I met Marcel aka smilefootage when I had a room for rent in 2013. Just as he moved in, I started to think about how old he might be and it turns out that he’s more than ten years younger than me. He was pretty much still wet behind his ears and tried to set up his camp in Cologne. But he grew up really fast, most likely he’s more grown up than I am myself by now, constructed the website you are reading this interview on, and found some time to teach himself the secrets of analog photography – including developing the film in his bathroom – next to skateboarding, working, and having a girlfriend.
A tremendous amount of curiosity and a quick wit are key characteristics of the maximum blonde spectacle wearer. He has become a good friend long since even though we don’t share the same apartment anymore four years later. One thing is hard to forgive, though: That he never gave me a heads up when the nude photo shoots went down at our place…
Kanya [Spani] was pretty surprised when I told him that I don’t have a digital camera. I just have to take the photo at the very precise moment and then it’s all or nothing.
"Back then, I thought that photography is really boring because you only have a still, while everything moves on video."
Yeah, pretty much. But now I feel like doing more of that. I don’t want to say that you can’t take good pictures of people who don’t skate on a super high level – everyone can do an ollie or a kickflip for a styleshot – but for real skate photography, you need to be with the right people. Since a few months i've been shooting more and more with some good skilled skaters. So let's see what the future will bring.
I would really like to fly somewhere as a side-pic photographer for a skilled team of a brand even if I had to pay the traveling expenses myself.
Up till now, I haven’t really shot that much with a dslr. Most of the time, I was with people who were accompanied by a skate photographer with a digital camera anyways. What I don’t like is that you film and take photos at the spot, then you pack up and go to the next spot to set up everything again. I always had the impression that no one really captures all the pushing through the city kind of things. That’s why I always like to have the camera ready in between which again is why I didn’t focus on real skate-photos.
I had a buddy who wanted to get a board sponsor and he asked me if I wanted to film him. I kept that in the back of my head and eventually bought a Canon 550D from my training salary and filmed a clip with him. Back then, I thought that photography is really boring because you only have a still, while everything moves on video.
Then I went to Barcelona one day and thought it would be pretty cool to take a photo camera with me. I caught on to the idea because there was an ad for the new Nick Garcia shoe on Etnies, which was inspired by the Canon AE-1. I read a bunch about the camera and found out that a lot of people use it to start with photography because it’s really pure. There’s nothing automatic. I ended up buying one for 75 Euros on eBay and went to Barca with four rolls of film. That wouldn’t be enough for me nowadays.
Back then, I thought a lot about whether or not I should take a photo. In comparison to the amount of film that I shoot today, a bunch of them turned out really good.
Maybe a little. Probably it’s also because I can afford more film. [laughs] Or because I develop them myself and save money. It used to be 10 Euros for one film.
Later on, I started going to dm [German drugstore, editor’s note], but that was kind of too dirty. Most of the time, I turned in four rolls and when I picked up the prints, I slipped three of the envelops in my jacket and only paid for one. I still turn rolls of colored film in, which costs around five Euros, but sooner or later, I want to do that by myself, too. Everyone says it’s so much harder than black and white, but, after all, you only have more chemicals and need to keep a constant temperature. I’ll probably get a laundry tub and a fish tank heater for that.
It started last year in August when I was off work and thought about doing it myself and invested like 200 Euros in bottles, folders, negative sleeves, chemicals. I watched a couple of YouTube videos and closed my eyes till I figured out how to get the reel into the developing tank. After I developed my first film in the bathroom, I was so stoked when I saw that it worked.
Right, it has no windows. I do it in the evenings, so I don’t have to tape the door and when my roommate is home, I just give him a heads up, so he doesn’t turn on the light or goes to the bathroom.
After Barcelona, I still turned them in, but I had 37 rolls, five Euros each. And the film itself costs even more. So you’re at 400-500 Euros in a second. This means you save a lot when you do it yourself. I have a developing tank which holds three 35mm films at once or one 120mm and two 35mm. But I usually use like 3-4 black and white films along the lines, which I shoot at a similar paste, so I can develop them all together. But recently, I had like 19 rolls, which takes you five days of doing nothing else every evening. Scanning is even more time-consuming.
"There is no other way, you just have to feel it. You come home at night and start developing straight away."
There is no other way, you just have to feel it. You come home at night and start developing straight away. That kind of pushed me, too, because you discover all this analog stuff again and don’t have to wait, since you do it yourself. But from time to time, I wonder about it... I scanned around 200 photos of my last vacation in France and because you have to edit them, too, you invest a lot of time. It’s too easy with digital photography, though. You just point the camera at the trick, shoot a sequence, and pick the best moment afterwards. That’s not what I want. And I don’t like the digital look either. I like intensive colors, the grain, the contrasts.
You’d have to be crazy good at editing. I found a couple examples on Instagram. People told me that they shoot digital and get the look in post-production. They put some kind of dust filter on it. I’d rather shoot analog in the first place.
It’s definitely more fun than sitting at some office job for 40 hours a week. Ideally, I’d have a part-time job as a web developer in order to have more time for it. There’s only one thing in life which really fulfills you. I thought about trying to get a job at the lab I used to develop my films at – to gather a deeper understanding. For example, I’ve never done darkroom prints. Funny enough, one of my buddies got a complete setup for Christmas. Sooner or later I’ll come around to try it out.
I offered some on my website, but nothing has really happened. My homies bought a bunch of them. That’s the question, though, whether or not you shoot photos which work on a broader scale. Photos that every average citizen can put on his wall. Maybe I have been too focused on a certain target group. That’s why I want to exhibit something in a small gallery around the corner because most of the time, when I did a project, something new came out of it. I also feel like doing a zine again. The whole internet thing is neat and tidy, but you have to be found there, too.
"It’s not the same with digital cams, just doing whatever works."
A little bit, but the big names aren’t as common. But I met Faby Reichenbach and Lucho [Vidales] at this Red Bull contest and there definitely are those kinds of coincidences. But the real networking happens on Instagram. You find someone on there, hit him up and you work something out. It’s a close group of people who always keep each other updated by writing or commenting and they basically all have a Leica.
At first, I really tried out a lot. For a long time, I shot with the AE-1 to test what kind of photos I want to do. That one broke right before I wanted to go to Barca, so I bought the AE-1 Program. Then I wanted a second camera in order to be able to get a fisheye and then I stumbled across a Nikon F3.
Then I got the Leica Minilux snapshot camera to shoot some photos at night. Afterwards, I got the idea of buying a medium format camera and I got the Mamiya really cheap on eBay. I didn’t like the Minilux anymore, because I’m not really the snapshot-kind-of-guy. When the whole analog thing got fashionable again, a bunch of people bought snapshot cams because it’s the easiest thing to do, but I never really liked that. And when the Leica came, I sold the Nikon again.
Ever since, I have been using the Leica and the Mamiya most of the time. I got a couple of friends hooked as well and they all got a AE-1. They take really good photos by now even though they were never interested in it before. This is because they really put some effort into it and think before they take a photo. It’s not the same with digital cams, just doing whatever works.
"I just hauled ass down that hill, tried to focus and clicked."
Both, but the spontaneous moments prevail. You can see this in the picture of Joscha Aicher in Barcelona. Where both of them are pushing on the crosswalk at the same time, with motor scooters right beside them, adding up to a perfect symmetry. I just hauled ass down that hill, tried to focus and clicked. I never thought that a photo like this would be the result.
Sometimes I see a picture and the lighting is very good and I tell them where to push or something like this. But you need to have the right people who put up with stuff like this.
The pictures I am most happy with are the ones I had in my mind before shooting. There are plenty of pictures of girls that I started to do without having a plan, but the result is usually disillusioning. You really have to internalize photography.
At first, I just did it for the fun of it. I asked a friend in 2015 if she wanted to shoot some photos at the Großmarkt [marketplace in Cologne, editor’s note]. It was really cool and I wanted to do more.
Most of the times, the girls are already used to taking photos. They know what to do. Many cool things happened in between the photos, meaning in between my directions.
Right, and that’s something I don’t like anymore, because the girls only think about posting. I took the best photos of girls who don’t care for stuff like this at all. For the past year, I tried out what kind of things I like and realized that I only go for something when I have a tangible idea. At the beginning, I thought that I’d want to do every kind of photography that I like myself, but that’s not the case.
And on the other hand it's just cause i like girls.
I use a Leica M6 for 35mm, the Mamiya RZ67proii for 120mm and a Nishika N8000 for some 3D pictures. Besides this I shoot some random stuff with a Polaroid camera that my girlfriend gave me for Christmas last year. Sometimes it’s awesome to have an instant picture.
Mostly, I use Ilford HP5+, Ilford Pan F+ & Kodak Trix and for colorfilm, Kodak Portra 160/400 or sometimes even a CineStill film.
The Mamiya, sorry Leica.