Interview with Carsten Bockermann
Our brand ambassador and Oberwerth aficionado Carsten Bockermann has been photographing for more than four decades now. He discovered his interest in photography as a boy back in 1976. His passion for the medium really took off in the early 1990s and he has witnessed quite a bit of change since then. We met Carsten and had a conversation about what photography means to him.
Oberwerth: Hi, Carsten! Many thanks for finding the time to talk to us about your experiences from decades of doing photography. While being a photographer is not your main job, it is still a lot more than a hobby for you. What attracted you to it and what fuels your enthusiasm?
Carsten Bockermann: My fascination with photography is rooted in my childhood. When I was a boy, my parents and me didn’t have the means it would have taken to travel the world. But we saw it through the eyes of Robert Lebeck, Thomas Höpker and others, whose photo essays were published in magazines like STERN. By the way, I met Thomas Höpker many years later and told him that he is partly to blame for my enthusiasm regarding photography.
During the early 1990s I got more serious about it. A friend whose job had taken him to the U.S. for several years piqued my interest in National Geographic Magazine and the photographers who were working there. He also introduced me to the whole culture of photo workshops with well-known experts, which at the time was well established in the U.S. but still in its infancy in Germany. In later years I attended workshops myself with masters such as David Alan Harvey, Alex Webb and William Albert Allard.
Contrary to what many amateurs seem to think, photography is not about photography, but about life. It’s a medium for telling stories, and in this light, it became clearer to me over the years what exactly it was I wanted to shoot and communicate.
Oberwerth: Communicating and telling a story is one of the main elements in your pictures. How would you describe your photography?
Carsten Bockermann: My images almost always focus on people in their environment. Initially I found the apparent differences between the cultures of the countries I visited highly interesting. Over the years I realized that actually the similarities were a lot more captivating and changed my way of working accordingly. The photos I like best are those that capture a universal moment, a situation that is understood across cultural boundaries all over the world.
Oberwerth: Over the years, photography has taken you to many different places around the world. On your website you use the keywords “Travel Documentary” to describe your pictures. Which story was the most engaging for you in retrospect? And which country was your highlight?
Carsten Bockermann: This is something that doesn’t lend itself to a simple ranking. All of the countries I visited were interesting, if only because photography enables me to meet interesting people everywhere. In fact, it even works in my native Germany, which surprises me again and again, considering that there is a lot of truth in the saying that it is the most difficult to photograph in your own backyard.
Yet exotic countries can be quite difficult to photograph. Let’s take India as an example. On all of my trips there I found it very hard to avoid the cliché pictures as the visual stimulation there is so strong. I worked very hard, and only partially successful, to concentrate on my personal vision there.
For a few years now the state of Montana has held a very special place in my heart. In 2011 I attended a workshop in Missoula with William Albert Allard, who is known for his excellent work on the American West. After the workshop I drove around for a few days and immediately felt right at home. Since then I have visited for a month every year, and next year will see an exhibition of my work from the state.
Oberwerth: You are not afraid to leave the comfort zone and travel to exotic countries such as India. Besides your annual trip to America, what will be your next project?
Carsten Bockermann: At present, many people all over the world are worried about the extinction of animal species. Poaching and the loss of habitat are the main forces driving this development. But then, there’s not only bad news. Communities in developing countries, many of them in Africa, have discovered that animals need to be protected and can even contribute to the economic development of the respective region, for instance by attracting tourists. I’m planning a project around this subject, but it’s too early to disclose details about it.
Oberwerth: Africa sounds very exciting and is definitely a very exciting continent. We are curious how your project will look like. We want to leave the here and now a little and talk about photography in general. As already mentioned, you have been photographing for over 40 years now. How has photography changed in the course of time? And how do you feel about that change?
Carsten Bockermann: The way I see it, photography has substantially changed in two aspects.
One is the technology we use to take photos. While I obviously learned how to photograph using film, I certainly won’t shed a tear because of its demise. Digital sensors have opened up possibilities that were out of reach with film, and the image quality is way ahead. On the other hand, shooting film, especially color transparency film, required a strict discipline. Either you got the picture right in camera, or you never did. There was practically no room for errors that could be corrected later.
The other aspect is publication of pictures. These days, everyone can make his or her pictures accessible for a world-wide audience. However, the resulting deluge of photographs makes it very hard for the viewers to find the truly interesting ones.
Oberwerth: Besides photography in general, of course the equipment has changed over the years as well. What was your first camera, and what system are you using today?
Carsten Bockermann: Well, I can claim that I have switched from SLRs to mirrorless systems twice already…(laughs)
My first ‘real’ camera was a Nikkormat FT2, a mid-range SLR made by Nikon. It was soon joined by more bodies from this manufacturer. In the early 1990s I bought a Leica M6, initially just to have a more discreet camera besides the SLRs. However, I liked shooting with rangefinder cameras so much that they soon became my tools of choice and the Nikons gathered dust in the closet. Then, in 2004, I bought a Nikon D70, mainly out of curiosity regarding digital photography. As Leica didn’t have anything to offer at the time and digital fascinated me, I switched back to Nikon.
At Photokina (Cologne, Germany) 2010 I saw a prototype of the Fuji X100. Early the following year I became one of the first owners of this camera in Germany. Since then I have stayed with Fuji and now use mainly the X-Pro2 and the X100F. I just love working with an optical viewfinder. Also, these cameras, having the finder on the side of the body, hide less of the photographer’s face, which is a huge advantage when photographing people as it doesn’t make one seem like hiding behind the camera.
Oberwerth: Carsten, thank you very much for this interesting and informative conversation. At the end we only have to wish you a lot of fun and exciting moments on your upcoming trips. And of course we would be happy if you would find the time to tell us the experiences you made during these trips.
Carsten Bockermann: Thank you very much and sure, it would be nice to meet you guys again for a little talk. Talk to you soon!