Marion Junkersdorf In Focus with Alf Myers

Welcome back to the latest, 'In Focus' interview and this time we've travelled all the way to Berlin to get some insight from another street photographer - a street photographer who has been an active member of some well known collectives and groups. That photographer is Marion Junkersdorf.

When I say travelled, we used the power of the internet to chat and as always, it was an enlightening conversation and experience. You learn about how people end up picking up a camera for more than just snaps and in doing so find their own style. It is often an intriguing, if not to say, individual journey and as you'll find out, Marion's is indeed one of these journeys.

I first spotted Marion’s work on various Facebook street photography related groups. Her images were raw but with a joyous energy to them. As such I often commented on them and before long we ended up chatting about photography. We exchanged views to such a degree that when I asked if she would like to participate in one of my, 'In Focus' interviews she said yes.

Marion Junkersdorf

So here we go.

AM - Evening Marion. Firstly thank you for agreeing to spare some of your time with me and more so for agreeing to share your insight and knowledge. Over the last few years I've had the joy of viewing many of your images on many Facebook groups dedicated to street photography.

You can see that you play with colour and mono, but it has to be said, for the most part, your images capture moments of joy that warm the spirit when viewed. Before we delve too deeply into the genre that is street, can you tell us a little about how you first got into photography and how you got to where you are now?

MJ - Thank you so much for having me, Alf! It is a great honour for me.

Before picking up a camera in 2015, I had never really seen myself as a visual person. I have been into music all my life, singing, writing songs but I had never ventured into visual arts before.

In early 2015, I started supporting a photographer in his shootings and also joined him in the post-production process. And I realised that I felt very strongly about the composition etc. It was actually a misunderstanding that then got me interested in street photography (he mentioned "street photography“ to me but what he was actually talking about was putting his photos out on the street). I started following some street photography groups and soon had some favourite photographers there, whom I studied closely. I was especially touched by Orna Naor's photography and soon came to love the style of street photography from Tel Aviv. So I went to visit Tel Aviv and had the great honour to meet with Orna, Ilan Ben Yehuda, Gabi Ben Avraham and others to go out shooting and talk with them about street photography. It was an unforgettable trip and I learned a lot from them.

As I ventured out to start my journey into street photography, I soon realised what I wanted to capture the most: cracks in reality. Let me say it like this: every morning when we leave the house, we want to be a certain someone. We have our reasons for choosing the clothes we wear, for wearing our hair the way we do etc. But usually we cannot uphold this image in each and every moment. The reality we wish to project of ourselves cracks, be it because we get carried away in our thoughts, be it because someone pushes our buttons. These are the moments that interest me the most, I call them the cracks in reality.

As you have remarked, however, my photos are usually of a rather joyful nature somehow, and many people have told me so. Once someone surprised me by saying that he would characterise my photography with the words "I see hope“. I felt surprised and humbled. So I have come to understand that the joyful and positive outlook I generally have on life shows in my pictures whether I intend that to happen or not.

For me street photography is mainly about storytelling. All my favourite photographs make me think of some story, usually far from what actually happened, but that exactly makes it so much fun. As photographers we can create our own version of reality. We open a window into our minds, we let others in on reality as we see it, we let others catch a glimpse of the stories we tell ourselves based on what is happening around us.

Friends laughing amid the smoke

AM - You have certainly made big strides in the three years and a half years you’ve been shooting. You’ve really found the essence of what, for me, makes an interesting image and have developed a style all of your own.

From what you’ve said you have found some excellent people to learn from during those years. For example Orna, her work is just stunning and so, so consistent. It must have been a great experience indeed to spend time with them. I bet you have a few images from your visit there that still resonate with you today.

Your concept of, 'cracks in reality' is most excellent and a lovely way of describing how you see the world. It's like you are saying that you’re looking to find the real person behind their public display. It is similar to a concept I aspire to, that of finding the interesting in the mundane. Hit the streets, open your eyes, absorb the world and before you know it, the world rewards you. Another thing I have heard of and seen, is that street photography helps to unearth your own psyche. It’s revealed each time you press the shutter, then reinforced with your edit and processing. So to hear your work described as “hope” must be a real joy to hear.

With that in mind, and with your desire to create images that have a narrative, can you tell us how you approach a day on the streets? What is it that you are looking for? How do you line up your shots? And what is it that leads you to make the image?

MJ - 'A day on the streets' is an immense luxury for me, as I work almost full-time. I have an hour on public transport to get to work, sometimes there are opportunities to shoot while commuting but especially in winter my options are limited to weekends and vacation times.

I am never really actively looking for anything. I let things happen, that's why I find it extremely hard to stick to a theme.

Many street photographers are individuals with very high sensitivity, extremely empathic, with supersonic reflexes. In a crowd, I am magically drawn to the place where emotions are sparking. I used to say that I have been each person in my photos before, i.e. I can feel what they are feeling at that particular moment. We all have so much more in common than things that divide us.

And you have to be able to anticipate the moment - because when you notice the situation you want to shoot when it is actually taking place, your chances of getting a proper shot out of it, are much slimmer.

I love shooting in crowds, at rallies, or parades. People are more at ease, these situations allow for emotions to be shown, going really close usually means less trouble or is even welcomed, very different from the regular everyday situations in Germany. Also, I single out backgrounds that I like and just stand to see what is going to happen (and if I can turn it into an interesting shot). I can do that until the light goes, sometimes I spend hours in the same place. That 's why usually it is only the three of us out there: My Fuji, My Sony and me.

Street photography is my meditation. To be able to anticipate the moment etc., you have to fully focus on the here and now, spinning stories around all the faces and situations passing you by.

Traveling and observing

AM - That thing called work, it keeps a lot of us away from exploring the world with our cameras. That said, we still find time, be it as you suggest, on the trips back and forth from work or during our lunch hours, but mostly the weekends.

I find it interesting that you like crowds, rallies and parades. They're generally rather busy and frantic, often hard to isolate individuals and spot those little interactions. You demonstrate that it is indeed possible, plus it may be one of the reasons that your images are full of joy, after all people at festivals are generally having fun.

Since you've mentioned that there are typically only three of you out there with the crowd, your Fuji, Sony and yourself, let’s explore gear for a while. What do you generally use lens wise and camera wise, and what is it about the Fuji and Sony that you like?

MJ - I guess all photographers wish they had more gear. Photography is not a very fair hobby: better photos with better gear. However, better gear will not automatically bring better photos, it will only improve your work on the basis of the quality of your images.

My first camera was my Sony Alpha 6. I love it because it had the fastest auto focus on the market at the time. And when I started, I relied on the auto focus. I still love working with my Sony whenever the sun is not shining. Most of my Sony photos are in black and white. The Sony is great for that but when it comes to colours, it falls short.

Also I have two lenses for my Sony that I love, one is a 10 to 18 mm (I can stand right in front of Brandenburg Gate, first row, and catch the whole gate!!) and the other is a 35 mm, 1.8 f. (But this is not a recommendation for Sony Alpha 6... what it does mean is, I need a new Sony)!

But my heart is in colour photography. And I love the Fuji colours! There is actually a reason Fuji brings out the colours so brilliantly, its pixel clusters are smaller. So give me sunshine, give me my Fuji, which I actually use with the kit lens, and off we go!

I most definitely wish I had more gear but I also have to face the fact that I might have to buy myself a new camera because both of my cameras are developing some quirks and I am not sure how long they will be staying with me... also, I could not get myself to swap the opportunity to travel for the benefit of buying new gear. I guess that is a typical "photographer's song".

There are some situations in which I am very happy to have these two with their different "characters", for example, when I shoot with my theatre group "Theatre der Letzten". I love being on stage and shooting strong contrast with my Fuji but when it comes to shooting portraits or groups, I mostly work with my Sony.

And regarding the crowds: isolating the scene is a real issue... especially because I usually don't crop things out. But I just love how you can go really close to people without automatically being considered a "weirdo" in these situations.

And just to round it off, do you know the joke about the photographer coming to a party and being welcomed by the host with the words: "Great to meet you! I love your photography! You must have a very good camera!" ? The photographer just nods to this. After the lavish and superb dinner is over, the photographer turns to the host and says, "I really enjoyed your dinner. You must have very good pots!

Red Balloons

AM - Now that made me laugh, but that being said, how many times have you been asked that very same question. Or the comment, "That is a great looking camera - it must take excellent photos." I know I've had it far too many times. However, your approach is much better - experience over gear.

Another way of saying that is, you'll be a much better photographer by practicing and gaining new experiences. I think that is one of Eric Kim’s mantras too. Travel to new cities, town, countries. Explore parts of your own city you wouldn't normally explore. Meet people, share ideas. Go on courses. Explore the art galleries. You'll gain a lot more from that than buying the latest bag of camera bling that all the reviewers are raving about.

So, lets return to street photography and a topic I always find interesting especially when I talk to another street photographers. Let’s be blunt... What is your view on the editing and processing of street images? Do you have a specific workflow and treatment you follow or do you feel the mood of each image and approach it in its own right?

MJ - Editing itself is necessary. In digital photography, the camera decides on the colour of each pixel. As photographers we have the right to correct these decisions to produce a photo that equals what we saw. So basically, I see editing not as a method to "pump up" the photo but to hopefully make the photo look as similar as possible to what I saw when I took it. I prefer soft editing and I do not work with pre-sets. I look at the image and try to 'pick up the vibe' of it, then I aim to enhance that vibe with the way I edit it.

Also, I believe that the possibilities to 'edit all images perfectly' has led to the obligation to make images look perfect. I believe this kills a lot of the immediacy of our photographs. There is an interview with the wonderful Garry Winogrand in which he is being asked why some of his images have a distinct tilt. He answers: "No, they don't! Show me one!" And, mind you, he has beach images where the horizon has a VERY distinct tilt! So they show him one of a woman crossing a street and it has a mild but clear tilt. He answers: "Well, yes, I guess it has a tilt. So what? It works!"

We should not put perfection over immediacy and expressiveness.

Men and Hearts


AM - As an extra, is there an editing or processing tip you'd love to share?

MJ - Sometimes people ask me how I edited certain photos, usually those with a particularly beautiful light. My special tip would be to become a 'light hunter', a 'light junkie'. Develop a sensor for beautiful light and experiment on how you want to capture it. (And I officially apologize to all the tech freaks ;-).

Heidelberger Platz

AM - Thanks for you telling us about your approach to processing and the little story from Garry Winograd too, they are both very insightful.

Basically you’re saying the processing is required for all images, but only minimal to help bring out your perception of reality at the time; accepting that the image doesn’t need to be technically perfect but as you mentioned before, it needs a strong narrative - sometimes simple, sometimes many layered and complex. It is that that makes street photography so interesting and so diverse.

However, just because it isn’t technically perfect doesn’t make the process easy and it doesn’t mean we don’t strive for perfection in camera.

Shall we take a little detour? You’ve already mentioned a few people and a journey to Tel Aviv which had a big influence on your street photography. However, a few years down the line from there, is there a dream location that you would love to visit and who would you take on that journey as your photographic guide?

MJ - This year left me with very little time for photography. I took a few short trips inside of Europe and dedicated them to shooting street. I fulfilled my wish to shoot at the Notting Hill Carnival and it was fantastic. I shot in Budapest and what an amazing atmosphere this city has! It is not called the "Paris of the East" for nothing! I got to spend a weekend in Paris and I was fascinated; I do hope I will get a chance to return and shoot some more there one day (of course, people are dressed wonderfully, such a huge difference to Berlin!).

Seine Bridge Minimal

I would love to go to Tel Aviv again because it really takes my breath away, what a fantastic mix of people and situations! The city draws all sorts of people, character clashes are inevitable. And of course, there is lots of history and politics; lots of young people also, Tel Aviv is full of parties, it is a bit like Berlin in that respect but Berlin lacks the beautiful beach!

There are some places on my wish list like Vietnam; India; Brussels; New York, and other places in the US; Rome, and Lyon - the list is basically endless because I love discovering new places.

But the place that has already captured my heart is, and you know it... Cuba. I know that I do not understand the Cuban society - it is quite complex and I know that not all is pink and rosy. But I love a place that is full of music, light, colours and people that hardly ever fail to return a smile. And hardly any internet! That has become the ultimate treat. The internet is great for many, many things and I wouldn't want to miss any one of my wonderful internet friends, many of whom I have met over the years. But walking down the street and people actually looking at one another, greeting and inviting strangers, it has become a rare and valuable experience. It is about connecting and that is where photography comes in. It is easy to take photos of people in Cuba because they are expressive and they have an awareness of their appearance that is very different from that of Berliners or most Europeans, I would say. It is difficult to talk about it without falling into a huge cliché trap. But for me, I feel that Cuba is my soul place.

Expressive Simon
Classic Cuba
Afro Cuban Religion

But to round it all off, I feel privileged to live in Berlin, and I really love this city. It has gone through a lot of history and it is definitely a little rough around the edges. In a way, it seems to always lag behind a little, but in a charming way. It is not easy to shoot street in Berlin, because of the legal situation in Germany, but it offers plenty of wonderful opportunities to the brave ;-)

Silhouette Bethanienwand

AM - Wow, that has been a busy year and so many different environments, each of which will have had its own challenges, I am sure. You've done a few on my hit list I must add, and you've mentioned one place that I would love to visit someday and that is Cuba.

Something tells me we'll need to get there soon though, as the times they are a changing. I suspect all the things that are drawing us there will slowly (and then quickly) start to diminish as the modern world creeps in. Let’s hope that it won't be too soon for us photographers, but on the flip side I do wish them well and prosperity.

I notice that you didn't mention who you'd like to be your photographic guide on the trip, so let’s go back to that in a more detail. When it comes to photography, be it street or any other genre, who are your inspirations and what is it about them that inspires you so?

MJ - I love photography exhibitions and I visit photo galleries as often as I get a chance, especially when I travel. There are many photographers whose work I admire and I feel inspired seeing what they do. But I wouldn't say that any style or any particular photographer's work has a major or lasting influence on me as such. There is one 'idea' if you will, though, that actually has had an impact on me. I love the Israeli style of street photography, it reminds me of oriental story-telling. In the typical European traditional street photography, you would have a particular clean-cut scene, pretty much, 'what you see is what you get'. In Israeli street photography, you often find parts of scenes, almost like insinuations, without the whole story being told, but rather leaving the story-telling up to the viewer's imagination.

On The Way To Boumerdes

AM - Visiting a gallery is always a good source of ideas and influence, even if that influence isn't direct. You can absorb a lot from viewing other images. It doesn't matter if it is art or photography as you will still get to see how a composition is made, how the light has been used to create depth and how emotions have been layered into the narrative of the image.

Shall we try a relatively simple question as we near the end . If you had any advice to give to someone starting out with photography, what would it be?

MJ - I am really not sure what to say because there are so many ways of developing one's own photography. Basically, I can talk about what it is that I like to see in photography. I love an element of surprise, an element of beauty, an element of meaning, an element of the unusual. I love something to think about, something that sparks my imagination. Let's aim high and let's see what we are going to get...

Christmas 2017 - Guanabo Beach

AM  - I'm still just a little curious and have to ask. You've been to some really interesting places and with some top people too, but to finish - what's the most unusual place you've explored so far and been in a position to use your camera?

MJ - In February this year I had a chance to travel to Algeria. The country has, especially in the off-season, next to no tourism. It is next to the other two very touristic Maghreb countries Tunisia and Morocco but in contrast to these two, in Germany, we know next to nothing about Algeria. Therefore, it was really exciting for me to travel not only to the capital, Algiers, but also inside the country, to the "hinterland“ so to say.

A European woman with a camera shooting people in the street – it was a little bit as if I had fallen from the sky. But people were super friendly and I had no problems as such. My usual mode of 'going invisible', however, was totally out of the picture. I took many photos from the car, which is something I never do here because I always travel by public transport. So obviously, I had to adapt my way of shooting, and the photos came out different from the ones I usually take when left to my own way of shooting.

Algeria is beautiful and fascinating, the architecture and buildings, as well the light, actually reminded me of Cuba. Apart from that, however, these two countries couldn't be more different. Islam is a strong influence in Algeria, most women wear headscarves.

The photos are a glimpse into a world that we usually don't get to see in Germany, and I am hoping to go back to maybe eventually be able to present a street photography portfolio of Algeria.

Hints of Algeria
Timgad Library

AM - Thank you, Marion. It has been great speaking to you and getting a feel for your world, especially your views on photography. A big thanks for sharing some of your images from Algeria too. I know you've been very excited about them and eager to get them out there.

You have been more than candid with me which I'm sure will be very helpful to others. I look forward to hearing what people have to say and hopefully I look forward to passing on any of their questions.

I look forward to seeing more and more of your work in the coming years.

If you want to see more of Marion's work you can find it here

Don Fiaskobeisst
Friends Laughing Smoke
Couple on a journey
Men And Hearts
Heidelberger Platz
Seine Bridge Minimal
Jump, I've got you
Girl's Drive
Afro Cuban Religion
Silhouette Bethanienwand
On The Way To Boumerdes
Christmas 2017 - Guanabo Beach
Fliegender Schal
Teddy Rucksack Maedchen
Nasrins Schwester
Timgad Library
Tina Hogg - "Thank you so much Alf this is very interesting. The links are well worth looking at." Via Facebook
Lorna McInulty - "I'm not a photographer, as you know, but i was totally enthralled by this interview. Looking forward to the next one." Via Facebook
Zeno Watson - "Great insightful interview and fantastic photography by Marion. Great attention to light." Via web page comment
Created By
Alf Myers


All images are by Marion Junkersdorf

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