Interview #68: Nicola Odemann
CUS: How did you get into photography?
Nicola Odemann: Taking photos has always been something I really enjoyed but I began taking it more serious when I decided to travel to Norway one day and discovered flickr. Flickr seemed to be full of photos of beautiful Norway which made me want to have a better camera myself in order to also be able to take such photos. My dad eventually gave me his old analogue camera and it has remained my favorite since then.
CUS: Did you study, or are you studying, photography? If not, how did you learn?
NO: I never studied photography or visited any photography courses. I just picked up a camera and started taking photos. There have been so many photographers that have inspired me and although I have never tried to imitate them, they still had a huge impact on what I wanted to capture and on the way I wanted to do that.
CUS: Tell us a little about where you live. How does your city/country/location have an affect on your photography?
NO: I am from a small town in the very south of Germany. It is a beautiful city located in the beginning of the Alps and hence surrounded by mountains, woods and mountain lakes. Growing up there, I have spent a lot of time outdoors exploring the area and hiking mountains. That is how I developed a deep love for nature, which is something that can be seen in all of my photos. I just want to capture the beauty this world has to offer and my hometown definitely had (and still has) a huge impact on this.
CUS: Tell us about your photographic process.
NO: I try not to create moments in my photos but to capture them. I want my photos to be authentic while at the same time I want them to capture not only the visible but also the feelings I had when taking the photo. That is why all of my photos are rather memories instead of results of a process.
CUS: What did you have for breakfast this morning?
NO: Nothing, I often forget to have breakfast when I’m busy..
CUS: What makes a good image?
NO: The kind of photo that goes beyond the visible and is able to capture or evoke feelings. I love it when you look at a photo and you are suddenly filled up with a certain atmosphere coming from the photo itself. That’s what it’s all about.
CUS: Who, or what, is your biggest influence?
NO: The world with its infinite beauty and endless possibilities definitely influences me most. I just love being outside exploring nature and capturing it all on film. That’s all I need.
CUS: Who are the people in your photographs?
NO: Family, friends and sometimes strangers.
CUS: Tell us about the locations in your photographs.
NO: A lot of my photos are taken around my hometown in Bad Toelz. It is in the very south of Germany, close to the Austrian boarder. I love spending my time outside, hiking some mountains or exploring the area, which is what I try to capture in these photos.
I also take a lot of photos while travelling. I’m very lucky to have had the chance to travel to some incredible places including Nepal last year and Iceland this June, where I took tons of photos. When travelling I want to memorize all the good moments through my photos while capturing the beauty of these places at the same time.
CUS: The explorer in nature seems to play a major role in your work. Can you elaborate on this?
NO: The thing I love most about nature is that it makes you aware of what really is important in this world. In the city you are someone, in nature you’re just human with endless possibilities to explore the unknown. It is this kind of feeling which I try to capture in my photos.
CUS: How do you go manage to travel to the different locations in your images?
NO: After finishing school I did not go straight to university but I have worked in a special needs school for one year instead. This enabled me to save some money, which I can now use for my travels. Now I am in university and use my term breaks to travel and do some weekend trips in between. Besides, it is surprisingly cheap to travel within the countries I have travelled to (e.g. China, Nepal, Kenya), which is why it is easier to go there than many people may think.
CUS: Maintaining anonymity of your subjects seems to be important to you in your work. Would you agree?
NO: Yes, definitely. The photos I take can also be seen as memories and hence they are, of course, personal. But by not revealing the identity of the people in my photos, I leave some room for interpretation as well. Therefore I am able to capture my feelings but let other people put their own feelings and ideas into the photo as well.
CUS: Do you believe that with the rise of digital photography the phrase “everyone can be a photographer” is true? What are your thoughts on digital vs. film photography?
NO: I don't like to think in categories. I don't call myself a photographer but taking photos defines who I am. Other people might call themselves photographers though it may not be the kind of work I am interested in. Everybody has got different tastes and different styles and that's the best thing about it all. Because taking photos is all about capturing something that means something to you and making it mean something to someone else by doing so. And of course everybody is able to do that because everybody has got a different vision of things.
So it's really not important whether you shoot digital or film, the important thing is the message you want to convey and as long as you have a message, everybody can do that.
CUS: What are your thoughts on photography and the Internet? (For example, mass amounts of images being uploaded every day via sites such as Flickr, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram…) How do you differentiate “art” photography and “non-art” photography?
NO: It is true that there are endless amount of photos being uploaded every day but I think that this is, in fact, good. Of course some photos are not as ‘good’ as others, but maybe the people who took them are still trying to improve. And to wish that they wouldn’t upload so much is something you just can’t do because that would mean that there is no room for practice at all. I think it is great that so many want to express themselves through photography because photos can be very personal and honest. Not every photo may have the power to make you feel something (which are the kind of photos I would call “art” photos) but that doesn’t weaken their legitimacy. Everything can be beautiful and the internet provides the best platform for that.
CUS: Do you think that the Internet (as opposed to a gallery or any other art institution) is a legitimate place to showcase photographic work or do photographs have to be seen in “the flesh” to be fully appreciated and experienced?
NO: I think it’s both. I love the endless possibilities of the Internet and the fact that no matter where you are, you still have access to the work of so many great photographers. No matter if you live in a huge city or on a small farm in the countryside, the Internet makes it all come together.
But on the same time, you cannot compare looking at a photo on a computer screen with standing in a gallery in front of a photo, which might occupy a whole wall. Both are just two very different ways of showcasing photography but that does not make one more legitimate than the other.
CUS: What are your plans for the summer?
NO: Hiking mountains, swimming in lakes and just spending some time in my hometown. I also have a trip planned to South Tyrol where we go to every summer. And I would love to go back to the Dolomites again and do some hiking there. So it’s mountains, mountains and (hopefully) some more mountains.
But before summer ends here in Germany, I will go to Bali until January next year, so I’m going to have an endless summer this year.
CUS: Your favorite photographer? If you could collaborate with anyone who would it be?
NO: I really love the photos of Ryan McGinley. His work is one of a kind!
CUS: What is the biggest challenge you face with your work?
NO: As I shoot film I have to get my photos scanned after having them developed but it is so hard to get them scanned in a high resolution. I do not own a negative scanner (oh, add that to my dream equipment!), which is why I have to go to photo labs most of the time. And as only few people continue to shoot film, they often don’t have the means to scan the photos in the resolution I want them to have. This can get really annoying.
CUS: What are some of your favorite books and movies?
NO: Books: The Border Trilogy by Cormac McCarthy, Into the wild by Jon Krakauer, The Outcast by Sadie Jones and all the magic by Theoreau and Emerson
Movies: Lord of the Rings, Across the Universe and Big Fish
CUS: If you could photograph any person (past or present) who would you choose?
NO: Elliott Smith.
CUS: What do you hope to achieve with your photography? Do you foresee photography as a career in your future?
NO: I don’t really take photos in order to make money with it but only because I love taking photos. I want to capture memories and, if I can, inspire others to go outside and explore this world. That is all I’m trying to do.
CUS: What advice would you give to your fellow up-and-coming photographers?
NO: Never lose your freedom, never lose your love for taking photos and always follow your instinct.
CUS: Our last interviewee, Suji Park, asks: If you could turn back time, when would it be?
NO: I was in Nepal last year trekking in the Himalayas. On one day I got really sick but as we were in the middle of nowhere with no time to cure it out, we had to keep going. I have never felt worse in my entire life and every step was so exhausting. But the worst thing was that we were hiking through Upper Mustang, which is the most amazing landscape you can possibly imagine. And despite feeling so terrible, I was kind of aware of the beauty that surrounded me and I just blindly released the shutter without even looking through the camera. The camera became my eyes but my own eyes remained closed for everything surrounding me, which is why I couldn’t enjoy being there at all that day. I just wished that I had eaten something different the day before so that I would have been able to actually enjoy it, to take it all in.
CUS: Last but not least, what would you like to ask the next interviewee?
NO: Do you think it’s possible to get to know people by looking at their photos?