“Show “the whole man” in his environment.” Heiko Menze
This is part of a weekly interview series with members of Seconds2Real street photography collective, in celebration of their forthcoming exhibition in Berlin in October.
What brought you to doing street photography? Why do you love it?
I was always interested in observing things – how people are moving in the streets, how they fit in their environment. This fascinates me. I began to photograph years ago – first in Bremen, my hometown, later in Vienna, where I am living since 2006. A city like Vienna is perfect in reflecting both old and modern times, matching harmoniously.
How do you pay the bills?
Well …. not via photography. 😉
Which photographers inspire you?
In 2004 I attended a big Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibition in Berlin. This fascinated me a lot: how it is possible to take such photos with only a small and simple camera with one prime lens, all in black and white? every photo simply perfect both in scene and composition?
It is this classical style of “street photography” (a term HCB would never have used) that is inspiring me: for example the work of Inge Morath, Robert Lebeck, Erich Lessing, Willy Ronis, Robert Doisneau, Robert Frank, René Burri – or the Viennese Franz Hubmann, Harry Weber.
Editing/selecting which images to show is crucial for a street photographer. Has being in a collective helped you with this process?
I must admit – no. Our group seconds2real contains, like all groups, of very different photographers, different in photographic style and in their views, and moreover, we live (partly) in different places. It is simply quite difficult to join for some greater project.
In the UK, street photography has become very popular over the last year (the Street Photography Now book published, Format Festival dedicated to street photography, the London Street Photography Festival, your work on show at Look11, and lots of popular workshops). Have you felt that street photography has also been more popular recently in your own country? And do you think that street photography will continue to be popular in this way?
No, I don’t think so. Street photography, the classical one (“you shoot what you see”), today becomes more and more a field of “art” where the photos do no longer show what the photographer has seen, but are somehow constructed. Photo editing with hard contrasts, HDR and cropping is en vogue today. Why is that so? I think because every streeter wants to get “eye catcher” – forgetting that street photography shows nothing else than real life, and real life is mostly not eye-catching. 😉 As a result, many “street” photos resemble each other in scenes and style. No wonder many viewers feel more and more bored, also by the mass of photos published in social groups like flickr
But I am sure the classical form of street photography, the reduction to the real street scene, will come back one day – when everyone is tired of “eye-catchers”. As an encouraging sign I see young people buying used analogue cameras and bw films to experience the reduction of view.
Any tips or “words of wisdom” for other street photographers?
My tip to any streeter would be: respect for other people, respect for their private zone. This means – do not approach too much, neither physically nor by shooting with long tele lens. Just respect people’s privacy. Do not show them in situations that would debase them in any aspect, for example, making them ridiculous.
Another aspect: A person does not only contain of a head (this would be a portrait, though, and not street photography), and not only of feet. There might be situations where a torso or a head makes a perfect street scene – but these are rather exceptional cases. Show “the whole man” in his environment.
What would be your ideal gear for doing street photography with?
Oh – my cameras are changing occasionally 😉 – but one camera will always remain: the one HCB used: Leica M, analogue. Though using digital equipment (DSLR, point & shoot) too I am still dedicated to film, which, together with my own darkroom, a professional scanner and printer, is representing exactly my idea of street photography.
All images © Heiko Menze