INTERVIEW WITH NICHOLAS BEUTLER
You were born in Speyer, near Heidelberg in Germany, but you've lived and worked in Berlin since August 2011?
Back in 2011, I started my photography studies at Lette-Verein in Berlin. You might know it for some of its alumni: Martin Schoeller, Olaf Heine, Ralph Mecke or Uwe Düttmann, for example. In addition to that, my hometown area is not really well known for a strong infrastructure of advertising- and fashion - industries. So I had good reasons to leave and absolutely do notregret that step, so far.
What do you love about Berlin and how does it influence your photography?
Berlin is an artsy, lively and foremost cheap city. It is perfect for starters because you can live on minimum wage and work with motivated people of all kinds. It allowed me to focus on my work right from the start because many stylists, brands and models are eager to work for much less money than in other cities, or even on a work-for-picture-basis. But within time, Berlin's blessing turns out to be more of a curse because you, as a photographer, must also work for free or at minimum wage. No big fashion brand is based here and therefore no big magazine produces its editorials in this city. Berlin is cursed to be low budget and within time it can get really frustrating.
You became self-employed in 2010, what challenges does an entrepreneurial photographer face?
You start as a nobody. The challenge is to get in touch with the right people, make the right decisions and work hard to create great work. There is no silver bullet for achieving your goals and everybody has his, or her, own tips on how to do things right. You have to listen to them carefully but, in the end, it has to be your own heart that should guide you.
What keeps you motivated?
Watching the work and work flow of other creative people, primarily photographers. Talking with colleagues about the industry, jobs and gossip. Assisting them in their shoots and being part of the 'big stuff' right when it happens. Surfing Pinterest every evening for new inspiration. Just breathing in what my job is about keeps me motivated because it shows me where I want to go and how to do it.
What role did your upbringing and education play, leading up to you becoming a photographer?
I am very glad that I was raised in a rural environment; far away from the big cities, their hurlyburly and chaos. I would love to see my kids grow up in abeautiful countryside some day. You can say that it made me a grounded person, I know what 'home' feels like and where it is. By the age of 21, I began to discover the world and started my photography-studies; which was definitely the right time. I would not recommend a photography school for everyone. You should not expect too much from it, even if the school has a good reputation. It is a time of exploration and self discovery but you are often distracted by unnecessary exercises, tests and classes. You should set your priorities straight pretty early-on and always focus on what seems important to you - no one will care about your grades, ever.
Where and when did you start as a photographer?
I started teaching myself Photoshop at the age of 15, a small digital camera (not even a DSLR) followed a few years later. Recalling it now sounds pretty awkward, but I didn't own a useful DSLR-set with lenses until January 2014. I always borrowed the stuff I needed from friends or the school's equipment stash. After my high school graduation I started a totally different career at first, but realised pretty soon that photography always was a bigger constant in my life than everything else. Until now, I can say that giving up what I did at the time and moving to Berlin (to concentrate on what I really wanted to do) was the best thing that I have done in my life so far.
What do you do to improve and invigorate yourself?
Besides all the work you do to improve your business, it is nearly as important to have a compensation for it. For me, that's sports. I am not good at fishing or collecting postage stamps. And besides that, photography is already my job, so that is not an option for a hobby anymore. While doing sports I shut my phone off, don’t talk to people and do something for my body and soul. Next year I want to try some meditation, it might lower the blood pressure a little bit more. [smiles] Another thing I do is to work on my mood-database. For a few months now, I collect photos I love. From the Internet, photograph them from magazines or just capture what might inspire me someday and put it all in an app to keep an overview of it. In my free time, I really enjoy tagging them, and (as weird as it might sound) this does not feel like work for me. It helps me to understand what good photography or art is all about and it is especially useful to find some of the photos again when I am looking for them. By now I have collected and tagged over 10,000 moods, with much more to come.
Your work was featured in the Issue 32 print edition of HUF Magazine. How did you envision and deliver such a great visual work?
'PRE', as the project is called, is the final work of my photography studies. And, I wanted to do something big and outstanding. As an aspiring photographer you have idols that you look up to. You love their visual language, their colours, their ideas and you just want to be as good as them. In my opinion there is no shame in beginning by 'copying' them. Not in a literal way, but by studying their photos and trying to understand what makes them so good, how they work with the model and the lighting, for example. Especially in a schoolish environment, you are able to stretch those boundaries a bit more than you should, because you are a student, right? You are in an early process and have much more to learn. Because, by that time, my biggest idol was Kristian Schuller, I tried to get his visual language and composition so it's no surprise that when he saw this work he said “Looks familiar, huh?” with one eye winking. Of course, it is still 'mine': My idea and realisation, but with the influences of others. Step by step. I now have to discover what my personal style is all about. It would be amazing if someday a young photographer would try to understand my style that way
What time frame did you have to work with? What' s your perspective on working with a team?
I had a three month frame of planning this shoot. The challenge was (and most of the time still is nowadays) to handle and organise everything with a low budget. Furthermore, I had to find a day where 25 people from all over Germany had time to participate - which was by far the biggest task. Working with a team was nothing new to me, but handling so many people on the set is something different.
How do you bring a large project to completion?
It all starts with a small idea. I try to bring it to paper by phrasing or scribbling it. Then I look for moods that might describe the idea, the lighting, look or setting in general. This is the phase where you trial & error in your head, imagine several scenarios and how the outcome might look. Within time it gets more concrete and, when I have the feeling that it fits my budget and skill, I begin the planning process.
What is your definition of success and how will you know you've achieved it?
Success is hard to define because it depends on the perspective you have. Thinking back three years, I would say that what I have achieved so far is a success. Looking forward, thinking of the big magazines I might shoot for, the models I might work with and the opportunities that might come, all this seems pretty small. I would also say, that there is no end. There will be no point where you say “This is it,” because it means that you would stop where you are. And life in general is always a development. Of course at some point you might settle down, start a family or whatever - but your personal, photo-graphical style will hopefully get better from day to day. At least I will try to look at it that way.
What photographic work, of yours, are you most proud of?
Of course this is not quite the answer you want to hear, but there really is no outstanding work I am the most proud of. Those are little steps in a big picture. I am proud that I got so far by now: making money from what I love. I photograph several times a week for Apple. In November I have my first job outside of Germany, in New York City. Exciting times to look forward to.
When you are planning a shoot, what are you thinking about? What's your frame of mind?
I always try to produce something that has not been done a thousand times before. Especially in fashion photography, so many ideas are used very often and thereby become overused. I try to imagine what might be an eye-catcher for the consumer, what might attract their attention. But, in this frame, I am totally free to do what feels right, what speaks of some 'taste'.
How do you feel when you know you’re onto something and how do you keep ideas flowing?
I think that as an artist, regardless of which field, you always know when what you do has some kind of 'taste', that it has something that might touch people who consume it. Even when you are not big enough to realise your idea the way it is in your head - people are going to recognize if somebody 'has it' or not. I really love this feeling, it's like I am in some kind of tunnel from there on. I forget that I have to do the laundry, or to call mum, because this idea of what you want to create is so overwhelming that you just want to get to it and make it as good as it is in your head. To keep the ideas flowing, I dig into my database and let the magic happen. [smiles]
What’s not fun about photography? Surely even photography has aspects that aren’t so wonderful?
What most people do not realise: As a photographer I spend only 5% of my time behind a camera. The rest is organization and planning, tax declaration (welcome to Germany! ) or writing e-mails, which can feel too much like an office-job sometimes. Of course I do my job to create, whether it is scribbling for some new shoots and researching the right moods, etc … or to really create by having a camera in my hands. Those are the best parts. I try to see the rest as the important differences that makes what I am doing a 'job' instead of just a hobby.
What advice do you have for young photographers hoping to achieve success?
They should definitely listen to what Ira Glass says in this online interview: https: //vimeo.com/85040589 - it is everything they have to know.
What camera do you currently shoot with and why?
I own a Canon EOS 5D Mark III, with the obligatory 24mm - 70mm 2.8f and the 70mm - 200m lens, which I use for all of my jobs and most of my free work. It is a powerful camera and gives me the freedom to just point-and-shoot in the studio or on the road, even in darkly lit environments. If I work with flash on location or in the studio, I always try to get a digital medium format camera,namely the PhaseOne with an IQ digital back.
What photographic equipment would you like to add to your collection?
I would love to own a Leica one day. As much as I love the Canon EOS-series, those cameras are often too heavy and bulky - if you are on vacation for example. I love the haptical, special look that Leica gives its photos. Of course, somewhere in the future, I would love to own a photo-studio to produce my stuff 'in house'. But we are talking about a really far away future here. [smiles]