. And if I finally find it, I will let you know. :-)
Is there any specific photo from another photographer that has inspired you big deal?
All real photographs are inspirational. Often I feel jealousy because I did not take them myself. Looking around on photography sites, I admire a lot of great photographs but also notice a lot of photoshopped pictures which is not my thing at all. Nonetheless I respect the work.
Are there any specific directions that you would like to take your photography in the future or any specific goals that you wish to achieve?
Oh, becoming famous of course and be admired by millions with my pictures selling like hot cakes. But, to be honest, who would hang up a picture of a poor crying child in his living room? I would be very happy if my pictures achieved something on which one cannot put a price. For example making people conscious of the hard reality. If I can give people some happy moments along with some recognition and respect, then I would be very content. I have no specific goals I want to achieve with my photographic work. It's just me and will always remain me. My personal goal is to improve and I'm in the middle of my learning curve now. ;-)
Describe your favourite photograph taken by you and why it is special to you?
All my pictures are my favourite pictures. Each one has a story behind them that I would love to tell. In the end, the photograph is only a blink of an eye compared to the whole process. Such as, traveling in unknown areas, the challenge of not understanding the local language, the constant danger, the love and happiness I received, the children I met, the orphans I could help and to whom I could give something from my life, the climates I experienced and the conflicts I managed. The photographic journey presented in my 1X portfolio represents only a small part of it. Choose a photo that appeals to you and try to stand in my shoes and feel the same as I felt when I took it. That's impossible and that is why each picture is equally precious. For me, it is important to be a member of a very richly experienced photographic society in which I can honour on an equal footing other great photographers who know how to appreciate my experience.
Is there anything else you wish to add and what do you think about 1X as a home base for your work?
Oh come on!!!! Everybody knows what 1x is about and how it is appreciated.. Why do you think I've stayed with 1x for so long and why am I still doing what I do? There are many home bases for photography. 1X is one of the best.