November-December 2014 … The Global Online Magazine of Arts, Information & Entertainment … Volume 10, Number 6
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Olaf Heine/Photography, Interview

©Olaf Heine

James Woods, Los Angeles, 2005

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Living the Dream

By Michael Foldes

 

There’s a lot to love about photography, but few photographers who make it relatively easy to understand why. How they do it is another thing. It’s not just in the equipment they shoot with, the finish of the paper they print on, or their subjects, but the connection the photographer makes to a moment that will be forever fixed in time. Hang forty or fifty of those moments in a gallery, or in a long hallway, and you have what truly can be called suspended animation. Crisp. Clearly visible to the unpracticed, as well as the practiced eye. Past perfect.

The following interview, with portfolios including images from his books “I Love You but I’ve Chosen Rock,” and “Leaving the Comfort Zone” (both from Hatje Cantz Publishing, 2010 and 2008, respectively), provide ample evidence of Heine’s interpretive visual skill, dedication to craft, and long-term love of music. Born in Hannover and schooled in Berlin, Heine moved to Los Angeles in 1998 where he added to his portfolio of celebrities, musicians and West Coast life. The recipient of numerous awards, his work has appeared on album covers, in magazines, advertisements and in music videos. From the following interview and images, we think you’ll know better why. 

 

Ragazine: Where do you call home, these days, and where is your studio?

Olaf Heine: That’s a difficult question. What’s home? On a physical level I’d have to say that my base is in Berlin these days and that is also where my studio is. I love the city. Berlin for sure is my home. But I have spent quite some time in other places the past fifteen years. I’ve split my time between Los Angeles and Berlin for eleven years. LA is kind of a home too. Berlin and Los Angeles are twin cities and although they are quite different, there are a lot of similarities in a deeper kind of aspect. I am still travelling there every few months spending time with friends and colleagues and also shooting there a lot. Taking the best of both worlds if you’d like. On a deeper, metaphysical or spiritual level I also must say that Ibiza/Spain became kind of a home for me. I am spending my summers there since the mid-nineties, did quite a lot of shoots there and got married there a few years ago. The small island in the Mediterranean is a very calm and inspiring place for me. 

Q: When and how did you get involved with photography? Did you start out working for an agency, or another photographer?

A: Ever since I can remember, ever since I was a little child I was taking pictures. In the first place it was just for fun, for the sake of playing around with this little technical gadget. But then I started recording my past time. I documented my family, my friends and my life. Later, in my teenage years I started going to concerts a lot and that’s how I became involved with music photography. I grew up in a little village and besides photography I loved rock music. So the camera became the door opener to this fascinating world, gave me the chance to get out and travel the world. I am self taught and happened to know a few musicians in my hometown who trusted me when they needed an album cover.

Q: Who or what would you say has been your principal motivator to take pictures?

Leaving the Comfort Zone | Hatje Cantz Publishing | August 2008

A: If it wasn’t for my affinity for music I’d probably be an architect. My motivation was really to become a part of the music world and to record my life. I didn’t play an instrument but I loved that whole scene, the friendship, the bonding, the travelling circus atmosphere. So the camera gave me the key to that world.

Q: Do you have a formal education in art, design or photography that you bring to a session?

A: I am self taught and learned by jumping in at the deep end. I studied a lot of books and bugged a lot of people who knew about photography. I made tons of mistakes and learned from them. After I worked as a photographer for a few years I finally moved to Berlin in the early nineties and attended a photography school (Lette-Verein).

Q: What kind of camera(s) do you favor, and why?

A: Without sounding arrogant or comparing myself, but would you ask Picasso about his favorite brush? I find discussions about technical aspects or favorite cameras, lenses, etc. boring and dull. I work with a whole lot of cameras. Whether I use a small or medium format, whether I use digital or analog, whether I use Photoshop or Polaroid, that really depends on my idea or vision for a certain image. I sometimes even use snapshot or video cameras to produce images.

Q: When you’re still shooting film, how much do you manipulate in the darkroom? Do you scan and work digitally after the fact? What papers do you like to print on?

I Love You but I've Chosen Rock | Hatje Cantz Publishing | September 2010

A: I do manipulate sometimes. Sometimes more, sometimes less. Again it depends on the subject. I just finished an advertising campaign with Germany’s national football team which I didn’t Photoshop at all. But then again I like to freedom of being able to do so if I wanted to. Same in the darkroom (even though I have to admit that I didn’t enter any darkroom since the late nineties). But my printer has the possiblities and I like to sometimes take advantage of it. As for printing, I still like a good old silver gelatine print.

Q: What kind of shoots do you enjoy most? Fashion? Musicians? Products?

A: In general I enjoy the shoots that give me most creative freedom and productive collaborations. In the past this has been the case a lot in the music industry. But ever since they lost a good deal of money through the digital age and the downloading of music files, they have also lost their courage, which makes it harder for a photographer. There is more pressure to succeed and therefore less and less creative leeway. I am also a big football (soccer) fan, so working with a lot of talented players, especially with the ones from my favorite team give me a lot of joy and happiness. I’m living my childhood dream, right?

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Olaf Heine/Leaving the Comfort Zone

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Q: What photographers do you admire, and who would you most like to work with (living or dead)?

A: When I started out I admired documentary street photographers like Cartier Bresson or Robert Frank. Especially the latter’s dark and moody visuality had an impact on my earlier work.  I am also a kid of the eighties and grew up admiring some of the most talented black and white photographers. I like the diversity of Albert Watson for example. Bruce Weber is another one. His ‘Let’s get lost’ documentary about Chet Baker had a big influence on my work.

Q: Did you have a mentor? Who?

A: This would be German photographer Jim Rakete who was doing great b/w portraits of the German music scene in the eighties. I met him in the early nineties and even assisted for him on one or two occasions. He supported me quite a bit and gave me a lot of advice.

Q: What’s the most remarkable aspect for you in being a photographer?

A: The most important aspect in photography for me is that I get to see so much of the world and meet so many talented people. It really is about the moment itself, the process and collaboration. The journey is the destination, isn’t it?

©Olaf Heine

Stroke, Berlin, 2008

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Q: If you had your choice of subjects/projects to shoot, what would it be?

A: I do have my choice of projects sometimes. Besides my commissions Ialways work on personal projects. Throughout the year I try to take some weeks and months off  to develop and pursue certain ideas. There are portraiture portfolios of different people as well as landscape and architectural projects.

Q:  Obviously you’re not intimidated by fame. Have you always found it easy to work around ‘personalities’?   

A: I try to look at my subjects in their entirety and not just in relation to fame and stardom, if you know what I mean. To me it’s more important that I work with creative minds and that makes the collaboration challenging and thrilling. Their fame is irrelevant to me.

Q: Who or what was the most difficult subject you’ve had to photograph? Why?

A: Of course there are shootings that are more difficult than others but I would’t tell you who those were with. I try to be as loyal as I can to my subjects.

Q: Do you have any favorite photographs, or one in particular you wish you’d had a chance to shoot over?

A: No. I don’t. I try to not look back too much and/or regret… Everything happens for a reason and if I mess up, I mess up. I try to learn from mistakes and move on.

Q: Any advice for young people starting out in the business?

A: That’s a tricky one. What would I say? Forget about sleep the first couple of years? Be grateful and humble? Try to not be too satisfied with your work? No seriously. I would say that one should not concentrate on photography alone. There is so much medial interplay between the different creative forms nowadays. My job needs some fundamental knowledge in graphic design, advertising, architecture, fashion, film, marketing and so many other aspects. Take your time and look around is what I’d probably say.

Q: Thank you, Olaf.

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Olaf Heine/I Love You but I’ve Chosen Rock


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Related Sites:

http://www.olafheine.com/
http://www.hatjecantz.de

All work copyright Olaf Heine; used with permission. 

Anja Wiroth Agency | Alexander Str. 9 | 10178 Berlin | Deutschland
Fon: +49-(0)30-509-161-41 | Mail: anja@anjawiroth.com

Weiss Artists Inc. | 6311 Romaine St. #7234 | Los Angeles | Ca. 90038 | USA
Fon: +1-323-461-1084 | Mail: caryn@wreps.com

Note:

This edited interview was conducted via e-mail from October through December, 2011.