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Conrad Bauer – We about us

Conrad Bauer’s ongoing series “We about us” is about documenting a/his generation, about the now and forever, about fun and failure, and about the transitory and contrary nature of things. Casually and unobtrusively, he has captured those moments that portray his friends without skateboards and how they escape their everyday life. Their searching for autonomy, and what holds skateboarding together at its heart: their little freedom.

What’s your motivation for shooting photos?

I just like to capture moments that don’t remain the same as they were after shooting the picture. It’s hard to explain, but somehow I’m addicted to it.

What kind of emotions should your pictures provoke in the observer?

It’s a hard question because I don’t do it for other people when I’m shooting a private photo. I’m always happy when people are saying it’s a great picture afterwards, but it wasn’t my goal. But since there are social media channels, you get a lot of feedback.

Is social media important for photographers nowadays?

Yes, I think so. People are arguing about that, but every person, every brand has Instagram and everybody has their phone in their hands all the time. It’s way easier for people to check Instagram than to open a homepage.

How do you stand out as a photographer in times where everybody is putting out photos on Insta?

I think it’s about what you wanna achieve with your photography. If you have good snapshots, then somebody who knows about photography hopefully sees that you really can take photos. That you’re able to handle natural light, that you’re able to capture certain moments. That’s the most important thing in photography. Everybody can hold a camera in their hands, everybody has a smartphone, but really being able to shoot photos starts in your head. You can’t learn that with an apprenticeship. It’s about your perception, about observing.

In this series here it seems to me like you show a lot but, at the same time, always hide some details.

Yes and no. The series originated because we had to shoot pictures on the topic of “hope” at school. I didn’t have any idea, but then one lecturer saw a snapshot in my private scan folder and really liked it and gave me a hint to do this series. And you don’t see too many faces, because I don’t want to point at people. So, it’s kinda on purpose. I wanted to keep it more generalized.

"There’s this bubble with people that just skate and don’t realize that it won’t be like this forever."

If the series happened by accident, does that mean you prefer to work on intuition rather than conceptual?

That’s right and that’s an advantage or disadvantage. However you see it.

So, you arrange the things that belong together afterwards?

For me, it’s always about the single shot and I think, at some point, because of the style of my photography, some pictures go together really well.

What characterizes your work?

I think my photos have a certain kind of colorfulness, some kind of light. But on the other hand, sometimes I use a flash, sometimes not. Somehow, it’s all over the place. The main issue is that I like it in the end. I think that they’re little snapshots of details that somebody who isn’t observing their surroundings that precisely wouldn’t see.

You studied at the Ostkreuz School for Photography and Design. How did you get there and why did you drop out?

It started because I woke up one day and thought I have to change something in my life. Skating isn’t getting me anywhere and photography is appealing to me more and more. The Ostkreuz School is a big name and I just applied there with some Tumblr links and didn’t think that they’d take me, because it also was three months after application deadline. But I got an email the next day that I should come by and got a task to shoot photos to the theme “coldness”. And after that, I was allowed to go there, which surprised me, and all of a sudden, I was forced to study. [laughs] And I stopped kinda as spontaneously as I started. I wasn’t that happy, because the school is pretty expensive. In the beginning, you have seven days of lessons and now it would’ve been only three. Nowadays, you get a lot of jobs through connections and the school gave me a lot of input in the first two years, but what was still supposed to come wasn’t necessarily the right thing for me. So, I thought I’d save the money, and the decision felt good. But it was also a good decision to start studying there. To start something after skating and see that there’s something else that is interesting. And skaters are used to observe a lot, they think about architecture, and it’s nice to be able to carry that with me from skateboarding. Also, I don’t skate that much anymore and now, photography is my passion.

And now, you live off of photography?

Right now, I would be able to not work on the side anymore, but it can change the next month. So, I work two days a week at the Vans store in Berlin to cover insurances and rent. But right now, it is all really good. I did a lot of jobs that I don’t show that much. Not because they’re shit, but just because they’re not in the style I’m known for.

How is it to make a living off of your passion? Saying that you’re not showing all of your commissioned work sounds like you’re little uncomfortable sometimes.

Sure, you ask yourself what you’re shooting there once in a while. But in the end, money is an important thing. And I think it’s terrific if people ask me to shoot photos for them. My first client was Nike and, at this point, I didn’t even have a digital camera. Sure, I got the job through connections, but still, I got the feeling that somehow people appreciate my work and I’m happy about that. If you’re asked for a job, you can always decide if you want to do it or not – if it might ruin my image or if I get into a whole different field of photography.

In which photo genre do you see yourself?

It always depends if it’s a private thing or commissioned work. I shot a fall/winter campaign for a sub-brand of Zalando, just shoes, but on the other hand when I’m on the streets, I document stuff.

This series displays youth in a very hedonistic way. On the first glimpse, it looks like they’re having fun, but it also seems very empty, without prospects, apathetic. Is the youth in Berlin really like that?

It depends. Everybody has their own head. I sometimes see it like that because there’s this bubble with people that just skate and don’t realize that it won’t be like this forever. That’s what I wanted to document in this series. And sometimes, I think people have a good time and sponsors, and they think they don’t have to do anything else. But I don’t want to tar all with the same brush, cause there are also people that are still young and do a lot of creative stuff. But some are stuck and Berlin is known for living that kind of lifestyle.

The opening picture says it all.

Yeah, and I don’t want to sound like I wasn’t like that. For me, skateboarding was also the one and only thing, but now, I really enjoy that I was able to find my way out of this bubble.

It also seems like the people in the pictures have a desire that needs to be fed. What desire do you think is it?

A desire for freedom but also protection. A lot of people our age in Berlin are feeling lost. If they really reflected on themselves, it would be half of those people living here, I think. It’s a difficult thing to think about and a lot of people avoid it on the weekends with alcohol and drugs.

The older I get, the more I realize that you can hang out with your skate buddies and have fun, but if you want to have an earnest conversation or talk about problems or life or fears or whatever, there are very few you can do that with.

I also realized that as well. I’m not into the skate scene that much anymore. Sure, I’ll go skating once in a while and have fun, chill out, drink a beer, but something is missing. Maybe it’s because of the age although I’m not that old, I’m only 28, but I’m thinking about stuff. And some don’t, who I wish would do cause they have talents outside of skateboarding as well.

A friend of mine recently told me that there are so many options in Berlin that, in the end, you do nothing. That you can find infinite matches on Tinder, but if they’re more than 500 meters away from your home, you can’t be bothered to go there.

Sure, people are lazy and they’re always waiting for something better. There is this greed.

Are you sober when shooting photos while everybody is going crazy around you?

No. [laughs] I also drink alcohol, but I never did chemical drugs and I’m against it. Unfortunately, the hype around them is way too big right now.

Do the pictures get better or worse when you’re drunk?

They’re more spontaneous, but they don’t get worse. Maybe it’s more like pictures of friends of mine laughing, but sometimes, I still see interesting stuff although I’m drunk.

Do you always carry a cam with you?

Always. Because I’m scared to miss a moment. Sometimes it’s hard for me, I just talked about it with my girlfriend yesterday that I have that impulse to always do something.

Does skateboarding or the skate scene still have an influence on your photography?

Not really. I was never really interested in skate photography. Sure, I like to look at a sick skate photo, but doing it myself wouldn’t be a thing. That would be too boring. Most of the time, it’s just connected to architecture. My photos don’t have any connection to skateboarding besides seeing a snapshot with a skateboard once in a while. But I think the observation skills came through skateboarding. As a skater, you’re always looking for obstacles that suit your skateboarding and that’s similar to photography. The camera is my new skateboard now and I’m always looking forward to do sick stuff with it.