An Interview With Johannes Reinhart

‘Western Australia’s Photographer of the Year’, Aaron Dowling

Who now resides in Canada just introduced an inaugural “An Interview With” series, where he interviews photographers from around the world, learning about their creative vision and seeking to be inspired by their work and approach. And he kick started this of with me. 

You can also read the interview on the Aaron Dowling Photography Website.

Johannes Reinhart – Documentary & Street Photographer

Johannes has a unique vision for capturing the most amazing imagery. He has the ability to see the world in an striking way, capturing life that most of us miss.

Johannes has created works for many exhibitions and has won many prestigious awards for his prevocative work. Most of all, his love for photography and showing the world through his unique eyes, really stands out.

What got you into photography, and has what got you started, evolved and changed through the years?

As a kid I was fascinated by those mysterious cameras with all those buttons and dials – I mean, which boy isn’t? But it took me to the age of 22 until I finally bought one of those shiny cameras.  I was then lucky enough to go out on a beautiful autumn afternoon around the lake I grew up on in Germany and take my first roll of film.  My first pictures turned out amazing, even though now I look back at them and see there was a lot of room for improvement …like a lot.  Though, I was hooked and loved it instantly, and so my passion began.

Initially I just tried to emulate what a professional photograph looks like. I think it took me another ten years before I would say that I started to have my own vision.  I think it constantly evolved and continues to evolve. As you change in life, so does your photography.

You spent many years as a wedding photographer, capturing beautiful moments in the lives of your clients. What did you do to put yourself into the minds of your clients to ensure that you were able to capture those perfect moments for them?

Yes, I spent 13 years as a wedding photographer, starting on film, back in the day where families were happy just to get a sharp picture …then digital came along and I had to learn a lot to transition to digital. Though I found going digital liberating, because i could finally tweak images to show what I have seen and don’t hope for someone at the lab to get it.

Back to your question, I approached my wedding photography with my personal philosophy, which is always do the best you can.  I tried to create beautiful photos that resemble the spirit of the wedding day including the love, the funny moments, the turbulent moments, the formal photos and the party.  Essentially, I would photograph how I would have liked my wedding to be photographed and combined that with quality products, so that when clients look at the photos years later, they can really relive their wedding day in all their uniqueness.

You now focus on documentary and street photography, what drew you to this style of photography?

Short answer: Escape!

Long answer, I always like a good photojournalistic image and when I heard of street photography which is about capturing life as it happens, mundane or otherwise I was immediately intrigued.

It also happened that I was photographing weddings and portraits for a number of years and looked after our 2 young kids as my wife worked full time. So life was a constant juggling act and hitting the streets with only a camera was a great escape. The fact that you never knew what you are going to get, also made it very interesting.

But best was that when I got into the zone where everything drifted away and I was in the moment only seeing what’s in front of me. I found this to be quite meditative and relaxing, which made me do it more of course.

You have a way of seeing and photographing life in a way that most people don’t see. When you are out with camera in hand, do you go out with a specific intention or capture what unfolds around you?

Most of the time I just go out with an open mind and see what I find.  But what I realized over the years, and especially since I teach photography, is that I capture pretty much anything I connect with.  This can be as simple as an object bouncing in nice light, or as complicated as trying to bring compositional order to the chaos. I think the first thing I look for is good light, and then I look for someone or something interesting.  I find it hard to linger at a place for more than a minute, let alone five, so I am mostly on the move and make decisions on the fly.  For example, if I see an interesting person walking down the street, I look around and see if there’s anything around I can match them with and if there is, I try to get myself in the right spot to capture it.  So it’s preconceived ideas on short notice. Then when something unexpected happens, rather than thinking this isn’t going to plan, I try to take it as an opportunity to see if I can get a better shot.

I think the strong point with this approach is that I get images that are fresh and that can’t be replicated …even by myself.

Heaven and Earth - long exposure studio photography

Are there aspects of growing up and your life that have had an influence on your photography, and how have you incorporated that into what and how you shoot?

I think everything that has happened in my life has shaped me in one way or another, and since I try to shoot from the heart, it naturally comes out in my photography.

For example, I was a skater boy growing up in the 1980s in a small German town, where skateboarding was looked on as almost a criminal activity.

Much later in life when I was shooting my first project, which was documenting a group of swordfighters. this helped me realize that I am drawn to people who do non mainstream activities.

Other aspects of my life have shaped some of the series I have shot – e.g. Heaven and Earth and In Search of My Father.

Your photography is very impactful, with strong emotion and mood, has your photography changed you, and if so how?

Ultimately I want to create images that make you feel, so mood and strong emotion is somewhat necessary, right?  I’m not sure if my photography has changed me, because to a degree my photography is a part of me. By shooting from the heart, and analysing my photos I can learn about things going on in my subconscious.  For example, a number of years ago I had depression and my glass was definitely mostly empty, though at the time I shot some very beautiful and colourful beachscapes, which made me see that there’s still beauty in this world and that there’s still a part of me who saw this beauty.

Photography certainly has had a large impact of my life. Most of my friends in Australia I made through photography and I can’t ignore that winning those big awards like Moran Photographic Prize really helped my self-esteem too.

You undertake personal projects in your photography, do you find projects important for growth and do you have advice for other photographers?

I think when you come to the stage of knowing how your cameras works and know how to take decent photos, it’s time to start a photographic project (or two).

A project will narrow your focus, which sets boundaries, which in itself creates limitations. The limitations are good to focus your creativity to push the boundaries within those limitations.  There’s so much you can learn from doing projects and the hardest thing definitely is finding the time and then sticking it out to finishing it. So I think it’s very important that anyone who starts a project should be passionate about what they want to sink their teeth in.
It’s probably also good to start with smaller projects at the beginning.

You have a couple of projects that really resonate with me, “Heaven and Earth” and “Selfies”, both very different. Do you find the process of working on such polar opposite projects equally satisfying or do you have a preference and why?

Either projects resemble a period in my life and photographic career, so even though they are really different, they are both valid. I do hate being locked in a box and that art always has to be serious to be take seriously. Of course I like serious art too, but life is pretty miserable without a bit of light heartlessness too. And since my photography reflects my complex self, I show some of the funny things in life too as well as the serious ones.

There is a lot of emotion in your photography, with moods from fun and whimsical to dark and mysterious. Does your mood define your photography and how does it change the way you look at the world?

Tricky question to answer.  I think it’s a bit like ying and yang in a loop.  The way I view the world influences the way I photograph, which through reflection feeds back to the way I view the world. Hope this makes sense.

You have recently moved into one on one photography workshops, with the intention to help people achieve their vision. Do you find working with others on their vision rewarding and how do you help them draw out their vision?

Yes, I am concentrating on one-on-one workshops and mentoring, and find it very fulfilling.  To help people comes quite naturally for me, so it’s a really good fit and when you see the light go on in somebody because they just ‘got it’, it’s hugely rewarding.  And the saying that the teacher learns as much as the student is very true.

I think a big part of getting people to follow their own vision is done by removing obstacles that we photographers place on ourselves.  The other part is to get people to trust in themselves and their own likes, dislikes and the way they view the world, so I try to create a safe and fun environment for people to experiment and then hope it flows from there.

If you could give one piece of advice for someone getting into photography, what would it be?

Learn, learn, learn and ‘Shoot from the Heart’ to create work that is true to yourself.

You have achieved great results in many high-profile competitions, and have had many exhibitions. Do you find competition and exhibitions challenge you in any way and change the way you look at your own images?

Competitions have certainly challenged me over the years.  I used to have a hate/love relationship with them and sometimes still have. Though I always learned something just by entering, which is the real value, especially early on in the game.

I think the most challenging part of entering competitions is not being swayed by what’s currently trendy. Luckily, I have learned to trust in my vision and I think the only reason I have done so well in competitions, is by staying true to myself.  So now I find it a little easier to focus and create images that are meaningful to me and then enter what I think works for the competitions.

Exhibitions really force you to think about what you want to say with a body of work, which is really valuable in terms of learning and can be a very rewarding experience.

Post processing is one of the tools we have at our disposal to bring out the story in an image. Do you find post processing an important tool in your imagery, and how do you find luminosity masks help you tell your story?

Post processing is an important part to getting the feel right. Having said that, I’m all about getting it right in camera. While you can do lots in post processing, there’s no substitute for getting lighting and composition and action right in camera.

I do use Lightroom and Photoshop with a few plugins like Silver effects Pro for converting images to black and white and of course ADP Luminosity masks, which gives me a lot of control in selecting tonal areas.

With a lot of my images I use pretty basic post processing and then control elements with curves with masking to locally brighten, darken and add contrast to an image. Curves is super powerful and it is definitely worth spending the time to understand it. ADP Luminosity masks makes curves twice as powerful and gives me superb control in getting my vision on screen and paper.

Read the whole interview on the Aaron Dowling Photography Website.

And check out his brilliant Luminosity Mask Panel here.