Where are you from and how did you get into street photography?
I live in Germany in a small town on the Rhine. Photography has been part of my life for many decades. I am a social pedagogue by profession and have worked with children and their parents and most recently in primary school for many years. For many of my pupils I was “the teacher with the camera”, because I always accompanied and documented our work photographically.
On many photo journeys together with my husband I made intensive photographic experiences. Well, I am 65 years old now. For some years I have not been working in my profession anymore and with the possibility to have more time, photography now takes a big part in my life. I suddenly had time for workshops and seminars and – most of all – time to go out and take pictures. Making street photography wasn’t my goal from the beginning. It all came about that way, fed by an interest in people and a desire to observe.
I love the way you incorporate lines into your images. Do you go out looking for lines or do you just naturally incorporate them into your images?
I think it’s mostly due to my way of seeing and perceiving. The eye leads me, so to speak. I am very interested in architecture and art and love a clear formal language. That’s why I mainly photograph in black and white. For me, the pictures have a greater clarity. Nowadays, there are only a few pictures of mine left where I don’t want to miss out oncolor. But those few color photos do exist – I’m not dogmatic about it!
When I take photographs, I also perceive my surroundings in surfaces and lines in which people move. And I also move, I walk and look. I don’t enjoy staying static in one place for a long time and waiting until a person finally walks into the scenery.
And – I almost always carry my camera with me, no matter where I go, so that I can always capture something that fascinates me, often completely unplanned.
Are there any street photographers in particular that you draw inspiration from?
I adore the great masters of humanistic photography, such as Henri Cartier Bresson, Robert Doisneau or Willy Ronis, for whom man is always the center of attention. For me, street photography is only possible with respect for the people depicted. This attitude is elementary for me, whether as a teacher or as a photographer.
It was Frank Horvat who inspired me with his photo diary to keep my gaze open for the seemingly everyday, to look closely. There is something to discover every day.
Where is your favorite place to take photographs?
As already mentioned, I live in a small town on the Rhine. Even if I move here with my camera, situations arise that capture my eye. But of course, the possibilities are limited. So, I photograph a lot on our travels and I always enjoy getting involved in other places. I particularly love Nice and always return there. A lively city by the sea, where people from all over the world meet and French everyday life can be observed.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced in street photography and how have you overcome them?
It is not always easy to have patience and to endure to go home without having photographed anything or to delete all pictures afterwards. But I am in the privileged situation – because of my age – to have a lot of time and to try again and again.
However, this is limited when travelling – if you’re in Venice for a few days in winter to take foggy pictures and it’s just sunshine, you either have to give up or say goodbye to your plans. I usually choose the latter and try to change my mind. I think it’s important sometimes to get away from the “images in your head” to be open to something else.
What is your most memorable moment or photo from street photography?
It is difficult for me to pick out a special event or a photo. It’s a development process, some photos I wouldn’t take anymore or I would take them differently today. But I remember many happy excursions in which I explore my surroundings with the camera. I prefer to do it alone, in peace, without haste and compulsion to hold on to something. If it comes to satisfying results, it’s wonderful.
I remember two days last January when we had a lot of snow – and that happens very rarely! I was lucky enough to be able to use these days and was on the road a lot and was able to capture some very special situations. I was able to capture the contrasts and moods as it suited me. That makes me happy.
What has street photography taught you?
Looking, wondering and perceiving, looking closely and admiring. Pause not to rush restlessly from one point to another. To be open, and not to remain in a certain pattern.
Annie Leibovitz once said “Photography lets you find yourself. It is a passport to people and places and to possibilities”. I agree with that unreservedly.
Are you working on any new projects right now?
Currently I am working together with my husband Wolfgang Schmitz on a joint project with the working title “Am Rhein”. Photos from this project are continuously shown here.
Editor’s Note: To learn more about Birgitt and see more of her work, be sure to visit her Flickr and Instagram accounts. Birgitt was selected from our Flickr group (Street Photography Magazine), where we regularly choose photographers’ work to be published in our magazine.