Oliver Brenneisen, interview with the photographer from Berlin

Interview by L.L.L. For Mountain Times

When I look at the variety of pictures you have taken with such classic and avantgarde compositions, did you apprentice as a photographer?

I take photographs for more than 30 years. I started with taking photos of flowers in the gardens around our village at the age of 13. I chose flowers because I thought they are beautiful and were standing still while I tried to figure out the camera. At the age of 15 I was very fortunate to being offered a placement during my college summer holidays at the photo studio of a large advertising agency. I arrived with very little knowledge about photography but a great hunger to learn and was able to jump right into action. Using mainly large format cameras and a van full of flash systems we where shooting large machinery in factories and all kinds of studio photography from cars to tabletops. My boss was very generous and patient with me and I was given the gift to learn the depth of professional photography thoroughly and fast at a very young age.

Two summers later I was still spending my holidays at the same studio and it happened that my boss decided to go on holidays himself. I ended up running the studio on my own. I had no drivers license yet and I was given a driver to get me to the shooting locations. One day, one of the art directors in the building nervously walked into the studio, showed me some layouts and asked me I if would be able to photograph that job, groups of people in different work clothes. I said yes, sure! Actually I was not so sure at all but I telephoned my boss and he explained me which equipment to set up how and I just did it. This way I ended up producing a national campaign for an insurance company at the age of 17.

I stayed at this studio for a few years, later spend some time assisting a fashion photographer and parallel to that started my own career doing press photography for newspapers and calling all kinds of magazines and asking for jobs.

Your photos are so much sharper than most others I look at, why?

Sharpness in photos is a very subjective perception. Contrast and out of focus areas define the perception of sharpness equally to in focus areas. I am obsessed with image quality and I have quite a fetish for good glass. I collect lenses, and surprisingly elder models very often perform much more to my liking than modern designs. Autofocus is not something I use really, I keep it switched off during most of my shootings. How could a piece of electronic know where exactly I wish to put the focus? Luckily I have a strong talent for composing shots very quickly almost without looking through the finder and I love to play with the way how light renders in my pictures. Especially the positioning of focus and the creation of out of focus areas gives me great pleasure. To be able to do so, you need very good lenses and this results in images that appear sharper.

I still do a lot of analogue film photography. I use medium format slide film which I later scan in my studio and then process digitally. Capturing the essence of a person or a place, its atmosphere, the particular light conditions, skies, clouds, water surfaces, light reflexions, these are very important elements of my work. Film does render highlights so much nicer than even the best digital equipment. Nothing beats the beauty and dimensionality of a perfectly exposed slide film, the subtlety of colour hues, the luminosity in the highlights, it is just magic.

What cameras do you use?

Cameras are not so important. It is the lens that matters. The camera itself does little towards image quality. Digital cameras perform very similar in quality today, choosing the right lens is much more important in my opinion. I have quite a collection of elder medium format lenses from Carl Zeiss, I truly love them. One of my “sharpest” photos ever I actually shot with a 60 years old 6×9 camera I bought for 30 Euros! In current lenses, the Leica S system offers some truly amazing options to those seeking the very best.

Have you ever worked with celebrities?

In the early years of my career, the late Eighties, I was mostly into music photography, working on concerts, large festival in front and behind the stage. My work was published in music magazines, celebrity magazines and on album covers. In that era I also did quite a few home stories for magazines. In the early Nineties, I co-owned a company that held licensing agreements for photographic products from acts like Aerosmith, Roger Waters, the Scorpions, Depeche Mode and many more. We closely worked with these artists and distributed their images in many countries.

Today, I am still very much interested in music and the arts. Although I now prefer to work with artists on a much closer level. My photos do make a difference. There are a few quite well-known individuals and families that call me for their personal photo needs. They trust in my integrity and discretion.

What subject matter do you enjoy photographing?

I am quite versatile in adapting to different work environments. You can put me in a helicopter for aerial work, on a race boat or in a vibrating roaring turbine hall, I will perform equally in most places. I prefer to work with daylight or available light and handheld cameras. Tripods are not my thing, they tie me down, I constantly move around like a cat when I am working.

My favourite subject certainly is to photograph real people doing what they do. Call it people at work. A kind if semi orchestrated portrait photography. This can be a ballet troupe rehearsing for their premiere or portraying company heads in an office tower in the City of London or an organic goats farm in Sicily, it matters not. I love traveling, I love the variety in my work, I am very tolerant and adaptable. Meeting people to photograph them in their environments and capturing processes is what I like most. Telling visual stories of how things are being made and showing the people who form part of these processes. Another subject favorite is food photography  and how food is being made, showing the process from the fields to the table. I have spent some time living in Barcelona where I worked with the elite of spanish chefs and their suppliers.

Large production facilities and complex processes fascinate me equally. I adore working in these places and capturing what is going on. One of my specialities is to tell the story, the identity of a large organisation or corporation in a half a dozen frames. Explaining the essence of a place or company in a few photos, that excites me. Much of this is done with video today. Videos are everywhere. I do not need 24 frames a second to tell a story, I can do it in five.

Do you do weddings?

A tricky question to many serious photographers, weddings are a red flag. For myself, I can openly admit: I love weddings. I do not do many, just a few per year. From time to time I get approached by interesting couples and if their wedding fits my schedule I might say yes to join them with my cameras on the day when they say yes to each other. I am a rather romantic person and weddings are just beautiful events that give me an abundance of visually interesting moments where I can enliven my skills as a photographic artist.

Where can I find more of your work?

My own archive site is here, where you can also see recent stories

Main main agency for many years used to Agentur Bilderberg in Hamburg

A selection of my stock is now exclusively with Plainpicture, Hamburg, London, Paris, New York

I have my own studios in Berlin and Mallorca where I do a lot of portrait work and experimental photography or trying out new ideas and testing new equipment. For more information email us studio@obcn.org

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