The first time I met Birgit was when she was working on a video promo for Lomography. It was a hot summer day in Brooklyn, but she was cool and composed serving as the photo brand’s marketing manager, producer, talent wrangler, etc. Despite having to wear several hats that day (and on most days) I found her to be one of the kindest and most present people on set and it was clear to me how dedicated she was to her work and growing the film community.
Which is why we are so lucky to have her as an integral part of Seeing Collective. In addition to being an amazing organizer and supporter of our growing photo community, we also want to introduce her as an artist and the talented photographer that she is.
Shot exclusively on film, Birgit’s photographic work beautifully captures the ever-changing streets of New York City and its people. Much like her personality, her images are honest and real and have a natural tranquility about them that makes her photography special.
Armed with her 35mm Leica Rangefinder, Birgit captures moments that are often overlooked like a discarded plastic bag caught in a tree or a spilled coffee cup under a row of empty subway seats revealing her unconditional love for the city and its grit. On the other side of documenting these fleeting everyday moments, her portrait work is beautiful, humanistic and sometimes playful, showing the wonderful range in her visual vocabulary.
Have a stroll around Birgit’s Instagram where she most frequently shares her “film only” photos and experience New York City and its inhabitants through her poetic and journalistic vision.
Intro by Lanna Apisukh
What attracted you initially to photography? (when did you first pick up a camera?)
I think the first camera I picked up was my parent’s point and shoot. I randomly found it one day and shot a full roll. When my mom realized that, she told me film was expensive and I couldn’t simply take the camera and waste a roll like that. But when I got the prints back from the lab and experienced the magic, of holding those moments in your hands, which you saved from fading into nothingness.
This weirdly exciting feeling stuck with me. My sister and I both started taking pictures and we found out my father and grandfather were quite a bit into photography. My dad handed down his old SLR to my sister and ordered one for me off ebay. I remember this time as the first time I saw my dad excited to being able to teach us something we were interested in. It was important to him we understood the basics of photography before we went out to shoot and I enjoyed the bonding hobby.
I pursued photography later in school, but unfortunately by the time I got to high school they had switched everything to digital. I still enjoyed shooting digital but it’s unlimited possibilities felt too overwhelming to me. I realized I was too much of a perfectionist when it came to photography that I couldn’t deal with the digital form of it. I was never truly happy with any results, because it always felt like I could shoot a better version of the same photo or edit them differently.
I got back into film, through my job at Lomography, which changed a lot for me. I wasn’t aware of the huge, active and passionate community that was still existing in the film photography world and it simply sucked me into it. Ironically, now with the limits of film photography, I am shooting more than ever.
Why did you choose photography over other art forms?
It was never a conscious decision to pick photography over other art forms. I simply feel drawn to photography, just as much as I’m drawn to writing. But even with these two passions of mine, I don’t have any control over when to do which. There are days I feel the urge to write and others I need to take photos. But I do think, subconsciously, they fulfill different needs. With writing, I turn my inside out, focusing on my inner feelings and thoughts. Photography, on the other hand, forces me to truly look at the world around me. I love street photography in particular because it strengthens your awareness of your surrounding, something it’s so easy to lose in a city like New York.
What keeps you motivated to produce new work?
To me, my photography doesn’t really feel like “producing new work”. Therefore, I don’t feel like I need anything to stay motivated. Taking pictures is more like an urge I have and whenever I feel it boiling up inside, I simply go out and shoot. It’s this human instinct, forcing me to simply create, rather than thinking about the actual purpose of the results. Sometimes, I get rolls back and I don’t like a single photo in them. And that’s okay, because the reason I shot that roll, was only to shoot it.
That said, taking photos has become natural to me. I do it every day. What I need motivation for, is afterwards doing something with the photos I’ve created. But thankfully, through my job and the people around me here in New York, I am constantly surrounded with creatives who are constantly working on personal projects, lifting each other up, helping out and encouraging to “do something” with your art. All of us here in New York are probably borderline workaholics and might regret this in a couple of years, but right now New York’s notorious work ethics is giving me a lot of confidence and motivation.
Where or from whom do you get your inspiration?
Again, as someone being rather new to New York, the city itself is still my oasis of inspiration. It simply feels honest and real, which is what I am looking for in art as well. It’s beautiful and horrible at the same time. Walking out into the streets of New York is exciting because you never know if the city will bring you down or make you happy that day. And whichever one it is, I better have my camera on me to capture it.
And then there are the people in it of course. I feel lucky, not really having to buy photo books or scroll through pinterest to seek inspiration. I come across daily it by socializing within the creative community around me and I am very thankful for that.
Do you make time for personal work, and what new projects are you working on?
I try to. Of course, it always feels like I should make more time for it. But then again, I try not to put too much pressure on my personal work and projects. I already have a 9 - 5 job, I care about and I want to keep my personal projects mostly personal, meaning I want to truly enjoy them. They shouldn’t feel like work.
At the moment, I’m working on a shared zine with a friend, from a recent trip to Mexico City. For no particular reason, other than to simply find closure for the body of work we created on film, by bringing them back to a print medium.
Other than that, I am constantly taking photos, pushing myself to try different things, whether that’s film stock or photographic styles, to get better and more daring in certain ways and to see where it takes me.
What has been a big learning lesson for you in the photography industry?
That there’s a place for everyone. Sure, there are certain aesthetics and types of photography which might be trending at the moment and easier to earn money with. But if that’s not your main goal, there are platforms and communities for any kind of photography which respect and value your work. Whatever that might be.
Tell us about a project that changed the way you work in photography (did it force you to create new work? did it expose you to new challenges? did it open you to a new community?)
For a long time photography was something I exclusively did on my own. I still enjoy going out to shoot by myself, it’s a type of therapy or meditation at times. However, on my trip to Mexico with a fellow photography-friend, I for the first time enjoyed the perks of shooting with someone else. It pushed me to stay focused, as both of us wanted to be the first to spot a motif before the other. It also challenged my habits, as you notice the other person’s perspective. It’s one thing to look at someone’s photos, realizing they’re seeing different things in the streets than you would normally notice but it’s another thing to be right there, when they see them. I learned a lot witnessing how this friend of mine went about taking his photos. I definitely want to “collaborate” more with others, and shoot with different photographers to challenge up my own perspective.
Who is your ideal client? Explain.
The only client, I know: Myself. I want to stay away from commissioned work. Photography is too precious for me to do it for someone else. It would spoil the pleasure. If I ever shoot a series, I myself is good enough to pitch to clients, I might do that one day, but that’s not my goal. Not right now at least.
Where would you like to be in 5 years?
Hopefully still walking through New York with my camera. Maybe on the way to a group show with photos by me and my friends. I hope both, my writing and photography will have developed further and will still be developing. Maybe I will have found a way to combine these two forms of creative storytelling.
Where do you see the industry going in the next 10 years?
I believe with the growing online media and social platforms, are making things harder for commercial photographers. Photographic skills and professional gear might have become obsolete in 10 years. That sounds scary, but I’m afraid that’s where we’re heading for a period of time. At the same time, “real” photography, including film photography, will further grow in the creative scene. I believe that’s a natural development. If the photographic craft isn’t needed in the daily business anymore, because there are new, cheaper and easier forms to produce commercial content for businesses, photographers will not simply stop shooting. They will turn to the creative industry and produce more art, experiment more with the medium and techniques. And that again opens new doors and I’m curious to see where they lead.