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February 25, 2020



Photography by Jan Gessler
Interview by Melanie Meggs

The love of photography began at an early age for German photographer Jan Gessler, when he used to help his mother in her darkroom at twelve years of age. Since then he took photography serious and now has his own commercial video production company in Berlin. Street photography for Jan has been a hobby and a source of inspiration since the late nineties. Jan has his own distinctive style of super angles and super low perspectives.

"The journey is its own reward."

TPL: Jan, when did you start getting interested in photography?

JG: In 1993 I was helping my mom in her photo lab. When I moved the enlarger I understood that the impression of the photo changes by the frame. That changed my perspective on cameras. Fortunately I could use my parents' cameras. Five years later I could make my first photo publication in a newspaper. This was a photo of a friend doing 'salto' (motion blur with long exposure).

TPL: Where do you find your inspiration?

JG: I see street photography itself as an inspiration. Especially the editing process. Looking at an individual frame by frame trained my eyes. I think if you are listening carefully and kindly everybody has a story to tell you.

TPL: Do you have any favourite artists or photographers you would like to share with us?

JG: Ara Güler, Orson Welles, Fan Ho, Roger Deakins, René Maltête, Erwitt Elliott and Henri Cartier-Bresson on photography. Michael Ende, Paul Watzlawick, Douglas Adams, Monty Python and Volker Pispers influenced my worldview.

Nearly two decades ago I worked for two years as a camera operator with Director of Photography Aturo D. Smith who likes to share his skills. He is known for his music video clips with the Beastie Boys, Marilyn Manson and several commercials and awarded feature films. His courage to find new perspectives and camera gear for each job has inspired me.

TPL: Has your style of shooting changed since you first started?

JG: I am faster. I got closer to people during the years. Social injustice in modern times is often a topic in my work. But I have tried to look on the more hopeful side of photography for some time. But sometimes I do the same shot I did 20 years ago because it feels good. My pool of possible shots is growing.

I started with black and white negative. For a while I liked color slides a lot. Since 2008 I have been using mostly digital cameras and I prefer black and white again. I still have the darkroom but I prefer lightroom.

TPL: Where is your favourite place/s to shoot?

JG: Istanbul. Also Berlin, Budapest, Barcelona, Bangkok and New York.

TPL: Do you think equipment is important in achieving your vision in your photography? What would you say to someone just starting out?

JG: Gear is not so important at least when you are starting out. Get a second hand 24mp full frame DSLR Canon or Nikon, a standard lens 50mm and a 28 or 24mm. Prime lenses, not the best quality but no kit zoom. Camera and two lenses are about 800-1200 EUR. If you have less budget go for an apsc or older ff camera and maybe old manual russian photo lenses. I prefer the optical viewfinder in DSLR cameras but a mirrorless camera can do as well. I took some shots with 12MP and smaller cameras and I still love the pictures.

I told all my trainees and students to take as many photos as possible instead of learning more theory than they can digest. But for those who look for input I am sure the grammar of film language is helpful to tell a story in still photography as well. Even if you are not planning to become a videographer take a look at “Shot by Shot” by Steven D. Katz or the books by Christopher Kenworthy and try to tell stories just by framing a person. You will be surprised how easily you can precise the impact of your idea with a change of angle, position and focal length rather than buying the latest camera model.

TPL: What characteristics do you think you need to become a good photographer? What’s your tips?

JG: Recipes only work until a certain degree and can help you to find out which style(s) you like. Be kind and respectful! Wear a proper shirt!

TPL: Have you ever been involved in the artistic world before photography?

JG: I had worked as a juggler for five years and went to acting and acrobatic school. As a VJ, I created art video installation on about 100 big concerts. I work as a director in documentaries, music videos and commercials. I work as a videographer.

TPL: Are there any special projects you are currently working on that you would like to let everyone know about?


TPL: "If I wasn’t photographing what would I be doing?...

JG: I am a father of two daughters, a four month old and three year old. Besides that I run a small company producing Web and TV commercials."