by Daniel Hofmann
It’s difficult to keep photographing when you have a full time job – at least, that’s what I told myself to feel better. We all have those days when it is easier to say that something else is more important or that we just don’t have the time for it. Indeed, there are days when that is the truth; but most of the time, we just lie to ourselves. When I was in India it was easy to take pictures. I had time and everything was new and inspiring to me.
Back in Germany, that changed. So I had to look for different way to take photos. I always love to tell a story with my pictures, meaning; I just had to find something new to tell. Recently I found that story. A very personal one that I’m not ready to share with you yet, but ironically, that’s exactly what I want to talk about:
I believe that taking pictures is like writing in a journal: I show you how I see the world and maybe with every frame you understand me a little bit better. That’s one of the reason I love photography so much: with every picture I learn a little bit more about myself. With this new project, it’s more personal than taking portraits in the streets. It’s something new because it can’t be planned like a day in a new exciting city. It just happens in my ordinary life: I’m sitting in a room, I talk, I laugh and suddenly there is a moment I want to capture…something extraordinary.
The reason I’m not going to talk about it in detail is because even when most photographs are for sharing, some of them you should keep close to yourself. Just for a while so you can figure out what it really is and maybe what you want it to be. Is it just a moment, or is there a bigger story? Why is this situation or this person so important to me? That’s what I’m doing right now. Figuring it out step by step – very small steps. I’m not sure if I’m making sense right now but I hope from photographer to photographer you know what I mean.
"Photography does not create eternity, as art does; it embalms time, rescuing it simply from its proper corruption."
by Daniel Hofmann
Two days before Christmas I traveled to Berlin to meet some friends from India and show them around. Also I hated it that my precious Fuji was collecting dust in my bag. If you know a city well, it gets harder and harder to see the special things. I would love to feel inspired like I felt in India. This is probably one of the most important lessons I learned as a photographer: it is easy to take good pictures in a special place. The unknown feeds my muse in so many ways, which made it hard for me to come home to Germany. I was afraid I would lose my creativity when I was confronted with my ordinary surroundings. In some ways this fear came true, because I felt no need to photograph for a long time. I tried, but nothing I captured really inspired me like India did.
I'm still in a process of finding a new voice here in Germany. It is without a doubt a different voice and maybe even a little bit darker. One reason is that it is not so easy to connect with people here. Most of the time I want to talk to the people I take photos of. It gives me an idea on how I want to photograph them. Germans are less welcoming when you start talking to them on the street – there are exceptions of course, but it’s definitely harder than in other countries I've been. I'm still trying to connect with them, but a lower success rate forces me to try new things to tell the stories I want to tell.
A few of these attempts I will share with you here. They are from my two days in Berlin with Lopamudra and Sabyasachi. Both of them are amazing photographers and when I saw how many pictures they took in Berlin – probably thrice as much as I did – they showed me that there is something special here; I just have to start looking again.
"both of them remained floating in an empty universe
where only everyday and eternal reality was love"
Gabriel García Márquez
by Daniel Hofmann
In my last post I wrote about my exhibition in Hamburg -- and now it’s time to tell you a little more about it!
It’s still a strange feeling to see my own pictures like that. Most of the time it feels great, as there is nothing better than seeing your work outside of a laptop screen. In the digital age, that has become something rare. On the other hand, that proud feeling comes at a price…I mean that literally. You need to invest money to put on an exhibition. It’s definitely a risk, and it puts you on the spot -- you hope for the right people to come, who appreciate the work you put into your photographs and are willing to pay for that. Having a photo framed turns it into something that you can’t get from a book. Maybe the exhibition will turn out to be something great or maybe as something not so great. Either way, it’s an important step, because you learn what works for you and what doesn’t. In the end, it's all a learning process.
One of the first and most important lessons I already learned so far is that it's important to pick the right people to work with. I trust the guys I’m working with and I know they do their best. The second would be that you should never invest money you don’t have. Taking risks is okay, but don’t work yourself into a situation where you have to sell your gear so you can pay your rent.
There are other things you have to figure out. Like, how do you want to present your photographs? I spent countless hours busting my head on so many questions. Do I frame my photos or do I choose a different way to present them? Which type of paper do I use? How big should I print the pictures? How much am I willing to pay for that? And the most important question of all: which photographs do I use? Something like this is not decided in a few minutes, but a good guideline is to keep it simple. The exhibition should have one specific theme; with that, the range of pictures you can use already becomes smaller.
The theme for my exhibition is the spiritual life I witnessed in India.So many people in India have such a strong connection to a spiritual, invisible world that will never be as accessible to me. That is the main reason why it is so damn fascinating to me. Especially when you see how it effects the daily life in India. That’s why I called the exhibition 'Entangled', because both of these worlds (the visible, 'normal' one and the invisible, spiritual one) are so deeply connected that even a simple morning walk can become something spiritual. I have seen that happen so many times in Varanasi. It’s one of the reasons why I love that city so much and why most of the pictures in my exhibition are made there. I can’t wait to go back there!
I didn’t come up with the name Entangled on my own, by the way. A dear friend, who is better with words than me, helped me with that. Never be too proud to accept (or even ask for) help from your friends is the message here, I guess.
Let’s close this post with a message so many photographers told me: get your pictures out there! It’s a risk and sometimes you fly high and sometimes you fall flat on your face. You are going to learn what works for you as a photographer if you are willing to embrace the good and the bad. But if you never try, you'll never know!
P.S. I almost forgot to tell you where you can see my photographs! It’s the Michael Götze Gallery and Showroom in Hamburg untill the 15th of January. Should you be in the area, you are welcome any time!
by Daniel Hofmann
The last month was kind of a busy one. I moved to my favorite city in Germany – Hamburg, for the curious – for a new job and I’m organizing my first photo exhibition. No worries, I will write more about that when everything is done, but for now let’s talk about chance.
With so many things happening in big ways, it’s easy to overlook the small things that are actuality responsible for everything in our daily life. Like the moment I went into a gallery and ended up talking to the owner could have had so many different outcomes. He could have been busy or in a bad mood and I might have never ended up with the chance to show my photography in his gallery – to be honest I never even dared to dream I would. The thing is that it did happen, and I’m very grateful for that.
It did not all depend on luck, because I still had to make the decision to talk to this guy and he still had to like my work enough, but what I want to say is that something great can happen when our hard work meets a little bit of luck. It’s no different when it comes to my photography and probably yours. Let’s take a look at one of the most iconic pictures of Henri Cartier-Bresson: the guy who jumps over a big puddle of water and was captured by this amazing photographer midair. I probably get sued when I show this picture so you can take look under this link. Every photographer knows the feeling when you're standing in a particular spot and you just know that there is something special there. Everything comes together except for a little detail and now you just have to wait and hope for this detail to appear (or in some cases to disappear). In Bressons picture it was the jumping guy. Let’s not kid ourselves, this man was a genius with a camera and he saw the potential of the picture a long time before it really happened -- I believe this is an ability of all great photographers -- but this photo wouldn’t be as strong as it is without the impromptu ballerino. There are tonnes of possible scenarios where the guy ends up elsewhere in the frame; or he may have walked around the puddle instead of jumping over it; Bresson could have arrived too early or too late to get the light and the puddle in; the weather could have been different…
I think you know where I’m going with this. Most of the time we need a little bit of luck to push our photography from good to great. Before that, we have to learn our craft as good as we can, though. Only then those things can come together. I’m going to finish this post with a great quote from Charles Harbutt, which I read in an even greater book. It’s called “Eyes wide open” and was written by Mario Calabresi: “It wasn’t only I who looked for the photo but it was the photo that looked for me: every so often we would meet”
by Daniel Hofmann
Why do we fall in love? Probably to save humanity from extinction. But why do we fall in love with a city? I really don’t see a reason for that, yet I’ve been in love with Hamburg for a while now and my visit last week didn’t change that feeling.
Because I currently live in a small village, I was looking forward to walk through the streets of Hamburg with my Fuji X-T1. She really needed some street practice after all this time in the woods where I could only take pictures of my dog and the trees. Believe it or not, even the woods get dull after some time.
Hamburg is perfect when you are looking for a big town that isn’t too stressful. That is also why I love this city. It’s relaxed like a seasoned fisherman. It works well with my way of photography and, as a bonus, this city has an amazing art scene. The downside is that I lose a lot of money to photobooks and tickets for exhibitions.
This time I visited an exhibition of Phillip Toledano (I went twice, to be perfectly honest) at the Deichtorhallen. He is an amazing photographer and I was blown away by two of his projects. One was dedicated to his sister who died way too early in an accident. The series is called “When I was six.”. The combination of surreal pictures, images of her belongings accompanied by the writing of Toledano spoke to me on so many levels. You can see and feel that this man suffers for his art. The second project was called “Phonesex” and in this one he took portraits of people who worked for a sex hotline. The way he lit every subject is amazing. I’m not a big fan of flash but he used it in such a subtle way that it seemed like available light. Also, every scene he captured was telling a bigger story about the person. I quote Richard Kalvar here: “Millions of portraits are made every day and you have to do something really special to draw the viewer in.” Toledano accomplished that without a doubt.
I always feel inspired after such an exhibition and I used my remaining time to take pictures. The result you are going to see now:
"Sooner or later, everyone dies. That’s why we aren’t really living to have a long life.
We’re really living to die properly."
by Daniel Hofmann
Last weekend I met up with a friend for movies and drinks. Let me start this blog post with a side note: the new Mission Impossible movie was pretty good!
Later that night I sat on my friend's couch and watched a documentary on Bob Dylan. It focussed on the time he became famous, and one scene reminded me why I love this man so much. He sat in a room filled with journalists and one of them asked if he knew why many people referred to him as 'the voice of his generation'. Dylan couldn’t give him a satisfying answer.
It wasn’t that Dylan didn’t want give the journalist an answer; he just didn’t know what to say, — he explained in a later interview. The musician said that he never wanted to be some kind of 'voice of a generation'. He just did what he loved to do, regardless of whether people were going to love or hate his work. So many fans listened to his folk music, but then he suddenly changed everything and made music with a big rock band. Not everyone was happy about that. They came to see the folk singer and got the rock star. Bob Dylan didn’t care, because he went where his passion lead him.
This documentary showed me again how important it is to stay true to your work. To stay true to your heart. I see so much photographs that looks the same, because it’s easily likable on Instagram, 500px or Facebook. Don’t get me wrong, it can be amazing work and I admire the artist behind it, but it’s not always clear if the art comes from the need of expressing yourself or from the need to be popular. It’s nothing new and I believe every generation of artists will have to deal with that. For example: in the last few years, I watched some amazing young photographers emerge and I asked myself; how could they reach this level of photography at such a young age? Their work and effort felt honest and authentic. Now when I read an article about an upcoming young photographer, that feeling has vanished. So much of their work seems to be only a part of a popular style, that was established and approved by facebook. I still enjoy looking at it, but I don’t feel the authenticity anymore.
We all have artists we look up to and we all integrate different parts of their work into our own art. I’m no exception — everyone wants his work to be acknowledged by others. The question is, though, how much does it affect our process of creating? Would you stop working on a project because people don’t show any interest in it, or would you keep going? Bob Dylan kept going, despite the naysayers. That’s why he is a big role model to me.
Like he said himself: “Don’t think twice, it’s alright.”
P.S. The series you see here is about my final time in college. I lived mostly in the library because of my exams and so I brought my Holga with me for the time when it got dark.
by Daniel Hofmann
Last week I had to travel to Frankfurt for a seminar about India. When I travel somewhere, of course I expect to come home with some pictures! Normally I would try to capture the city life, but I couldn’t really get into the right mindset. It’s something every photographer deals with once in a while.
I had three choices now: I could put my little Fuji away and call it a day, but that wasn’t an option for me. Nobody improves by doing nothing. My second option was that I could force myself to keep photographing the way I usually photograph. This really helps because sometimes you just have to work through it and at the end you find something new. Still I decided to go for option number three: I decided to chang the subject of my photography. I started shooting buildings and concentrated on lines and shapes around me.
This change helped me to free my mind and enjoy the walk through the city. I believe we all have these moments when we want to work as usual and it just doesn’t work and that makes us sad, angry, nervous or whatever it does to you. We punish ourselves for not being as productive as yesterday or last week and think that our work doesn’t improve anymore. It’s like riding up a mountain with a bicycle. At the beginning it’s easy because you have so much energy, but at some point it gets harder and harder and maybe you have stop to regain some power. Let’s say Frankfurt was such a point for me. I had to make the decision if I wanted to take the easy way back down the mountain or if I wanted to put some renewed energy into it. I changed the gear to and started heading upwards again.
At the end I got totally different images than my usual work. Even though it is not my usual style, I enjoyed my time creating it and that is the whole point, don't you think?
by Daniel Hofmann
They say size doesn’t matter and at least with cameras it's finally true.
Canon and Nikon are still making some great DSLR’s and I loved my Canon 5D but there are new players on the market and they are changing the game. Olympus offers great Micro-Four-Thirds Camera with an insanely fast Autofocus and Sony has the biggest selection of full frame mirrorless cameras. I think both are great options but I chose something between. Last year I bought my first Fujifilm before I boarded my flight to India. It was the little X100S and it was love at the first sight. The image quality is on par with my Canon 5D Mark III but it is way more low profile and easy on my shoulders.
That’s the reason I made the decision to sell my Canon gear and fully put my trust into Fujifilm. I exchanged my 5D for an XT-1 and a 23mm 1.4. The nice thing about a smaller camera is that it’s way more easy on the wallet and a full change of gear doesn’t cost extra money. Enough on the green devil. It shouldn’t be the reason why you buy a particular camera. For me the main reason is that I don’t want to carry too heavy gear around – it gives me away at the first sight – but I don’t want to sacrifice image quality. For me, Fuji was the obvious choice, but it always comes with a price. Slower Autofocus and shorter battery life were my main concerns; but creativity comes with constraints. For example, I have to carry more batteries with me but I see it as an opportunity to choose every exposure more carefully. Like in the good old days of analog photography. The autofocus is pretty fast already and I’m sure it’s going to improve more and more, and the manual focus with the XT-1 is a delight anyway.
In the end it comes down to this: Do you like what you are holding in your hands and does it suit the work you want to do. The most expensive gear isn’t always the best choice. When you want high resolution pictures to shoot models or print really (I mean REALLY) big then you can find some great cameras out there. If you want something less obvious and more compact then take a look at Fuji or Olympus. In the end, the camera is only the tool. You are the artist behind it.
by Daniel Hofmann
My last week in India I spent in Calcutta (or Kolkata; I can never decide how to call it). I had a great time there because of so many reasons. I chatted with amazing people, wandered through exciting streets and drank a lot of fresh orange juice. I miss the fresh and cheap orange juice so much!
Calcutta is a city with a soul. The first time I saw all the old cabs lined up in front of the airport, I knew I was gonna love it there. I never payed so much for a room during my whole time in India – 'expensive' is relative in India anyway – but it was worth the extra money. Getting up in the early morning to wander through the market areas, seeing the sun rise while the merchants set up their shop or prepare food never lost its magic to me.
I had the pleasure to meet Soumya Shankar Ghosal during my stay. He's an amazing person and equally great photographer, who was kind enough to show me around his town. Because of him, I got to take pictures in one of the biggest fruit markets of India; walked through a street where they only sold school books; and ate chinese delicacies that were only sold in one specific street, at one particular day of the week, at a particular time in the early morning. Thanks to Soumya, I saw and learned things I probably would have missed on my own.
by Daniel Hofmann
It has been a while since I worked on my website and on this blog. The reason is pretty simple: after my return to Germany I needed some time off to ease back into my old life. That didn’t take that long actually, but the thing is... We all have to make a living and I’m still looking for my way to make that happen. That’s my new exciting journey, you could say. I’m not going to annoy you with details, but let's just say it’s no cake-walk.
Back to the more important things: photography. Over the past months, I decided to sell all my Canon gear and put my faith into Fuji. My Canon 5D stepped aside for a Fuji X-T. Since I've used the X100s as a secondary camera on my travels through India and Nepal, I realized how important it is to me to not carry too much gear. It wasn't an easy decision – I loved my Canon – but I think I chose the right one. I’m going to write about it more extensively in another blog post.
I’m also going to write about a few new photobooks I recently bought. They are all amazing and I can’t wait to tell you about it. So it seems that I have some topics for the upcoming weeks and I’m happy about being online on this page again. It’s time to move onto new exciting things!
"You are not taking a portait all on your own.
The other one gives it to you."
“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it"
by Daniel Hofmann
It’s been almost two months now since I trekked to the Annapurna Basecamp and Poon Hill. It was a special journey for me because it’s something you don’t see every day and I met some special people along the way. I was bitching a lot about the many steps I had to climb — my travel companions can definitely confirm that — but pushing through was probably one of the best choices I made during my travels through India and Nepal.
The Annapurna Basecamp Trek is a tourist favorite, but I went there in the cold season of January and I didn’t encounter many of them. With one exception: because of their holiday season I met several groups from South Korea. Most of the time, though, I could enjoy the silence of solitude. What surprised me the most about the trek was the sheer amount of forest I had to walk through. When you see pictures of Nepal, the snowy mountains are a dominant theme so I didn’t expect areas that reminded me of a rainforest. Unexpectedly beautiful!
There was a lot of trekking up and sliding down, only to hike up again. The weight of my photography gear on my shoulders wasn’t helping either, but when I saw the porters carrying sixty kilogram cages with living chickens up the mountain, I knew that I should stop whining about my backpack — I still did at times. At the end it was worth every step because standing on a thick layer of fresh snow surrounded by gigantic mountains and nothing but the sound of avalanches in the distance was just pure magic.
by Daniel Hofmann
Today something different: I take part in the Explore The Elements – Travel Photoblogging Challenge from Thomas Cook. The rules are pretty simple. There are four elements and for each one I have to present a fitting photograph. It wasn't easy to select my favorites but in the end I wanted a collection that works as a whole and with that choice I stayed with black and white. It's always a great exercise to edit your pictures from a different perspective. I have to ask myself again, if the photograph works in the way I intended it but enough said:
by Daniel Hofmann
Most people know the Holi Festival as a colourful event, so it was a challenge to approach it as a black and white project. I wanted to show that color is only one part of the story and that it really is about the energy instead.
I was in Vrindavan and Mathura to document the festivities. Both cities are strongly connected to the life of Krishna, which is why Holi is very intensely celebrated there. I had to learn that this can be good and bad. Good, because the whole city is smiling at you. Everyone is in a great mood and being a photographer on that day is bliss. Nobody is going to say no when you ask them for a portrait and other people are too busy with celebrating to notice you at all.
On the other hand: a big party comes with a big amount of alcohol and after noon the vibe can drastically change. Big crowds and alcohol are never my favourite combination, so I kept my distance after the clock passed 12 in the afternoon on the 6th of March. It’s the actual day when everyone celebrates Holi. In Mathura and Vrindavan the clocks tick differently though and I could enjoy some festivities on the 4th and 5th. Highlights are the celebration in the Bankee Bihari Temple in Vrindavan and a parade in the streets of Mathura. It was an amazing experience and it is not going to be the last time I will document this festival.
by Daniel Hofmann
It’s over. Yesterday the Magnum Photography Workshop with Richard Kalvar came to an end and it was quite the experience. I was one of twelve photographers who had the fortune to be selected for this program in Goa. For four days, we talked, criticized, edited and, of course, took pictures. Every day until lunch, we would talk about the pictures we created the day before and in the afternoon everyone would work on their own project. It was a stressful but rewarding time. It’s not only the review of my own pictures that brought me forward; seeing and analyzing the work of other photographers helped me grasp the difference between good and amazing work. It can be the smalllest elements that make the biggest differences sometimes.
I am still trying to pinpoint out exactly what the workshop did for me as a photographer, but it is hard. Kalvar is not the type of person who will tell you bluntly what is wrong with your pictures. The worst comment I heard about one of my pictures — the one to your right — was “boring”.
I can live with the critique, because he is right. It’s a guy doing a handstand and that’s it. I still like it, but because I have an emotional connection to it, I failed to see just the picture. That is one thing I take away from the workshop (so now you can save yourself the money after having read this); you need to learn to look beyond the emotional attachment or personal moment, and judge the photo for what you captured.
There are different kind of workshops out there. Some of them are a great experience to see your favorite photographer work in the field and walk around as a group. If you want something like that, then a Magnum Workshop is probably not for you. They challenge you to work on your own and to be consistent with the work you produce. Now, as I write that, I realize that this is actually the most important thing I learned over the last days: be consistent, always challenge yourself and work , work and then work a little bit more until the picture is more than a snapshot. "We are here to create more than just a good picture", Richard would say.
The pictures you are going to see here are part of this process; they are the final selection I presented at the end of the workshop. The project concentrates on the repair men around Goa. From little things like knifes to huge ships. It’s amazing to see how your work changes when you have to reduce it to ten pictures. You have to be hard on yourself and cut some pictures out. It hurts but in the end, this makes the set stronger and your vison becomes clearer for you and the viewer. At least, I hope it worked!