German photographer Lars Heidemann was born in 1988 in Karlsburg. While studying English, History and Education at the university he seriously got into photography and presently he’s working part-time as a Darkroom Assistant at Caspar-David-Friedrich-Institute at the University of Greifswald. His photos have been exhibited in various group exhibitions at many locations in Germany. ‘Beyond.Suburbia’ is his new and ongoing project about exploration of space and escape for a simpler life in suburbs and beyond. A very versatile and elaborate artist, Lars responds in good detail about his works and preferences in my Q&A with him:
Tell me about yourself and your relationship with photography. Also share your experience as a darkroom assistant in the age of digital photography:
I have always been interested in photography since high school, but I got really into it, when I started my studies at the university. I was born in 1988, so I am part of the generation that grew up when digital photography became really big. So my first “serious” camera was a digital Canon 300D, which I sold after a short time, when I realized that my main interest is in film photography. I love old cameras and the fact that most of them were built to last for a long time. After having worked with a few 35mm cameras, I got my first medium format cameras and now I ended up at 4×5 large format. But I still shoot all formats, depending on the situation or the project I am working on. Also I shoot both colour (negative) and black and white films. Personally, I see film or analog photography as a medium that has a character that I really like and that comes with restrictions of all sorts (low ISO, number of shots, grain etc.). I see the restrictions as a sort of challenge that forces me to work harder on my image and it slows me down. With digital I feel I do not really have all this.
My side job at the university’s photolab has helped me understand all the steps that are needed to create a good image from the negative to the final print. It is a whole “different animal” compared to just shooting digital images and print them. My job is to assist students and show them all the little tricks they need to know. Most of the students learn to enjoy film photography and like to put effort into their images. And the results speak for themselves. In a digital world, I think, a hand-made print is worth a lot more, as it is unique and not exactly reproducible. That makes it interesting, especially for fine arts students.
What does photography mean to you? What do you want to express from your images and how do you view your evolution as a photographer?
I believe my images mirror what I am generally interested in and maybe also reflect parts of my character. But they are not per se meant to express or show that to the viewer in the first place. Most of my images are fairly quiet and there is not much action going on. I see this as an escape or even antithesis to a world that is going more insane every day. Going up in film formats and now working with large format can probably be seen as trend in my own photography. I love the slow process of it.
In general there are many influences in my photography, mostly the well-known great American and German photographers. So of course I came across William Eggleston at some point. His work told me to see the world differently – democratically (as he calls it) and in colour. In my early work I looked for interesting subject matter and tried to make it a good composition within the frame, often without working on a specific topic. I just photographed what I thought was interesting.
That I still do, but my projects now became a bit more conceptual with a main idea in the back of my head while I am shooting. The range of photographers that have probably all influenced me in some way became a lot larger over the years of course.
Beyond.Suburbia is a project about the space between urban/suburban life and nature, which is mostly at the outskirts of towns and cities near of where I live. The series also deals with the originally romantic idea (Caspar David Friedrich and others) of escape from the city and looking for a life in the wilderness. With my project I am trying to find a new approach of dealing with this fairly old topic. I shoot the project in black and white, because it adds a timelessness and abstraction to the images. It also prevents the images of being too close the works of the old painters, which the idea of the project somehow refers to.
Usually, I work outside and I do not stage shots. I like things how they are and if the motifs I find do not give me a satisfying composition, I do not take the shot. One of my main goals (as probably of most photographers) is to create images that are still interesting to look at in a hundred years. I like it when the viewer can not quite tell when or where an image was taken.
Do you have a favourite photo or a significant memory related to photography?
No I do not have a favourite image. But the question reminded me that I usually shoot mini-projects when I am travelling (Canadiana, Bozen or Tales of Lisbon). When travelling, I try to shoot as if I am not a tourist. That is always a fun exercise and sometimes results in nice series.
The toughest thing these days is to find a very personal style and prove that your own work is unique. The internet is overloaded with images and the big photo-platforms became really annoying to me. For me it is almost impossible to find good works there, because it is so much. That is why I enjoy photoblogs and magazines that are well-curated and show high-quality works. The internet makes many things easier, but it often adds the extra stress of selecting the interesting from the uninteresting.
So far I feel I have just started doing photography more seriously. At this point I still do not know if photography could be a serious carrier option for me or not. But I do as much as I can to have it as one possibility for a profession. I try to make as many exhibitions as my time allows me. And so far there have been quite a few, mostly group exhibitions. This summer I was given an artist scholarship for one month. This allowed me to work on the project ‘Beyond.Suburbia’ and also work with other artists. Photobooks are definitely on my list, but I have not had the time yet to make one. (Sometimes, I wish I had an assistant or someone who could do all that for me. This stuff takes so much time… ;))
Say something to our readers or aspiring photographers:
At least shoot film for some time (especially as a beginner). It will come with a lot of failure, but it will make you a better photographer for sure – even if you shoot digitally afterwards.