Reinfried Marass -The Camera Can Write Poetry
Beauty – what is beauty, forsooth? Form and color; that is, surface only. Fortune – what is fortune? Nothing is ever a pleasure or a real profit to him who has to labour for it. Truth – you die in the pursuit, and the sea beats the beach as it did a thousand years ago.
I met Reinfried through his images on Twitter And starting following him, sharing his work. With time we started talking. I found in Europe a generous soul — willing to share not only his work but his life. This is what we’ve been talking about.
How and when did you get started with photography?
At age18, I traveled through Egypt and Sudan for two months. In Central Europe you always have to hunt images – by driving, and walking around and around, spending hours, spending days, thinking about what could be a nice photo. Street life is boring, nothing happens, thus you find yourself picturing churches, castles, landscapes, lonesome trees and other pretty boring postcard-like stuff, which you later delete. As one can imagine, both African countries are quite more inspiring in a visual way and images don’t have to be forced – they simply are there and jump right in front of your cam; I just had to be alert and ready to hit the shutter. Back then I had no interest in photography at all and so I had no camera with me. But I still have some of the frames –although not developed –burned deeply in my head.
When returning from such a trip people near you are interested in nice little stories. And you try to describe the journey with words where a little image could tell it all. Well, I am neither Jack London nor Joseph Conrad and thus I switched over to ‘visual storytelling’ via photography.
Many photographers are loners. That’s part of the job/passion, you do it alone (mostly).
For most photographers the camera is like a signature; which camera is your favorite?
Upon my return from Africa my interest in photography had started. Just a few months later I had spent all my first earned money as an engineer in photographic equipment. Most men are gear-driven and I guess most male photographers expect that they must be prepared, gearwise, for any shooting situation that ever might come up. Me, Reini Little, was no exception and very soon I ended up with equipment ranging from super wide lenses to the max tele lenses. All gear packed in a tough, weather-tight and as-big-as-shiny alloy case, pampered in foam rubber to guard the expensive stuff. Can you be sure your boat might not turn over while cruising down the Nile river and a witty greenish crocodile feels encouraged to bite into the box? At least your gear should survive.
So far so good, but soon –very soon– I missed the gray colored mule besides me to carry around the bulky pack. Next, when finally finished with unboxing and assembling all the stuff –well, the shoot-worthy situation already has gone with the wind. Not to mention the calamities when crossing country borders with large gear. In the end, all the heavy mega buck tele lenses will live forever in a safe place at home, and the grumpy tripod is buried in the trunk of your car…
And you discover photographic rule #1: the best camera is the one at hand when needed; not the polished one kept on the shelf. Nowadays, older (and wiser?), I do most of my personal work with a simple Leica Rangefinder camera equipped with a single 35 mm lens. That’s it. That’s all. And that’s quite enough. Sounds like a step back, but for me it was a step into the right direction.
By seeing, scanning and framing the world around you, when focused on a single lens range only, one will end up with lesser photos taken, but also with more keepers. Sometimes less is more. Otherwise you always might overcharge yourself by thinking what lens, what crop, will be the best for the frame. Of course I have to admit that I no longer can shoot all and everything. But hey, how many pictures have I missed while doing this interview? Should I care?
For about three decades I was working with D/SLR, and I still do. But today a rangefinder camera fits my style in a better way. Both systems mainly differ by the way you look, you watch (the world). A D/SLR camera offers a through-a-tunnel view while a rangefinder camera equals a through-a-window lookout. Photography has something to do with watching and therefore the viewfinder’s layout is a major aspect. It’s not good vs. better; it depends on your preferences.
And you discover photographic rule #2: before image quality can be discussed something really crucial must happen: at first the image has to be in the box! A lot of functions is the direct opposite of functionality. Simple operation supports this task. And Mrs. Leica is most simple to operate.
Usually a pro photographer never pampers gear, or sticks to a make or brand. Any equipment is used as a vehicle for the job, that’s it. And if something better is around the corner the pro might switch over within the blink of an eye. So would I. I’m neither related to Leica (or to any other manufacturer) nor am I their ambassador. I’m not even a Leica enthusiast, but they are the one and only producing a digital rangefinder camera. OK, enough gear talk. And I just share my personal opinion because it is a personal interview and the mileage for other photographers may vary as their needs and styles may vary.
How do you interact with your subjects, how do you make them feel comfortable in front of your camera?
Well, this is only possible with people who model for a shot, not with e.g. landscapes where it is the exact opposite: how to make yourself, the photographer, comfortable in front of the subject? But that’s quite another story.
I never have worked with professional models; I prefer the girl next door. They are more believable and natural, IMHO. Many pro models come along with all their pro poses as seen in numerous shots over and over again. And my shootings are not guided by the model –I tell her how to act, not vice versa, as it might happen when faced with a model diva. Amateurs are shy at first, insecure, of course. They compare themselves to all the magazine girls and never feel as pretty as them. So I do some ‘break in’ with them. 15 to 30 minutes of test-shooting to make her feel at home in front of the cam and to calibrate her with my commands. Also to make myself familiar with her face. For me beauty is not the crucial aspect, but attitude is.
And I talk to her the whole time. Telling her, after every series of clicks, how good she performs, how well the shots already are, but that we (the ‘we’ is important) could try to box even better ones. Even when you know or feel that the photos done so far are bullshit. You never tell her that, of course!
And you discover photographic rule #3: YOU, the photographer, are the Master & Commander. At any second the model must be sure that you really know what you are doing. Otherwise she very fast loses faith in your skills and finally becomes uncertain or bored. And you can skip it, both the model as well as the shooting.
I always keep distance with women. No shy amateur enjoys a photographer with a big-big cam and a big-big lens jumping around her like a clown within a meter or so. She feels insecure and at the end: photos no-good. A tele lens enables you to be a few meters away, keeping physical distance. Well, the cam still is big-big and the longer lens is even more big-big, but she never knows if you full frame her face right now, doing very close ups, aka portraits, or just a full body shot. Makes quite a difference for her. Model-bee feels more safe and acts more secure, natural.
Well, similar to photography, where there is no light without shadow, dealing with amateur models comes at a price via non-existing working ethics. Amateurs are not very reliable. That’s why they usually can’t be used in pro-biz. That’s why model agencies exist at all. Not to collect beauty but to take newcomers, mostly young teen chicks, to a three-weeks workshop where a watch –the relationship of the small pointer vs. the big one – is explained to them. And chalk-sketches are drawn on huge boards to outline why iPhone chitchats aren’t possible on sets …
I can’t remember any model I shot being happy with the outcome, the final images. I don’t use makeup artists or stylists. And I don’t retouch. I mainly use models as ‘make up’ for a story, so they later are a bit disappointed when they aren’t the main subject and do not look like photoshopped magazine androids. For me it’s a proof and I sometimes misuse the pictured person as an editor. Image is loved by the person pictured? It is just mainstream, a simple nice beauty shot as uploaded to the internet myriads of times a minute. Delete it. Vice versa, if the photo is considered ‘Ugh’ by the model? That’s the one to use. OK, it doesn’t always work that simple –but often works for me as a raw indicator.
So to finally answer your question: How to make them comfortable in front of my cam? Quite easy. As soon as I trigger the cam to ‘On’ I’m in love with the woman in front of me and I’m engaged with her as long as the camera is on. It’s quite similar to other subjects I photograph.
No, I really can’t. Working with me, as a photographer, is not that easy. I see it as a serious job. I am very demanding. All that counts is the final photograph. And nothing else matters! The drawback, of course, is that most women only work once with me. But as long as billions of ’em are out there, should I care?
And you discover photographic rule #4: at the end of the shooting the model must cry a river or, at least, be close to it. A proof that she has given all she could give.
How is your creative process; has it changed with the new technology, digital photography?
I think the process of image making is still the same. And should be still the same. At least for me as a traditional photographer who is trying to produce photographs with an analog touch in a digital world. Just the tools have changed, especially in post processing. The darkroom now is digital, that’s it. Post processing always was part of the game. Retouching also was done to some extent, but was more complex and expensive, thus more a pro thing. Now it is easier to alter an image. Not always an advantage because very often it is overdone.
Let me outline a quick example. Most people know fisheye lenses; they give that crazy look when used on special objects. And you show the first image and people say: “Wow”. And you show another one and people say: “Hm”. And when you show the third one people think: “Please God, when does he stop?”
In the long run one cannot camouflage the lack of talent with filters or any other gadgets. Sooner or later it comes back to the basics of photography and image making or photographic seeing. Call it whatever you like. The one and only ‘filter’, where people never seem to get tired of, is ‘black and white’.
With digital gear there are no more film costs. Not bad in an economical way, but also comes with the major drawback that people started to shoot all and everything without thinking. Killing the little innocent subject in front of their cams with a machine gun instead of acting like a sniper. Hoping that one good image will be boxed and bloody Photoshop can do the rest. Maybe not the best way to educate one? In analogue times there was more discipline necessary. An image-maker had to think twice before pressing the shutter simply due to the higher film costs involved and the fact that you couldn’t carry along that many film rolls.
But in general the invention of digital made a photographer’s life a bit easier. With the digital introduction photography got a second life. Public interest in taking pictures is higher than never before. And Smart-O-Phonography simply is Erwin Land’s vision carried along.
There are people who touch your life, others just pass through. Do you have any memories (special) of someone you photographed?
Once you almost told me the story of you and the wounded woman, that beautiful model. I would love to hear the whole story…
Well, the tragic story of her life is featured on your website (?insert link here?). Again, many thanks for keeping it alive. Back in 2008 I was going to do an editorial story for the Healey Marque, a US magazine covering the classic Austin Healey cars. The storyline would feature a woman introducing some spots in Austria while riding in a classic Healey. I was faced with the task to find a fearless amateur model brave enough to ride around with a stranger (me, the photographer) for 3 or 4 days. I stumbled upon Aisha, a semi-pro model known to me by social media who always loved to be photographed. And she was not very anxious. What should a woman fear who has experienced life in a way as outlined in her story?
OK, the story was boxed within three days and it was featured as a six-page-spread in the mag. Later it also was reprinted as a cover story in a British Healey magazine, which is important to note, as the next passage will show.
The greatest tragedy happened when her husband, a violent drunkard, lit her up with a bottle of nitro fuel. He forced her to say that it was an accident. She spent a pretty long time in the hospital where he always showed up leaning over her bed threatening: “Gabriele (that was her real given name), when you tell the truth I will kill you!” And she knew he wasn’t joking. He had tried to kill her several times before.
Whenever called Gabriele she had a flash back and so she started to use Aisha as her given name. All that happened around 25 years ago. Meanwhile known to everyone as Aisha she also wanted to legalize it in her documents. She could finally change her name legally to Aisha through the editorial story I made with her.
Just a little anecdote to show that taking pictures sometimes can be of little help. And some nights, when the wind is a torrent of darkness, among the gusty trees you can see the gleam of Reini’s gloriole. Well, just a tiny shimmer and you have to peep very carefully – but it’s there! At least I guess so. At least it should!
The greatest love of your life…?
Besides photography ? Well, either do it right or let it be. There is not much room left for ‘other’ passions.
The Greatest love of my life, besides photography? Well, either do it right or let it be. There is no much room left for ‘other’ passions.
Trip to Italy:
Desires Are Already Memories | The More Time Passes, The Less Happens