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.
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.
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.
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 ;-)
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.
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...
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.
All images are by Marion Junkersdorf