|GUNTHER DEICHMANN: PHOTOGRAPHIC MISSIONARY
Gunther Deichmann is a fantastic photographic artist who lives with his family in the Philippines. He is the REAL DEAL when it comes to photography. He does not use any tricks to capture his profoundly human and beautifully serene images and landscapes http://www.deichmann-photo.com/. Ultimately, he’s on a mission to get our attention and help save the world. Is there any better purpose for art?
MICHAEL: Hello Gunther, Your work is simply incredible. First of all, What role do you think photographic art - not merely photography - is playing in the world today? I ask this because, as you know, everyone has a camera these days on their phones and everyone takes BAD photos all the time. What does this all mean?
GUNTHER: Hi Michael, Thanks for your nice compliments about my work. Photography with the exception of a few guys out there was never really expected as much than say the work from painters, even so I disagree with that, but that is the way it just went over the years. I still believe even today with all those new cameras coming out iPhones etc., good photography has its place. Sure, things have changed and you're right there are a lot of bad photos out there; the market is flooded with them. So as professional photographers, we have to re-think things. The internet has certainly created a monster with those bad images on Facebook and other social websites. There is some real bad stuff out there, but then the internet also has also its benefits.
As pro photographers, we can now show our work more easily and deliver images to the client very fast, but you have to be switched on and use the internet to your advantage. To make it short, good images will always prevail in the end and sooner or later, all of this garbage will be outlived and people will get sick of looking at these lunch photos posted on FB etc. This whole social media has certainly had an effect on photography not to mention cameras are now the “in thing” and every Tom, Dick and Harry who buys a DSLR thinks he is a pro now. I think this is a short-lived trend and will settle down. Everybody, even before the digital age, got lucky once in a while and got the odd, great shot, but being consistent and producing good images is a totally different story. Besides, the days of a single, great image are gone. To succeed today, you have to think about stories/articles. Sure, there will always be that really great shot, but even pros don't get this all the time. Nowadays, everyone likes to be an artist or photographer. I hear this all the time: "Oh, I am a fine art photographer" and having exhibitions, but in the end it is all the same, nothing new or exciting, I am sure this will all dwindle down soon or later. What amazes me is that all those newbies have no idea or never learned real photography and don't know about the real masters from the past like Pete Turner or Ernest Haas and many others.
My biggest concern in today’s photography is and I hate it – Photoshop! How many times I have heard: “Well, I did not really get this shot, but never mind, I can always fix that in Photoshop!” Photoshop is a real problem out there today. Yes, it is a great software, but it has been totally misused by many.
But then again...great images will always stand out in the end, not having used PS and without manipulation then you can feel very good about it and don't have to lie to you or your audience. In today’s photography, ethics play an ever more important role than before and as I mentioned above, a great image will always stand out amongst the crowd.
MICHAEL: Your work is profound. It's beautiful as art by itself, but there's no denying that you're motivated by something greater than the desire to create art. You seem to be concerned about humanity and the state of the planet, No?
GUNTHER: Thanks again Michael and yes, you're so right, I am very much concerned with our environment and the way our planet is going. There’s little respect for our oceans, wildlife and us humans fighting all over the world about really nothing. Traditions and cultures are vanishing fast and I am glad that at least I saw and experienced some of it besides recording it in my camera. I guess this is also what keeps me going and to look for the nicer things on our planet - always in search of. There is so much beauty around us. One just has to walk only with his eyes open, but at the same time not ignore the ugly beast around the corner that is also part of our daily lives.
MICHAEL: For a long time, I've also felt humans have been really fighting over nothing. Meantime, we're destroying the earth and ourselves in the process. Are you documenting these things in an effort to stop them? What can you and a camera really do?
GUNTHER: Oh yes, the camera can stop some of the suffering, be it in nature or human-related like hunger stricken areas etc., or in the protection of wildlife no doubt about it. If these things are not documented, then the public will never get to see them and as the saying goes, a picture tells a thousand words. I have done my part already and continue to do so whenever I can. I am very active in stopping the killing of sharks just for their fins. It’s totally outrageous and this must be stopped and I have contributed quite a bit in terms of images for this cause. But it is not only the sharks. There are turtles, elephants, rhinos, tigers and the list just goes on and on. Not the mention our rainforests that are being destroyed at an alarming rate. Yes, whenever I can I use my camera and document these things, write an article or at least get it out into the press. I also try and educate the younger generation starting with my own children on how to take care of our environment.
MICHAEL: And so, Gunther, What do you hope that your camera can actually do? Will photographs change the world? Have any of your photos changed the world or raised consciousness of people?
GUNTHER: It is not the camera. It is my eyes and soul that create the ultimate image, the camera is only a tool. I am not sure that photography will change the world, most likely NOT, but it can help to improve situations. Only us humans can make real changes in this world. Yes, some of my photos did help and made some changes, small ones, but really changing the world, that is again for the human race to do. Some of my photos certainly raised consciousness and awareness in particular in the protection of our marine environment and other wildlife. I am also a strong advocate for our vanishing cultures and I experienced this over many years first hand in Australia with the Aborigines. I have in my photo collection some very rare images of the Australian Aborigines and I am currently working on a project to illustrate just my point. It is very important that we preserve those images for our future generation.
MICHAEL: How do you determine what you'll document? Do you plan a trip to some exotic place first and then come up with a concept? Are you commissioned or assigned to do certain things?
GUNTHER: Since I have a passion for the environment, I obviously look for these subjects, my mind is always ticking for new things to do, mind you not easy these days, but I always have a few things in mind. It also depends on the individual subjects, is it new or has it been done before or you think you can do it better.
On a recent trip to Sri Lanka, I covered the primitive mining of Moonstones. I only had this idea when I traveled along the road and my driver mentioned to me if I would like to buy some moonstones as souvenirs, but this triggered me and I ended up underground in the mine (not without risk mind you) and I ended up shooting a complete article on moonstones that was published only about six months later. So, sometimes these things just happen. Sometimes, I do plan a trip to some exotic destination, but most of the time, it happens when I am there already and I see something, like when I went to Bali and one morning I spotted the unloading of illegal shark fins in the Harbor. Of course, I realized the importance and went to work. About two weeks later, it was published as the “Photo of the Week” in Stern Magazine, one of the largest in Europe. Then it was used all over the news and also in big magazines in Spain and Portugal. It is these sorts of images that can make a change and bring a stop to the finning of sharks.
MICHAEL: It must be great to get these kinds of assignments.
GUNTHER: Commissioned and assignment work is going through a real bad time. Very little, these days. Even if you approach editors or magazines, the good old days are gone unfortunately. Not like before when I got real nice assignments from big magazines like Stern, Airone, Geo and so on. However, if you have an interesting story proposal, then good assignments are still out there. So in other words, you need to do a lot of research and more research prior to any trip or assignment, spending for my liking too much time behind the computer. I’d rather be out there and shooting some nice images.
MICHAEL: One of the things that bothers me about photographing people who we consider "exotic" in "exotic" places is that a lot of people view the work from a sociological perspective. They view the people as some species to be held under a microscope rather than as human beings who have dreams and fall in love and work hard every day just like they do. What do you think about this?
GUNTHER: Yes, you're right Michael and there is some truth in that, but as a photographer, you have the responsibility to go beyond the sociological perspective and portray exotic people in exotic places also as loving and caring human beings. I remember I took this shot a long time ago in Spain, of an old man who was holding the hand of a little boy ever so gently and that shows love and compassion. This is where the real art of photography comes in. Unfortunately many others out there can't do this and even take advantage of those people.
I did a shoot recently in Cambodia on a series of portraits of very normal working people in their everyday working environments, proud and very happy, or a nice portrait recently of an old lady in Myanmar. I did get to know her first and we talked for a while before I even picked up my camera. Later, she showed me an old photo of her in a frame. Wow, she was very beautiful and still is now, so I took her portrait with her holding the frame proudly in front of her. She was so happy and I can tell a good and interesting story. It was more than just a quick photo of her. We actually connected and that is very important.
MICHAEL: Where are you exactly? Where do you live? Are you inspired by your home surroundings? What's it like where you live? Do the people there appreciate art and what you do?
GUNTHER: I am an Australian, but I live in Manila, Philippines, with my family. Am I inspired by my surroundings? Well, that is a good question Michael. Let me put it like this. It is never boring here or in Asia. Plus, I love the hot climate and yes the surroundings do give me some inspiration. I can cope easily living here since I am in and out all the time traveling to other Asian countries, so I really don't get bored.
MICHAEL: And do people appreciate art there?
GUNTHER: Yes, some of the people appreciate art, but not so many mind you and also what I do, but sometimes I wish I could be - say in Europe or in the US or for that matter living in Singapore - where I believe art is much more appreciated. I do miss places like Paris or Europe in general. I recently (last November) had an exhibition in Paris with my agency and people over there really do appreciate art a lot more and that is what I really miss sometimes. However, having a family makes moving not so easy any more. At least I am closer to Australia, a country I dearly love and of course, I am close to all my favorite Asian destinations.
MICHAEL: Your work is beautiful and profound and it certainly has a social and global message. Does this make it easier or more difficult to sell in galleries? Does everything you do have a message?
GUNTHER: Thanks Michael, not an easy question to answer but let me try. I have not had that many exhibitions because I believe they should be different from previous ones. I like to surprise people and show them what they have not seen from me before. I’ve seen too many exhibitions by the same photographers in my part of the world, but there is really not much difference. I personally don't believe in having an exhibition just for the sake of having an exhibition. To get back to your question, yes it is more difficult for me to sell my work in galleries, but I have done okay in the past. It could also be that my marketing in this area is a bit slack and I could certainly improve in this area. Finding the right gallery in the right place is the hardest part. Not everything I do has a message, but most of the time it has. For example, a simple image of a nice reflection in the water contains a message; it is water and light - without it we can't exist. I am always looking out for reflections on water. You can find beauty in almost everything, but you have to see it first. Occasionally, I just see something that I really like and take the shot discovering later that there is actual a message contained within. One of my trademarks is to show movement in my images. I have been doing this since I started in photography, even during the good old film days on Kodachrome. For me, it shows life and this again is yet another message.
MICHAEL: I was recently in New York for the Frieze and Pulse Art Fairs and photography was very well represented in these shows. It's amazing. Finally Gunther, Given the explosion of photography, do you have any thoughts where it might be headed in the future and what are your future goals?
GUNTHER: Explosion is certainly the correct word, but even after an explosion there will be calm and things will hopefully quiet down again. As mentioned before, the internet has opened up the field which is good and bad. We now have so many images readily available out there, the market is getting flooded and soon we can't find anything anymore when we’re looking for a particular image, so the idea is to find a niche and stick with smaller but good agencies and not those big companies like Flickr or say Getty Images that are just in for the profit and to please their share holders. It’s taking advantage of the photographers and not really caring about the art.
I still believe (or I like to believe) that all this will simmer down. It is like a fashion trend and the good ones will survive, but we certainly have our work cut out to stay on top. Good, high quality work and consistency are the real key here. Telling or creating good stories along with your photo stories has now become even more important than ever and only few of us can do this very successfully. Here, we have an edge over those masses of single and at times non-defined images floating on the net.
My future goals? I just keep on doing what I love doing most, creating nice images, produce interesting articles on environmental issues and continue with my International Photo Tours and Workshops. Hopefully, I can also fulfill fill my dream of going back to Australia and visiting those places I photographed some 30 years ago, record the changes and produce maybe another book together with an exhibition. I shall continue with my love and passion, creating nice images that tell a story and nothing can change that.
MICHAEL: Excellent. I know you will achieve your goals. Thanks Gunther. This has been great.
GUNTHER: Many thanks again and it has been a real pleasure. Let’s stay in touch.
Check out Gunther Deichmann at http://www.deichmann-photo.com/.