Street Symphony

with Andreas Brandau



La rue se renouvelle au gré des jours qui emportent son flot de passagers. Anonymes fugitifs. Les regards, entre deux mesures de vie dans un intermezzo de sentiments où les choses se dévoilent, oublient la beauté d'un instant toujours trop court, pour être appréciée, savourée. Quand l'être s'éloigne de sa nature propre, qui d'autre si ce n'est le photographe pour réconcilier notre monde, le figer dans une fraction d'éternité? Au delà des moments décisifs, au delà des conventions, c'est seul devant tous qu'il agit, seul devant nous, à la recherche de lui-même, à travers ceux qu'il croise. Immuable dans le changement, et pourtant en perpétuel révolution, c'est sans doute ça être photographe, et cela Andreas Brandau l'a bien compris. L'on ne devient pas photographe, c'est plus subtile que ça. C'est comme dans la suite logique des choses, une appareil photo qui traine, des souvenirs d'enfance, des images dans la tête, puis doucement la vie se charge de vous, et vous amènera tôt ou tard sur le pavé, où tout se passe. Quand la photographie se fait passion, quand elle guérit, et insuffle en chacun de nous, insidieusement, ce désir de vouloir saisir l'insaisissable, c'est alors en silence que le plus beau peut prendre forme, un œil tourné vers soi, l'autre grand ouvert sur le monde.

Andreas a bien voulu participer au jeu des questions réponses, se dévoilant sans faux semblants, pour nous donner en toute simplicité, sa propre vision de ce que représente la photographie pour lui, mais aussi dans un domaine un peu plus précis parler de street photography.

1. Photography and you: How did it start?

When I was a teenager, I discovered the slides archive of my grandpa, who I never met, because he was gone before my birth. It was a magical moment, when I realized, that I could now see frames of the past exactly in the same way my grandpa had seen, when he pushed the release button.

I got a camera with three changeable lenses from my other grandpa. From that time on I photographed my family and all my school friends, nature, architecture and - without knowing the name of the genre - street. I was so infected and addicted to photography, that I developed my black and white films and prints by myself for many years.

As a young man my interests changed and I switched to color photography. The process of developing was to expensive and complicated for me, so I took it to the photo lab. Over the years I got bored with my photos and used the camera only to shoot family pics.

When I bought my first digital camera, I was exited about the possibilities and the control over the image processing and started again, searched for the perfect moment to shoot the perfect image.


2. Emotion: What is your first recollection of a photo?

This question is hard to answer. When we enter this world, we are surrounded by pictures and photos everywhere. That's why I can't remember the very first photograph I've seen or was interested in. I guess the family albums where the first source of interest. I know, that I was fascinated by the "journey to the past" and the stories behind them.

There is a photography book by the famous italian actress Gina Lollobrigida ("My Italy" from 1972), which I viewed as a kid again and again. Today I'm not sure, what impressed me more: The portrayal of a distant country or the full size picture of a nude actress in that book. But seriously, when I look at all these photographs (street and portraits) today, I'm still enchanted by her work. In my eyes Lollobrigida is the Italian equivalent to Henri Cartier-Bresson, surely with a different approach but a similar expression.


3. With which camera did you start to shoot? Do you still have it, and if so do you still use it?

My very first camera was a Certo SL 100, a plastic viewfinder compact camera. It had a fixed lens and only two speeds, for sunny or cloudy light. This little camera was used with black and white film loaded in spool-less cassettes and produced pictures in square format. It was a camera especially for beginners and very popular in East-Germany.

Aged fourteen I got my first SLR, a Contax D by VEB Zeiss Icon, the old camera of my grandpa, as I mentioned above. It's the so called "mother of all single lens reflector cameras". That was my beginning of seriously taking photographs, with three lenses and a flash. I still own this camera and due to the analog hype I used it again in the last year.


4. When did you start to do street photography? Was there a person, a moment, a certain time and place that led to it?

In summer 2014 I stumbled upon an old photograph by Fred Herzog, born 1930 in Germany, emigrated 1952 to Vancouver/Canada. He is one of the pioneers in using color in photography. “Man with Bandage“ from 1968 shows a street scene with an injured man with a scratch on his chin, rising his hand against the sun and holding a cigarette in his other bandaged hand. Behind him stands an old lady, dressed with a black coat and a white hat, gloves, handbag and walking cane. She is looking at him in a mixture of compassion and disgust. A captured “decisive moment”, brilliant composition, moody atmosphere, a told story in one picture – wow! The only book I could find about him was a catalogue from his exhibition at C/O Berlin – used for 300 EUR. So I followed the suggestions by Amazon and bought a small book about Henri Cartier-Bresson instead and was fascinated by his candid photography. 

A few days later a friend of mine introduced me to the work of a French photographer. She named his work by using the words “street photography” and I considered, ’I can do that too’.

I started to shoot “street scenes” with my smartphone, processed the photographs in black and white and loaded them up. That was the beginning of a passion.


5. Black and white or colors?

Life is in color (mostly), seeing is in color, my camera captures fantastic colors, but I prefer black and white. If a color doesn’t add something to the story or a color isn’t the main subject, I convert the picture into black and white (what I do in 95%). That approach emphasizes the composition, shapes, lines, light and shadow. Color would often distract attention.


6. Are you a friend of digital photography or are you a nostalgic of analog photography?

I have to smile about all the hipsters shooting film these days with their retro-cams. They say, “that's so zen shooting film”, “it’s more individual” or “limitation unleashes creativity”. I did that for about twenty years and I’m thru with it. Don't get me wrong, shooting analog has its own magic. I appreciated that last year again, when I used a middle-format camera plus my Contax and took part in that hype. It slows down the process – more thinking and anticipating, less shooting. But it's to expensive for me, it's ecologically harmful, I have no clue, how to archive and where to store the negatives and on top of that I have to make them digital, if I want to share them online. It's ridiculous! Too much effort and too much time, till I get the results and I’m too impatient to wait.

If I want my photographs with an “analog look and feel”, what in fact means, adding some distortions like grain or a certain amount of contrast for example, I can do that digital with a software. I have the full control over the process and if I’m not satisfied with the results, I can make different versions from the same picture.

At the end of the day: For a good picture and the viewer is it irrelevant, if the process was analog or digital. There are masterpieces and catastrophes in both worlds. All things considered, the juice is not worth the squeeze. There is no advantage for me to shoot analog and that’s why I'm shooting digital.


7. Do you think that any kind of camera is suitable for street photography (even a smartphone)?

Any kind of camera is suitable for street photography, especially smartphones. The smaller the better. But remember Vivian Meyer with her Rolleiflex or Joel Meyerowitz with his 8x10 camera on a wooden tripod. Size obviously doesn't matter. I met a few guys using a heavy DSLR during a workshop with Eric Kim. It surely depends on the purpose, which camera to choose. If you prefer candid and stealthy shots, you need a small and unobtrusive camera. If you are approaching people and ask for permission or you are shooting with a tele-lens from a distance, you can use a big one too. The benefits of shooting with a smartphone are: Usually you have that “camera” always in your pocket and there is a “photo lab” in your hand. You can process and share the taken images immediately, if you want.


8. Do you work with a zoom or a fix lens?

In the streets I shoot with a fixed lens (my camera has only a fixed one). Nearly a year I used my smartphone for photography and realized, that I don't need a zoom lens. I take a step forward or backward if needed. In street photography you often have to be very quick and zooming could waste time. Beside that, using a fixed lens helps to anticipate, what's in the frame.


9. Being a street photographer implies to overcome one's boundaries of timidity. How do you deal with that?

There is only one approach to overcome your fears: Stepping out of your comfort zone! Ask for permission. My experience is, more people agree with that, only a few don't. The worst thing that could happen is a simple “no”. On the other hand, if you prefer the candid and sneaky style, you have to be stealthy and/or cold blooded.


10. Who as a street photographer impresses you (from the past or the present)?

There are the “usual suspects” like Henri Cartier-Bresson, the “godfather” and master of street photography. I admire his work for his compositions and the stories, he tells. Two other French photographers – Eugène Atget and Brassaï – came to my attention, when I browsed photography books in book stores. The look of their “ancient” Paris is amazing.

The book “New York in the forties” by the German-born photographer Andreas Feininger impressed me very much. The tele-lens pictures of Manhattan are icons of their era and genre.

In the “color-department” I favor the photographs of the US-Photographer Saul Leiter for their abstract shapes and compositions and the smart usage of color. Another master of color-photography for me is Joel Meyerowitz. He is a fantastic storyteller and his approach to photography and the seeing of things is an inspiring example for me.

When it comes to contemporary masters I must confess, that I do not know so many of them and mostly I can’t do anything with their work. I get my inspiration in the streams of Flickr or 500px and there are a lot of hidden treasures.


11. What is your definition of street photography?

The good thing is, it needs not much to do street photography: A camera of any kind, a step out of your apartment and you have your subjects and objects to shoot. You don’t need expensive studio equipment or have to pay for models. Obviously everyone can do this. The bad thing is: Everyone does it! Zillions of people are shooting strangers in public areas and labeling their pictures with “street photography” and tagging them with fancy phrases, because it's “en vogue”. And often no composition, no sense, no story is behind these pictures. Sometimes it looks like a scan of reality – randomly, boring and irrelevant, pimped by post processing. The output is nothing more than digital noise in a community of wannabe-photographers.

My definition of street photography is the common one, I guess: Urban environment, outdoors/indoors, public places, even streets, with or without a human element, people’s behavior, daily life, candid situations, non posing, authentic and some kind of documentary. It is also a state of mind, a way of seeing and observing the own environment. But the pictures have to tell a story!

For me exists – beside the general definition – a meta level of (street) photography. The consciousness about ourselves is based on memories of certain moments. But these moments and their recollections are fleeting. With a photograph I can save such a moment of time in a single frame. I capture a few of them to remember, share them, show somebody else, what and how I've seen. It's like telling stories without words. I'm working on it.


12. How do you react when people in the street oppose your art?

Fortunately, I had such an issue only once in two years. I took a picture of a biker with his dog. He jumped of and claimed the deleting of the photograph. Due to German law I had to ask for permission, what I didn’t. He was so upset, that he wanted to call the police. In the discussion I pointed out, that I can take pictures in the public as I want, only when it comes to publishing them, I need a permission (model release). After a few minutes he calmed down and told me, that tourists are permanently taking pictures of him and his dog, what is annoying to him. So I deleted the shot.

My first thought at home was, I restore the picture from the memory card – technically no problem. But who am I to neglect an explicit request for privacy of another person. That wouldn't be fair. Beside that, the picture wasn’t such a piece of art to fight for. When in doubt, I delete the picture. The next occasion is just around the corner.


13. Do you listen to music when you take photos and if so what are you listening to?

No, I don’t listen to music while shooting in the streets. It would slow down my attention. Beside of that, I’m not a fan of listening music in public. The city is too noisy and obnoxious for my taste of music.


14. How far did you go to get THE shot you wanted?

Approaching strangers was really far from my comfort zone, but I can do it now. To take your question literally: For some pictures I walked over 10 km a day.


15. How far would you go to get THE photo?

Normally I’m an impatient person, but for THE shot I can lie in wait. Sometimes I take “memory-shots” of a place or area, when I’m in hurry, the conditions are bad or the human element is missing. Later (days/weeks/months) I come back and take THE picture.


16. What is your dream camera?

There is always a camera to dream on, I guess. My dream camera is small, mirrorless, not noisy in low light conditions, has a very fast auto-focus and puts out sharp pictures. That’s all I need and I got it already (a Fujifilm X100T). A very special feature of a successor could be the ability to control the sharpness after I took the shot.


17. Where do you see yourself in the near future?

To be honest, I have no clue! It’s not on purpose to be famous or earn money with my photographs. I still have to learn a lot about street photography to find my own style, to make it interesting, to tell stories. At the moment I’m shooting what's in front of my lens, without a concrete plan. Maybe I should do some projects, maybe I deal more in color. I will take part in photo-walks more often, also in workshops, to learn from others. I’ll try to share constantly photos on my website and on Flickr or other social media, hoping someone gives feedback – I mean feedback, not “nice shot” or crap like that. Maybe one fine day I’ll have a little exhibition – grouped or solo. I know, that’s an ambitious goal to achieve, we will see.


18. Where do you think street photography can take you to?

In the same summer, when I discovered street photography, I got – due to personal circumstances – a “total eclipse of the heart” and saw my life and future pitch black. I had to recalibrate a few things in my life and find a way out. So I followed the suggestion: “Go creative!” For street photography you need open eyes and a clear mind to anticipate and see occasions. There's no time to ponder. And the kilometers I've walked where literally a way back to myself.

In consequence of shooting in the streets and publishing my work online I met so many people in the past two years, got so much feedback and learned so much, even about myself. I believe, that street photography was like a remedy (among others) on my way out of the dark. It sharpened my perception, gave me more self-confidence and took me to another level in different parts of my life. I'll keep that experience for the future and I’m sure, it would work again.

The British dancer and choreographer Royston Maldoom exposes the idea of life as an ongoing, constant challenge. Don't sit still, don't except, move on, look for the next thing, look for the next moment. Don't necessarily plan it but be ready for it, be open for it. There are similarities with my approach to life as well as to street photography, I guess. 


19. What is your best memory of a photo you have taken?

This question is hard to answer. For every photo I’ve taken on the street is a story behind. Maybe the picture of the girl, sitting at Hermannplatz with one shoe is an interesting one. It happened during the workshop with Eric Kim last summer. Imagine summer in the city at 37 °C and people have only two options: go crazy or go lazy. My shooting buddy and I had the assignment to approach people and ask them for a portrait. We had to collect ten “yes” and ten “no’s” and walked the streets up and down near Hermannplatz, a part of the city, that stands for the term “melting pot”. A very young lady entered the street, where people usually are dressed in casual or alternative style. But she wore a loud dress with small squares, red shoes, red handbag, red belt and red lip-gloss. A voice within whispered: ‘Pic of the day! Ask for permission! Go for it! What can you loose?’ But my partner and I considered, that two sweat-soaked guys with a camera approaching a young lady could have a strange effect. The inner voice teased: ‘Loser!’

Well, there is the phrase, ‘You miss 100% of the shots you don't take’. Damn right! Lucky for me, I saw her surprisingly again an hour later in a candid situation with sore feet. I raised my camera up and did some shots without composing. The inner voice teased again: ‘Loser!’ But anyways, I got it, I love it and it is one of the most viewed pictures in my photo stream.


20. What is your most precious memory of a person you have met through street photography?

The most precious memory of a person is the workshop with Eric Kim so far. He is such a great teacher, a little philosopher plus a smart, funny and pleasant person. It was a great experience to shoot with him, to learn his approach and to discuss about photography and life in general. He is still so young, but I’ve learned a lot. Eric Kim is a guy you want to make friends.


21. Please feel free to add further questions to which you know the answers or leave out those that you have no answer for.

I don't call myself a photographer, this term I reserved for the professionals. It's like playing piano, what doesn't mean, I'm already pianist or it’s like cooking, what doesn't mean, I’m a chef. I know, it’s a question of definition, but it’s my point of view. I take it seriously, nevertheless I do photography for the sake of it, for the fun, for myself. I take pictures – or as we say in German – I make pictures, process and share them, that's all.


Strassenfotos a pour habitude de demander à ses invités de choisir parmi un panel large de photographes, celui qui les inspire le plus. Le goût certain d'Andreas nous amène à découvrir ou redécouvrir le travail du fameux photographe Fred Herzog avec son Bandaged Man. L'on ne peut nier l'art dont Fred Herzog cadre ses scènes de rue, là comme sur la deuxième photographie capturé cette fois par Andreas lui-même, met en évidence les parallèles naturelles et fortuites qui peuvent exister entre le travail d'un photographe que l'on admire et le sien. Ici, la relation à Fred Herzog est lointaine, et pourtant, la délicatesse de tous les éléments entrant dans le cadre est respectée, involontairement sans doute, mais cela nous fait dire que l'art de la photographie fait appel à un instinct, une pulsion maîtrisée, bien au delà du conscient.

MAN WITH BANDAGE - Fred Herzog - 1968

GIRL - Andreas Brandau -  Août 2015

Pour suivre et retrouver le travail d'Andreas Brandau rien de plus facile!