Johannes Saal

Where are you from/based now?

I was born in Berlin and spent my youth there. But being restless I recently lived in Tel Aviv and Istanbul for a while. More than half a year ago I moved for my master degree in religion, economics and politics to Lucerne, Switzerland.

What is your background in Photography? What got you started?

My first camera I got was when I've been about the age of seven or eight. My parents gave me this pretty simple children camera. Just as the fashion of the 90s electronic trash it was totally colorful, and made this awful sound and light effects to (unsuccessfully) encourage the portrait subject to laugh. But I loved it and made a lot of pics of my childhood friends and family members. As a teenager my father who once in his youth years used to shoot a lot of pictures as well gave me his 35mm format camera. At this time I started more seriously with photography and it turned pretty fast to a passion. Once I considered to study photography but decided for social sciences.

What equipment do you use?

For the longest time I used a Praktica BC1, a 35mm format film camera produced in East Germany. This was the camera I got from my father. Unfortunately, the shutter got broken on a journey through the Balkans few years ago. Almost impossible to find a photo shop in Sarajevo which sold or repaired analogue cameras, after half a day of hopeless search I ended up in this old guy's apartment where he sold me exactly the same model. Actually, a year ago this one's shutter got broken too, but I really like this coincidental story and I still keep both cameras for sentimental reasons. Since I bought my Mamiya 7 with a 65mm lens I do not want and need to use another camera so far. The pictures' quality is just stunning and there is not any camera right now which would satisfy my aspirations and I could afford.

What are your feelings on Film Vs Digital?

Surely, there are digital photographers who do a great job and I guess in digital times of global media and telecommunication networks it is a technical necessity to transfer pictures directly without any temporal delay from the place of incident to any media device worldwide. But when I had a DSRL myselfown I caught my self doing snapshots and coming back from my journeys with several thousand pictures not really looking at them anymore. Thus, analogue photography gives me the chance to slow down, forgetting the surrounding and just focusing on the motive, composition, detail and symmetry. And there is an emotional reason why I stuck with analogue photography too. Sometimes it takes me several months until I develop and scan my films. Then – like a child before Christmas – I am full of anticipation and excitement, waiting until they are done. While being rigorous about angle and perspective I like (especially by using expired films) to leave for my work some certain degree of randomness and surprise regarding colors and brightness, is a combination that makes analogue photography so special for me.

Do you have a creative process? Are your shots planned or spontaneous?

The feeling of being always on a journey definitely influenced my approach to photography: to be spontaneous, not to expect something particular, to stroll around and to let it flow. Usually, I just got a more evolved than anticipated idea about context and style during or after the process. Recently, I started to conceptualize my interest in a specific phenomenon or subject before starting to take pictures.

Who or what inspires you?

Since I stopped being a teenager, my life started to pivot – besides photography – on traveling and studying. All of my passions are closely related to each other and I could not imagine to do one of them without the others somehow involved in it. Thus, most intensively I got inspired in the last years by traveling to the Middle East, the Balkans, Caucasus and South-East Asia. Additionally, my major fields of study, focusing on human life in an urban, globalized world's postmodern society whose only meaning seemingly faded to the abstract idea of modernization and progress, highly influence my photography.

Is there a particular photographer, site, set of images or a photo book that you keep coming back to for inspiration?

In general, my focus on man-altered (urban) landscapes perhaps stem to some degree from the New Topographic Movement. With a main interest in photojournalism, surely, I also regularly follow agencies and magazines concentrating on social issues: Magnum, Getty, Panos, Agence Vu, Burn, Foto8 and so on. In this regard I admire big names like Paolo Pellegrin, Robert Polidori, Jonas Bendiksen, Thomas Dworzak and Tim Hetherington. But I also count less known photographers like Boris Mikhailov, Ian Teh and Edward Burtynsky as my favorites.

Are you working on a project at the moment?

Unfortunately, my studies do not leave me a lot of time for all the ideas I want to realize. At the moment I prepare a series on often provisionally converted buildings used by religious minorities in Luzern (or maybe in whole Switzerland), contrasting the ordinary facades and the exotic places of worship inside. After graduating I'm considering taking a one or two gap years in Tel Aviv to spend more time on photography.

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