Michael Gessner is a photographer from Germany. He’s currently pursuing his master’s degree after completing his B.A. in photography. Landscapes, urban architecture, and product photography are central themes to his work. His bachelor’s thesis ‘Wildnis’ is an impressive photobook of images of habitat with our relationship with nature. This interview post includes some of those images and his clean urban landscapes. More from him below:
Please tell us about yourself and your relationship with photography:
Hi, my name is Michael. I am from Germany and am currently studying for my master’s degree in information-design in Würzburg. In the past year I completed my Bachelor of Arts, specializing in photography and, alongside my studies, am presently working as a photographer and assistant for various photographers. My interest in photography started with skateboarding. I owned a camcorder from a young age and enjoyed filming others and myself whilst skating. At some point I wanted to capture skate tricks in a single frame, so I decided to purchase a digital camera. From this moment on, my focus was purely on photography. Nowadays however, I often film friends skating.
I am not a big fan of classification and pigeonholing photographs, as I am of the opinion that one does not cancel out the other. On the contrary, I find the different categories complement each other and thereby annul the borders between them.
I like all your images but your photos of urban landscapes and architecture influence me most. What elements of architecture or urban locations do you like most?
In the past few years the focus of my projects has been of towns and cities. Growing up in a town myself, I have a preference for capturing these surroundings in frames. As I prefer to have the photographed objects speak for themselves, my photographs are mostly kept simple and from a neutral point of view. Despite the fact that my photographs often seem very minimalistic, I like it when a small obstacle disrupts the harmony of its surroundings and therewith creates a dissonance within the photograph. I do not always have a predetermined subject. Cruising around on my bike or car whilst working on personal projects, I often spontaneously decide what is important for the series and what isn’t.
It varies. In the past few years, many of my works were study related and therefore created over a long period of time in which more of that time was used for the concept and planning of the project than the actual photography itself. I am also not the type to take a camera with me wherever I go. Yet as can be seen on my Tumblr site, I have many pictures of New Zealand. During my three month trip, I had a camera with me wherever I went regardless and spent every day photographing unfamiliar places that I couldn’t prepare for and forced me to constantly adjust to new situations. Every now and then I find it refreshing not to have to think and focus so much on concepts but to just let the surroundings you’re in inspire you.
In my opinion, self publishing is a good way to bring large-scale projects to a logical finish as opposed to letting the photos disappear into the endless space of the internet. To create something tactile out of a project that I have spent a large amount of time on, like a magazine or book, is a satisfying and liberating feeling. In addition I find it exciting to work with different types of paper, standing at the printer’s and controlling the plots, and in addition to work out which photograph best fits the pages before and after, creating suspense throughout the book. This, however, is a step that has to be thought through carefully, as it requires a lot of time and money.
I photograph digitally, with a Nikon D800. I mostly use lenses with a fixed focal length of 28, 35, 50 and 180 mm. As the lenses with the length of 28 and 35 mm are around 40 years old, they have several scratches and no autofocus, which I believe influences my photography as well. It doesn’t take long to adjust to the missing autofocus and learn to focus manually in a short amount of time, yet it does force you to take just a little more time for every motive you choose to photograph. I wouldn’t claim that it is essential to use a tripod, but most of my photographs are taken with one.
So far, my largest project was the bachelor thesis “Wildnis”. For this project I photographed many zoos and travelled by car to many areas and cities in Germany. Those were exciting times. First off because for half a year, I could completely concentrate both theoretically and practically on the topic I had chosen, meaning my work was very focused. Secondly because I experienced many amusing moments and visited bizarre areas that these zoos are from the outset, in my opinion. As the project focused mainly on the artificial landscapes and architecture, I left out animals completely, which resulted in the occasional quizzical look as I stood in front of an empty cage looking for the best position for the photograph. In fact, there are quite a number of empty cages to be found, as zoos are often in the transition or process of creating a habitat as authentic as possible, which is of course difficult to achieve with imprisoned animals. Over the decades, there has been a wide range of views on this topic, extending from the character of a tiled slaughterhouse through to amusement parks for the entire family.
To finish my master’s degree, I have two remaining semesters of study. Furthermore, I am currently working on my latest book, which I will publish this coming year. More to follow…