I was born in 1963 and live in the German city of Braunschweig. With my first strong influences going back to the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson and German photojournalist Thomas Hoepker, I like exploring my world as a street photographer today, with some documentary projects on the side. My pictures have been featured in periodicals and on various digital platforms and hubs and have also received awards in international street photo festivals and competitions.
Being a self-taught photographer, I started with all the basic stuff, all those analog films, all from Ilford, all B/W, color was far too expensive and complicated for me. I learned how to develop the negatives and make my own prints in my parents’ basement. I experienced digital as a blessing, it made everything so much easier, at least for me. I am not a big fan of tech talk, in fact not at all. All you really need is a good camera with a big sensor and a good lens in front of it, but gear is not really all that important to me. I work with a Sony A7 Mk3 and a 35mm ZEISS prime lens.
What is most important, though, is the eye, the art of seeing and perception and openness to all kind of visual clues. Easier said than done…
I like to go out shooting whenever I have some free time and feel like I have an open mind that will be able to perceive any visual clues. Not every day, regrettably. But every week I’d say. But not nearly enough time right now, since I am still quite busy in my job, which takes up far more than 9 to 5. I am planning to retire from my professional life in the next few years and am really looking forward to that new phase in my life when I have much more time to spend on the streets of my hometown and in the big capitals of the world. I regularly visit larger events, trade shows, parades, carnival celebrations, all kinds of events where people come together. Here, I try to keep an eye out for the not-too-obvious, the stories behind the scenes. I often find the best pictures during the preparations for such events or afterwards.
Why am I doing street photography? Well, after all, it’s all about curiosity! It’s all about finding out what life has to offer me on any given day – I’m eager to see what’s around the next corner.
I am in the “classical trade” if you know what I mean. My style of photography is inspired by the great masters of the genre whose books I collect: Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand, Joel Meyerowitz, Elliott Erwitt, Martin Parr, and Matt Stuart, to name just a few. When I don’t have my camera with me (OK that almost never happens), I am not the biggest fan of large crowds, to be honest, they make me feel a bit uneasy. But this changes as soon as I have my camera with me. Crowds and moments of human interaction can’t be big enough.
Plus: photography has also taught me a lot about myself. What kind of person I am. I used to be more of a silent and introverted guy thirty years ago. Street photography, interaction with the world and the people around me has also helped me to grow as a person. Over the years, I have become more outgoing, communicative and open. In this way, photography has definitely taught me a lot about myself, so I have shaped my photography, but my photography has also shaped me.
I am doing this simply for my own pleasure and because I HAVE TO. It’s a passionate love affair that has lasted for the past four decades and still lingers on. And because I want to grow as a photographer. Create more complex and more complexly layered photographs in the future. I’d love to see a picture or two of mine printed in a zine or book and hung in an exhibition. I plan to put together a zine or book of my own at some point. These are still plans for now but hey, we all need dreams that keep us going. I love the haptics of quality paper and the smell of ink and freshly unpacked photobooks – that’s reason enough for me to love this genre, I guess.
Searching for My Very Own Rue Mouffetard
“What a strange title!”, you might be asking yourself… Here’s the story to it:
I got my first serious camera as a present from my parents for my 18th birthday and bought myself a photo compendium entitled “THE JOY OF PHOTOGRAPHY”, which was published by Kodak, if my memory serves me correctly. I poured over the pages and there it was – I can still feel my amazement when I first discovered this photograph; it’s as if it were yesterday: the magical B/W masterpiece by Henri Cartier-Bresson, a photograph that many of you are sure to be familiar with. The black-and-white picture of a small boy, carrying home two huge bottles of wine with an indescribable expression of pride and joy on his face, entitled Rue Mouffetard, Paris, 1954. When I saw this picture, I was thunderstruck: How on earth could a photographer be there, see and catch such an intimate, fleeting moment? What he called The Decisive Moment. With the equipment available at that time!
This picture of the little boy virtually burned itself into my brain. I have never forgotten it since; it has provided me with a kind of internally memorized guardrail and a compass to give direction to my own photographic passion.
I have entitled my series “Searching for my very own Rue Mouffetard”, because that is the most fitting title I could possibly think of. Henri Cartier-Bresson’s masterpiece of that little French boy carrying the wine bottles is always in my head. This was THE picture for me, my personal game changer, that was what I wanted to do, too! Take pictures of people in the street! If I had only known how hard this journey was going to be to make one single good picture, I might have stuck with a different genre, but there was no way out: This was going to be what I wanted to do!
For me, a good picture must have a thought-provoking note, some humorous or quirky details, some kind of storyline. I like pictures that pose questions rather than provide answers. 99.9% of my photos are taken candidly; nothing is staged or manipulated. I like chasing for the offbeat, on a quest to find some extravaganza in the ordinary, some fun element, some beautifully layered scene. Any interesting scene that hits my eye. I try to stay as invisible as possible, try to see things that others might not see. Find something special in the ordinary, try to make something out of nothing that might only exist for a split second and then it’s gone forever!
Or creating a document of life. The two old grannies I captured in 1991 in San Gimignano, Italy, one with the Hanimex 110 pocket camera: a time document today (picture 26). As all the millions of smartphones today will be at some point in the future…
Please see https://hackenberg.info/about-thomas for more information on publications, features, and awards.
Listen to an interview with Thomas on the SPM Podcast here.