Everyone can consider themselves a photographer these days – even your mum takes no less than 50 blurry images of the dog a day (“This time he’s sitting like a human!”) – but the ability to capture a moment, or a feeling, is as rare a skill as ever.
We met with multi-award winning urban photographer Alex Pfeiffer, a member of the Berlin 1020 Collective (along with: Chris “Candid Schirrmacher, Martin U Waltz, Oliver Krumes, Roland Groebe, Sven Kräuter, and Sebastian Jacobitz), whose stunning photographs really capture the vibe of the city, to hear how Berlin inspires him and his work.
How would you describe your Berlin 1020 collective, and how does your style differ from the other members?
Our collective is a combination of very different, very interesting photographers expressing how they view Berlin in their own unique style. I first met the collective in 2016 while visiting one of the member’s exhibitions. My style is 99% working in monochrome and shooting with film, focussing on clear geometrics and lines, while Martin has a fascinating eye for a special moment, Chris is awesome in working with the flash, or Oliver who plays light and shadow games, so every one of us has his own photographic way to tell their story of Berlin.
How do you capture the emotion and vibe of a city with just a static image?
It’s hard to capture the vibe or the mood of Berlin in a single image. Every district has its own special character, be it the vibrant life in Friedrichshain – my home – the clear structures of the Government district, the intercultural melting pot of Neukölln or the relaxed Sunday morning mood in Prenzlauer Berg. When I was working on my book “F***ingHain”, about the various corners of Friedrichshain, I first realized how challenging it could be to capture its mood. So, I would say it’s possible to catch a district’s mood in one image but not the spirit of this city, there are so many different faces, vibes and influences to catch up in one shot.
The best way to capture these emotions is to become a part of it. Robert Capa said, “Your image isn’t good when you’re not close enough“. He means close in an emotional way. Feel what you’re shooting, become a part of the vibe and the mood, and only when you build a strong emotional connection between the photographer and your subject, the viewer will also really ‘feel’ the mood in your image afterwards.
What makes Berlin such a good “canvas”?
There are so many reasons: the different faces and characters within the city ,give you unlimited potential. If you’re looking for strong lines and geometrics, head to the Government district. If you’re looking for interesting characters and a buzzing streetlife, it’s Friedrichshain. On rainy days the subway system is perfect with its fascinating architecture and the style of the stations. On the other hand, the city is always changing. You can visit the same place two or three times a week, it will always look different. For an urban photographer, it’s almost the perfect city.
Where are your favourite places in Berlin to photograph?
My preferred location is my home-district, Friedrichshain, due to its character. It’s rough and dirty but in a friendly way, and you have a fascinating mix of people living here: the old alternatives, artists, and squatters mixed with the new, young “Generation Gentrification”.
You never know what to expect beyond the next corner: a complete living room interior dumped in the middle of the street, burned-out cars, a drunk guy in a white wedding dress on the bus stop, a street barbecue….
Where would you send budding photographers in Berlin to get started?
It depends on what they are looking for: architecture, abandoned places, nature, long exposures… there are several spots for interesting images in nearly every part of the city. It’s always more fun to discover a city with a photographic buddy, sharing “secret paths”, hidden spots, best light situations at what time of the day and the best places to eat and drink during shoots.
Why do you always shoot in monochrome?
Almost always 😉 I prefer monochrome as normally the human eye is trained to see color first, so when you look at an image you will always look first for the colors in it. When you take away the color of the image, the eye is focussing on the lines and geometric patterns. I always try to bring a strong geometric composition into my images, clear lines and the placement of elements, standing out stronger in monochrome.