“an apparently meaningful coincidence in time of two or more similar or identical events that are casually unrelated” – (dictionary.com)
When I came across Siegfried’s work in Flickr, the first thought that came to my mind was the word “synchronicity”. It’s a word that Swiss psychologist Carl Jung coined to describe what he called “temporally coincident occurrences of acausal events.” (Wikipedia) I love to page through his images to vicariously experience these serendipitous moments.
Capturing synchronicity is really difficult. It requires an acute awareness of the environment. But to capture it more than once comes only with a lot of experience. After 10 years of shooting, Siegfried has trained himself such that it’s wired into his psyche. Combine this and his art influences and you see what Siegfried sees. He even has a term for the resulting images: “expected coincidence”.
So much of street photography is about the individual (sometimes forgotten) experience within a community or environment. Perhaps, even the shared moment in a party or a gathering. But many of Siegfried’s photographs celebrate our connection to someone else or thing, like a grain of sand touching another grain of sand on a beach. Which in turn exists on our planet floating in a vast universe. He often reminds us of being a part of something greater in our most mundane moments.
I know Siegfried doesn’t think about these things when he’s shooting and he chuckles when people read deep into his photos. He’s even skeptical. Maybe it’s because of his upbringing in the small country town of Meldorf in northern Germany. But he presents a piece of art. And good art provokes and asks questions.
Here’s my interview with SIEGFRIED HANSEN.
Nick Name: Siggi
Currently living in: Hamburg, Germany
Motto: I am always curious, what will happen around the next corner.
Profession/Job: I have a regular job but it has nothing to do with my photographic life.
Favorite Street Camera & Lens: Digital: At the moment a Fuji X100; Film: Leica CL with Leitz Wetzlar Summicron 1:2/40mm Lens
Favorite Back up camera: I don’t have one but if my main camera breaks, I’ll buy a new one.
Favorite photography gadget: None
Favorite street food: When I stop for a break, I like to drink a cappuccino.
3 Favorite Master Photographers: Ernst Haas, Saul Leiter and Ray K. Metzker
3 Favorite Contemporary Photographers: Alex Webb, Jesse Marlow, Trent Parke
Which 3 photographers’ prints do you own? I don’t own any prints. I prefer books.
Color or Black and White? Both
Shoot Film or Digital? I shoot mainly digital because I can process immediately. I do shoot film occasionally but there is too much effort to get the film processed. I have 40 film rolls, which I shot with my Leica CL and I have yet to develop them. I understand why Garry Winogrand had thousands of rolls of film unprocessed. The process is more interesting.
Is there a special time of the day you like to shoot or is any time good? If you live in Hamburg, any time and place is fine. I’ll go outside in any weather. But, I love snow because verything looks new especially when sunlight breaks through the clouds. Red looks like deep red in snow. If I had to choose, I mostly like the sun because of the dark shadows. Light is like a switch. It adds another layer like shadows.
Why did you choose Street Photography and not another form of photography or stamp collecting? It was a lucky circumstance that I found my way to “street photography”. About 10 years ago, I was a “typical” snap shot photographer. I use to shoot a lot of sunsets with my Minolta X300 in both black and white and color. But I wasn’t really engaged in photography. Then I visited an exhibition of André Kertész and his pictures completely changed my way of looking at my environment. Since that day in 2002, wherever I go, I carry my camera with me so I can catch all the moments I see and like.
What motivates you to photograph the streets? The unbelievable great variety of possibilities and the idea, that any given moment, something unusual can happen.
Is Street Photography an obsession? Yes, I am guilty, it is an obsession.
Are you a lone shooter or do you like shooting with friends or a group? Alone.
Favorite street photography city: I live in Hamburg and it is the city where I take most of my photographs. But I also travel often to London, Paris and other cities as well to get new inspirations.
What inspires your photography? I love painters like Lyonel Feininger and Egon Schiele, two major figurative painters in German Expressionism of the twentieth century. I like the abstract ideas that Feininger presents in his paintings and the amazing colors and views of people of Schiele’s work. I also love the “Bauhaus” style, especially Maholy Nagy’s work. Feininger was also part of the Bauhaus movement.
Is there a philosophy or aesthetic behind your compositions that you apply to your photos? I don’t consciously apply any philosophy to my photographs when I go out shooting. But in the back of my mind I’m sure I am influenced by what inspires me. For instance the Bauhaus philosophy of experimenting with new views of ordinary things that have clear structures. If you were to find an equivalent design today, then you can look at Apple or Braun products. When you inspect them, they have a clear concept and design structure. The clarity of their concept is their brand. One thing is for sure, I try to transform our 3D environment into 2D via layering.
What do you look for in a good photograph by others? This is hard to explain. Input, which in general inspires, but also helps me to further develop my work and ideas. I try to be open-minded. I often visit exhibitions and look into many good photographers’ portfolios. Sometimes I see small things in a photo that inspires me to try a new angle or view something in a different way.
How do you go about shooting a street photograph?
When I go out to shoot, I don’t think about anything. I just go with the flow. Your mind needs to be free. I simply see what looks right to me and not think too much about it. So when I make a photo I just shoot it, then move on. I don’t stand around to analyze the scene or shoot from different angles. I usually have a feeling, I know it’s nice and I shoot it. I may capture a second one but then that’s it. I leave the analyzing until I go home and see if the shot worked.
Over the years, I learned to recognize the special moment or lines and space around me. I also learned to act immediately using available lines or graphic I see as the foreground and background. Then I wait for the situation to reveal itself. I call it “the expected coincidence.” Most of the time nothing happens, but you have to be patient and impassioned. So I often walk the same routes in my hometown, Hamburg, Germany. After 10 years I still see something new every time. Mostly small things, but the small things are often the difficult things.
I also try to arrange several layers in my photographs, the more the better. From my point of view, compositions with more than one layer are more interesting. Sometimes I like to compare things like a double pair, to make the pictures more interesting.
After so many years of being a street-photographer my eyes are well trained to catch situations, lines and graphics, in a fraction of a second, that help me make the compositions I envision. I simply love it!
Best 3 tips for shooting the streets: Learn from Master photographers; Vacation in big cities; Always keep your eyes and mind open. One more thing: keep shooting. When I shoot, I may not capture the big one all the time but I shoot many small ones to train myself to recognize the big one.
Best single advice on how to edit or improve your work. When you edit images it is the same as shooting pictures. You see the results of the day and some pictures are better than others. Some might even be top. But keep in mind, you just don’t see a good picture every time. And you don’t have to. It’s all about selecting the good ones. Quality over quantity.
Another thing I do. I often make small (13x18cm including 1cm border) prints of my favorite photos from Photoshop. Later on, when I look at them again and again, I print the ones I like most in a larger size (30x45cm) and hang them up in my apartment. And if I still like them after 3 weeks, then I’m satisfied and happy.
Best single advice for someone who wants to get into street photography: Get inspired by Master photographs.
What’s the best moment in your street photography career? To participate in the “Street Photography Now” book (Thames and Hudson)
What’s the worst moment in your street photography career? Each time when the battery of my camera is empty or my memory card is full.
What projects are you working on? There are many, but at the moment I’m not ready to talk about them. However on my homepage, you can check out the section “projects”, where you can see some photos of ongoing long-term projects. Some of the projects have been going on for 10 years.
Where do you want to be in 5 years with regard to street photography? I would be lucky if I could still walk around, take good pictures, and have wonderful feelings about my walk. And I would be happy, if a lot of people like my style of art.
Are there exhibitions planned in the future? Yes, a solo exhibition at the end of August 2012 here in Hamburg, Germany, at the Gallery Kunst-Nah.
Leica Liker thanks Siegfried for sharing his experience and inspirational advice with us. We look forward to checking in on him in the future.
You can check out Siegfried’s gear in “Liker Bags’n Gear here”.
This is Siegfried’s self portrait.