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About photography and visual impairment.

On street photography and visual impairment, photographing during lockdown, and discovering minimalist street photography.

Interview with Bastian Roman Peter from the Swiss Street Collective

Guido Klumpe is a street photographer from Hannover in Lower Saxony, Germany. He is known for his colorful and original street photography with his distinctive style. He is also a member of the Unposed Society of Hannover, a German street photography collective.

"On the left I am almost blind and on the right I have 25% visual acuity because the optic nerves don't transmit that much information to the brain. The image I have of the world is quite flat and has little detail."

Guido, first of all, thank you very much for being willing to give an interview for swissstreetcollective. I was really looking forward to this conversation. You may not know it, but you were one of the very first street photographers I discovered when I started shooting on the streets myself.

Thank you very much for the invitation and the compliment Bastian, I am very happy!

On your website you mention that you suffer from a visual impairment. When I look at your pictures, it's hard to believe, because they are amazing.

How did this visual impairment affect you when you started back then?

It's hard to say because I haven't seen that well since birth. I'm almost blind on the left and I have 25% vision on the right because the optic nerves don't transmit as much information to the brain. The image I have of the world is quite flat and has little detail.

You can think of it as something like an internet video with a low data rate. If there is only one person on the video, you can see many details. If there is a crowd of people, on the other hand, the faces are very roughly drawn.

I often discover details in my photographs that I would have otherwise missed.

Through photography, I see more of the world.

Everyone has an idea of what the scene in the picture will look like at the moment you press the shutter. So the inner images and the idea of the world are essential in photography.

I suppose the less you can see of the world, the greater the effect.

When I spot an interesting spot on the street, I think a lot about the composition and try different angles before snapping. My visual impairment definitely makes me a slow photographer.

Every day I experience how my vision plays tricks on me. What I think was a dog on the lawn was just a plastic bag. Or the stairs do not lead there, as I suspected.

I process this playfully in my abstract photographs: when the person looking at the picture wonders what is in front or behind, what is above and what is below, then I am happy. The photo works.

With Lockdown you started to focus more on minimalist images. Since then you have developed a distinctive and very impressive collection of minimalist photos.

Were the Corona measures a key creative moment to take a different path?

Definitely! The weather in March was gorgeous, the light perfect. I was on vacation and really into taking photos. And then came the lockdown.

We at Kollektiv "Unposed Society Hannover" were planning an exhibition for August 2020 called "Hold the line please." It's about the streetcar lines in Hannover, each member has chosen a line, and goes to photograph only along this line. We were going to present the work at an exhibition in August, which of course turned out.

So I walked along the tracks and got bored. There was no one outside, although you were allowed to take walks. The fear was too great.

Then I came to an estate with colorful cubist houses and started experimenting. That's when it clicked. I could literally feel an inner shackle falling off: "I'm a street photographer. I only take pictures with people."

That's when it clicked. I could literally feel an inner shackle falling away: "I'm a street photographer. I only take photos with people."

Now I see myself as a photographer who documents urban landscapes and the light in them. When possible, I place people in these urban landscapes to add a human dimension to the scene. That feels much freer and more creative.

That must have been a very special moment. I know from my own experience how good it feels to lose those very shackles.

You once mentioned that you started using telephoto lenses more often this summer. Do you use any particular equipment for a particular style of image, or do you shoot more by instinct?

By now, I only use the Fuji 16-80 F4 lens (24-120mm 35mm).

I deliberately work with all focal lengths, because I often link different image planes in the foreground and background. And with the focal length, I can determine the effect of compression to suit each image. This means that the background will appear larger at longer focal lengths in the same frame. This gives me more control over composition and image effect.

Sometimes I use the zoom as binoculars. Just to see if it's worth going to the other side of the street 😉 .

Let's get back to the roots of your photography. Did you ever show your first street photos in public? Especially the ones you took as a teenager?

Yes, actually I showed a photo from 1993 on Instagram. That's when I was in Southeast Asia for seven months, and I discovered the fascination of street photography without knowing that the genre even existed. I took the picture while trekking through the Anapurna Mountains in Nepal. You had to be pretty careful with the monkeys. Otherwise not only food disappeared from the backpack...

That is fantastic. I have a similar dream. One day I have to travel to Hong Kong and other Asian places, overcome my fear of flying and develop as a photographer. Social life, social and cultural norms are certainly different in different countries, regions and maybe even neighborhoods. I often feel "watched" or too "visible" when doing street photography. Do you have any advice for people like me?

I know that feeling pretty well. You're right, it can actually change from street to street how street photographers are reacted to.

When I tried to photograph people surreptitiously, I got in trouble more than once. But it was never bad. I explained myself, asked for forgiveness and deleted the picture.

I think the most important thing is to feel comfortable and authentic on the street.

Since I don't try to hide anything anymore, but stand around and take pictures quite obviously, I strangely don't get in trouble anymore. I stand in the crowd and am not noticed by most at all. Almost all passers-by have something to do and want to go somewhere while thinking about work or dinner - and fade out everything that is not threatening or interesting. The more self-evidently I act, the more harmless and invisible I am. To some I'm strange, others think I'm from the newspaper. When I am approached, it is out of friendly interest. So there's nothing bad to fear as long as you're not snapping alone in the red light district at night.

However, if you want to take very good candid photos, you have to be cool and practice, practice, practice. Because it's important to release before you think about the photo. The camera has to become a part of your body so that you intuitively determine the framing, the lines and the angle of view perfectly. I've tried - I'm too slow at seeing for that.

Would you say social media has influenced your photography?

Social media has definitely influenced me. And I would say in a positive sense. Nowhere else can you find so many great photographers and collectives in one place like on Instagram. And nowhere is it so easy to exchange ideas with other artists, and to develop new ideas.

There are a lot of things I criticize about Instagram: for example, all the hype about followers and likes, which can lead to photographers repeating themselves or copying a certain style because it brings a lot of likes. I'm also annoyed that a top-secret algorithm determines what I see and what I don't.

But I'm also grateful for the way Instagram pushes my work.

It's a double-edged sword. I totally agree with that.

You're part of the Unposed Society Hannover, a well-known street photography collective from Germany. Can you tell us more about it?

We are seven street enthusiastic guys from Hannover, a medium-sized city in Northern Germany. We are united by a great passion for street photography. Our goal is to make this genre more known and accepted in Hannover and Germany. Before the pandemic, we held workshops, visited exhibitions, and arranged for joint walks in Hannover and other cities. Often there were visitors from other cities. 2020 was, of course, very quiet. Our plans for an "Official" and a "Guerrilla" exhibition will hopefully become a reality in 2021.

You can find us on Instagram under @unposed_society_hannover . There we feature inspiring street photographers on a daily basis.

And now completely out of the blue: did you ever feel like giving up street photography?

Sometimes, on bad days. There were times when I started to get bored. I lacked new ideas. I was repeating myself. Thank God those were only short phases, which I think everyone experiences.

I agree with that. That is certainly true and it is part of the whole, I think. Overcoming those problems is part of the journey and the evolution.

Right now you're selling a calendar with your photos. Is that a project you do every year?

That was a pretty spontaneous action that I started for the first time in November 2020. And even though I was late in the calendar business, the calendars sold well. It really knocked my socks off. I think I'll do it again this year, just a little earlier!

Thanks so much for the interview Guido!

It was a pleasure, Bastian! Thank you very much for the invitation!

You can find the interview and many other interesting articles on the Swiss Street Collective blog.



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