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Laura Kaczmarek – Ahhh fuck, it’s mega nice


“Of course, I deleted old Insta photos,“ Laura replies quite naturally when I tell her about my interview preparation, “everybody does it.” Well, yeah, I think, why should it be different for professional photographers like her than it is for us hobby photographers, for whom the retro filter felt far too frequently used and doesn’t fit the newest Reels anymore? Views and demands change over time, and as a person, you are anxious to keep one’s self-definition and external perception in harmony. Insta makes this easily possible and Laura has been active on this platform from early on. Her oldest post is dated August 2013. In the meantime, she has gained a total of 24k followers, and if you only know @laura_kaczmarek_ from your phone screen, you may have mentally locked her away in the influencer-photographer drawer. However, unlike in the freely moldable digital world, in the analog life every “now” arises from a “before” and Laura’s “before” wore Rebel Rockers shirts, Emerica shoes, and was skating with the boys somewhere in the Ruhr Area every day – just like she skates in her first Insta post. Primarily focusing on work at the moment and only skating once a week (when things go well), she tries to lower expectations – cause for this article we planned to get some skate shots as well. We want the whole story, of course, but first things first: two days with Laura, here we go.

Deep in the West

Bottrop, can a city sound more like the Ruhrpott? [slang name for the German Ruhr Area, known for its working-class style, editor’s note] On the way to Laura, the question arises whether it is actually called the Bottroper slaughter- or gourmet-plate? Whatever it may be, it’s definitely currywurst with ketchup and mayonnaise on fries: the culinary embodiment of the Ruhr Area – meat, potatoes, and lots of fat. It has to be nutritious, not artistic. Laura’s gallery apartment, on the other hand, is in stark contrast to this working-class romanticism: lots of plants, some designer furniture, photo books, and prints on the walls. At least one of them has a reference to the Pott: an old movie poster that her father made for Helge Schneider – all of this bathed in the most beautiful autumn light, the golden hour, just as if it was made specifically for this shoot. It’s obvious: a photographer lives here. A Warhol quote right at the entrance emphasizes this as well: “I never read. I just look at pictures.” This is really the case with her, she confesses. I, on the other hand, need information for a text and say that such an apartment would fit much better into Kreuzberg. Laura has to laugh, “Actually, everyone thinks I really do live in Berlin, but I was born here, I like the people, and I’m happy every time I can come back after a few days of work. For me, Berlin is super hectic and I’m a person that just needs some rest, and in Berlin there are also 10,000 other people who are photographers.” Since her jobs are scattered all over the world anyway, she can live in Bottrop. She started out with photography in the classic fashion: documenting skate sessions with the AE-1 and a cam from her dad. He has a company for sign and light advertising and would have liked his daughter to join him, but she didn’t want to. After graduating from high school, she wrote exactly one application and got the job: apprenticeship as an architectural and industrial photographer at the LVR Industrial Museum Oberhausen. That’s why she still works with lines a lot and photographs too often from the front side, she claims. Afterwards, she studied photography at the FH Dortmund. Maybe it’s the Pott roots that make her learn the craft, but in a time when everyone documents everything, it pays off. “Clients often tell me that many people take beautiful photos but don’t know how it all works.” They feel safer with her.

"I think there is no better feeling than when someone tells you that you have inspired them"

American Dream

However, Laura knows photography from the other side of the lens as well. “I started to stand in front of the camera when I was 16, but then I realized that I feel more comfortable behind it. For three years now, I’ve been getting more bookings to be in front of the camera again.” Model jobs are welcomed as an extra income, especially since she noticed that the rates are the same, but models don’t have to edit photos for days on end, she jokes. Nevertheless, she does not accept all offers haphazardly. Only recently, she turned down an inquiry from a big burger joint with a Big Mac budget, and only accepted a commercial for a kitchen company – for which a skating woman was wanted – after she had talked to the photographer, who also came from the skate scene: “That’s when I knew it couldn’t suck.” If she hadn’t modeled, she could have also shot the campaign herself and that’s what makes her interesting for so many brands. She has combined the knowledge of a photographer, the look of a model, and her skills as a skateboarder into a unique package that allows her to live in the Pott and work worldwide. A big dream came true at the beginning of the year with a shoot for a HUF women’s collection. It sounds a bit like a cliché, but she always wanted to make it to America and now she has. When she received the e-mail request, she thought it was a prank, and even sitting in the plane, she still doubted the authenticity of the whole thing. It all seemed a bit surreal to her. The American Dream: from the Pott to the States and all that, but she has been working for bigger brands for quite a while and has a photo assistant now (an old friend from university). Skating got her started in this direction, but now fashion photography has become a big part of it, it’s where she wanted to go. However, clients like Gucci, Rimowa, Supreme, or Zalando have a clear idea of what a campaign should look like in the end.

Remember why you started

“Then there are moments when I absolutely have to produce something of my own in order to become creative again. I think it’s super important to just go out and take pictures. I also often meet with a friend and we take our cameras, go to some city in the Pott, skate, and take pictures.” Of course, freedom is the most beautiful thing about art, but it doesn’t pay off very well. The sale of her independent works is nothing more than a nice extra income. For Laura, however, that is not the driving force behind it either. “It is simply nice to see that others are interested in hanging my works in their homes. I think there is no better feeling than when someone tells you that you have inspired them. Besides, I simply enjoy designing zines, for example,” she says. “A photo book of my own would also be good, of course, but that’s a lot of work.” In 2017, it was a stroke of luck that the best of two worlds came together when Adidas gave her the opportunity to create a photo book with Girls Are Awesome. “Three women were chosen for the project, who could then do what they had always wanted to do. I wanted to travel together with my friends, and within three months, we went to Zurich, Tel Aviv, Innsbruck, the Ruhrpott, and Berlin.” She still has prints from the exhibition in her study. One of them shows her friend Zeliha. She had her hair cut off for the picture: from more than shoulder-length to just a few millimeters, rather on a whim. Does she often work spontaneously? “When I do something free, I already have things in my head, but yes, the best pictures are spontaneous.” She digs further and shows a picture that in its original version is the cover of the book. When the exhibition prints arrived, they were wrapped in bubble wrap and she found the look more interesting, so she photographed it again. “I never used the cover picture afterwards, but I made stickers and posters of this one.” A first glimpse into her way of working.

Architectural Anarchy

Who actually are the photographers who have influenced her on her way? She digs out a few books. She likes Harmony Korine because he paints over pictures and makes collages, then Larry Clark, who together with Harmony was responsible for Kids (by the way, Chloë Sevigny’s book and deck take a prominent place in Laura’s living room), and also Derek Ridgers, David Black, Mary Ellen Mark, and Bruce Gilden. She likes street photography, but says that she herself is too shy to hold her camera in the face of someone on the street without asking – although portraying youth cultures, as Clark and Ridgers do, shines clearly through in her own work. The tension between the chaotic-anarchic nature of these photos and the strict structure and lines of architectural photography make up their visual language. What is noticeable is that her list does not include skate photographers, but of course, there are some. She likes the works of Quentin De Briey, Biemer, Mark Oblow, Ryan Allan, Dennis Scholz, Ed Templeton, Cameron Strand, and Rafael Gonzalez. When asked for the picture that best describes her photography, she chooses one that shows a friend of hers standing with a skateboard in front of a wall and a plastic bag with a spray-painted smiley face. For Laura, everything is in the picture, “My favorite format is 6x7, light and shadow, one person in an urban space, skateboarding and fashion, and not to forget this huge smiley. I love smileys.” When she started with photography, she tried different cameras, different themes, tried to cover everything: portraits, fashion, advertising, documentation. Now she has found her style. “I know what I want now,” she says, but doesn’t see that as a reason for stagnation. “I think I used to concentrate too much on photography and the photos looking clean. Now I sometimes like it when a picture is blurred or you alienate it with other media. Now is just the time when I enjoy doing something else with the pictures afterwards, like painting over photos or doing collages, to develop the style further.”

Plants and Pants

Two years ago, she wanted to combine different media and remembered her children’s room which was wallpapered with cutouts from skate mags. The idea for collages was born. “Just photos, that has an end at some point. You edit them, print them: the end. You can do a lot more with them though. Create a different world.” She pulls out a sketchbook into which she glues her collages. In the beginning, she used magazines for them like she did before, but it seemed to her like she was stealing, so now she only collages with her own photos. She takes her scalpel out of the drawer and cuts a few pictures into shape. With a gentle rustling the blade glides through the paper. “That’s really soothing. I’ve often done this just to calm down. I’ll make a few collages in the evening and listen to good music. Mostly my mix of the week on Spotify, it’s always good,” she says with a laugh and you can tell immediately how it relaxes her. The ideas for the collages, she says, come to her while she’s making them, and if she doesn’t like something in the end, she just uses a part of it. Her approach is unplanned, playful, DIY. Mistakes are not problems but simply a reason for reorientation. “Ahhh, fuck,” she murmurs for a moment and then it goes on in another direction. Her workflow is as follows: She prints the images on her printer. “Just basic.” Then she scans them in again or paints over them beforehand and prints them again. Whatever happens. Then she cuts and glues until it is finished. For her sponsor Homeboy (she’s on the artist team, not the skate team, because she doesn’t skate anymore, she jokes, again in reference to tomorrow), she recently printed pictures on a pair of pants and is showing me how she did it. She cuts out a picture, heats up the printer, puts in the pants and picture, but can’t remember how long it takes to print, so there is nothing to see on the pants. “Ahhh, fuck!”. Well okay, then just try with another picture and a little longer. Warm ironing smell fills the room. This time it works. It is the same intuitive approach as in her collages that brings her to her goal. What belongs together, comes together and if it doesn’t fit, make it fit. She uses the same unbureaucratic working method for which craftsmen from the Pott are also known. However, the inspiration for this approach comes from elsewhere, for example, from Costa Mesa, California, where she visited Mark Oblow after her HUF shooting. He has a huge monstera in his garden – Laura’s favorite plant. So without further ado, he took one of the leaves and used it as a stencil to spray on her grip. Voilà. They met in 2017 in Berlin during the Bright Tradeshow, bumped into each other by chance at the hotel, and stayed in touch afterwards. What Laura likes about him is that Mark is full of support for friends. “That is something I miss in Germany. Here it’s rather a competition, I think that really sucks. It’s much better when you support each other. When I see someone who has potential, I try to push their talent, and to lift them up.” (One person she wishes got more attention, by the way, is her friend Martin Piekarski.)

"I was lucky to know someone who knew the ‘Foreign Minister of Instagram’. I wrote to the friend, and the next day, I got my account back."

Where is my Instagram?

Laura herself doesn’t need to be pushed anymore. She already has a pretty big following on Instagram, which is an important topic. Laura knows that she got some jobs only because of or through her Instagram account and its reach. That’s why she got nervous after a while when the account was hacked recently. However, even here an unorthodox solution was found. “I was lucky to know someone who knew the ‘Foreign Minister of Instagram’. I wrote to the friend, and the next day, I got my account back.” Another time, she had problems with Insta herself because pictures of her were deleted that violated community guidelines. Nipplegate. On one picture, you could see a couple, topless. While there was no problem with his nipples, her nipples were an issue (even though they were blurred). For Laura, this makes no sense, which is why she made this a topic of discussion on Insta. However, she was only concerned with unequal treatment in this specific matter and she has no general feminist concern. “I would say that I am not a feminist. I definitely get along better with boys than with girls.” Laura was socialized in a different skateboarding era. I found the 2008 Boardstein issue in the Solo archives, where she is on the cover with a kickflip backside 50-50. This should actually have been a ladies Issue, “but they didn’t get it full with just girls. That’s how you can tell there weren’t that many.” While Laura was used to being the only girl back then, she now sometimes sees even more girls than boys in the skatepark.

"Just like back in the days, eh. Look at this, just scored 113,000 in one run."

We talk for a while about how the women’s scene has developed till, at some point, we decide to take a break from interviewing. “Let’s play the new Tony Hawk,” she suggests, “I’ll kick your ass.” Shots fired, and shortly after her gaming actions as Andrew Reynolds follow, “Just like back in the days, eh. Look at this, just scored 113,000 in one run.” Not long and I give up, but I’m not worried anymore that we won’t get enough skating from her the next day. Despite all her attempts at mitigation, ambition is a part of her and it’s not easy to turn it off. It also made her buy an electric piano during the first lockdown to teach herself how to play. She absolutely wanted to be able to play Where Is My Mind. “I started with YouTube tutorials and stickered the whole piano with post-its, so I knew where to strike. I then uploaded that into an Insta story. An acquaintance of mine plays in Cro’s [German rapper] band, had 15 years of piano lessons, and couldn’t believe that I learned this in two weeks. I always set myself goals and wanted to be able to play this song. Like with a kickflip, it looked mega nice, I wanted to be able to do it myself.” She’s stubborn enough to keep at it and is used to reaching her goals, except for one thing. “It’s still my turn not to be so self-critical. I always put myself under total pressure even if it doesn’t seem so to the outside world. I also go home from a shoot and think ‘Shit, you didn’t get that one shot.’”

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50-50 around the corner revert

The good ol’ days

Second day: Dortmund, the next city in the Pott. She usually comes here to skate. We meet at a slappy curb behind the building pit, which used to be the Utopia DIY area. Autumn shows its best side again. Perfect to collect footage, but without any pressure. Today is fun: “Like 15 years ago”, that’s the motto. Lennart Miketta is there with the VX. He and Laura grew up together in skateboarding since a friend introduced her to him, saying, “Do you know Lennie? He’s twelve and can do a 360 flip!” He can also be seen in the background of the Boardstein cover and today he is pushing her, despite a few slams, to keep trying to get the line. She would have probably managed it anyway, but with a crew is better. Hers is Obtain. That’s why Andre Müller, who runs Obtain, joins as another motivational support. He comes and does a big wallie right away, of which Laura takes a picture. As mentioned, she is used to going out with boys from her early days. “I only knew Kim Wibbelt and Puse [Sabrina Göggel] in all of Germany. Kim was here in Muenster and was a bit of a role model for me.” That was at the time when the Boardstein issue came out. At that time, right after school, the backpack was thrown into the corner and she was off to skate: on vacation with the holiday ticket on the road all over NRW or with Puse and Kim on trips to Barcelona or Paris. “That was the best time. You didn’t worry about how to pay your bills. There was nothing but skating.” There, you get some nostalgia, “Hach.” In the meantime, it has become less frequent and different. “My skating now is my basics. I’m not going out really wanting to learn a new trick or do something at a spot.” However, she can’t do without skating completely either. “Skateboarding is part of my life and always will be. Skateboarding brought me to photography and 90% of my friends have something to do with it. To clear my head, I go skating. There has never been a day when I didn’t get off my skateboard with a big grin on my face – it’s like therapy for your heart and soul.” Yet, skating itself is more important to her than consuming skating. In the morning, she checks Insta a bit, but she has never been very interested in the latest videos, she says.

The last one she liked? She has to think about that for a while. Then she remembers Jim Greco’s Jobs? Never!! (which was released more than two years ago…), but an interruption offstage kindly reminds her of Export Union from Obtain. “Ahhh yes, fuck!” After the line is filmed and we hit up another slappy curb, we move on to a ledge at a driveway. A spot that nowadays is no longer her type of prey. The thing is too big, she is too old, she could break her hand and not be able to work and… but after everyone does a trick on it, her ambition gets in the way and she jumps into a boardslide – which comes easy in the end. She can call herself old as long as she wants, but she won’t lose her style. Although it is not that easy anymore, she says, since she is already 30 years old and she talks about an autoimmune disease. In her own way: Pott style. “It’s like a hole in the spine from which fluid is leaking.” Doesn’t sound very pleasant, but she can handle it. However, the regeneration phases after a day of skating like this do not become shorter as a result. One thing does help though: fries. That’s a regular after-skating ceremony, always has been. That’s why we’re heading back to downtown Dortmund for Wurst Willi. That’s perfect for another reason as well because we have learned a lot about Laura in the last two days, but one question could still not be answered: is it Bottroper slaughter- or gourmet-plate? The expert comes up with another solution: Manta-plate [Manta is a famous working-class sports car]. Actually, it’s perfect. Unexpected results, served with the unpretentious charm of the Ruhr Area, that summarizes things here quite well.

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