Udo Bernhart was young when he first got the itch to travel. From Iceland to Peru, from Patagonia to Mongolia, his book “Draußen: Mit der Kamera durch die Welt” (Out There: Around the World with a Camera) represents a cross section of his extensive travels. At the same time, the pictures witness his long journey to photography – a journey caught between fear and strength, where his Leica remained a faithful companion through it all.
Q: Out There: Around the World with a Camera is a very promising book title. Where did your desire to travel come from?
A: I grew up in Vinschgau, South Tyrol, just where the valley is at its narrowest. Trapped between high mountains, I had to lift back my head considerably to be able to see a blue sky. The wide spaces begin just behind the 3000 metre Vermoi peak. I wanted to know what was behind the mountains.
Q: How would you define this particular book: is it a travel diary with personal stories, a photographic autobiography, or a photo book of your travel adventures?
A: In the book I talk about my long journey to photography. My family always told me that you can’t make any money with photography. It’s not a profession for a married man. I speak about my fears, about the search and the catalysts that gave me the security and strength to follow this difficult path. Having entered the world of photojournalism, I talk about my most exciting trips around the globe between 1979 and 2010. The book is both a self-portrait and a portrait of the world in images and texts. It’s a book for people who are curious, who like to travel and who like to take pictures.
Q: At times you show nature in all its glory, at times humanity’s technical achievements. Are the environment and animals at the forefront of the book, as the title might suggest, or is it the people you’ve encountered along the way?
A: For someone who grew up in a narrow valley in the Alps, “out there” meant everything that I didn’t know. Whether places located at the end of the world, technology, nature, animals or people, it’s all part of it.
Q: Which of your trips still influences you most today?
A: The two trips I made to the Alaskan wilderness in 1987 and 2010 showed me that in the same place at different times, you can have very different experiences. A place never stays the same; whether it’s the people or the place that have changed. That’s why it’s important to be fully present wherever you happen to be at a given time.
Q: Did you have any negative experiences during your travels?
A: When I was traveling in Sri Lanka in 1989, researching my great uncle, I got caught between the Tamil minority front and the Sinhalese government troops. The experience was terrifying and I had to cut my trip short.
Q: How did you get into photography? What triggered your initial interest?
A: I was already interested in photography and film by the time I was six. I absolutely wanted to be a photographer and get to know the world out there. While I was training, I worked as an assistant in commercial, reproduction, fashion, studio, food, architecture and aerial photography. I was able to bundle all this experience together into reportage photography.
Q: How would you describe your pictures? Has your photographic approach changed over the years?
A: I love diversity. I’m reluctant to cover a theme twice. With travel photography it’s possible to take good experiences from one reportage to another, and always develop a new way of seeing as a result.
Q: What do you carry in your camera bag when you set off on a journey?
A: Two camera bodies, wide angle and zoom lenses, a high speed normal lens, a flash, and in my trouser pocket I have a Leica D-Lux 5 just in case.
Q: Your picture book spans from 1979 to 2012. You’re on the cover wearing a snow suit and carrying a Leica R8. Have you changed your camera equipment over the years?
A: Yes, camera and equipment change all the time. The equipment also has to fit each theme. If I’m doing a reportage on extreme skiing I use very different cameras and lenses than when I’m taking pictures for a cooking book, for example. Or I consciously limit myself: I recently used an M9 and just two lenses to take photographs for a culinary book on South Tyrol. That’s not an easy thing to do, but it obliges you to work within a predetermined frame – which can be very interesting. I’ve been working exclusively in digital since 2005.
Q: What stamps are still missing in your passport?
A: I haven’t been to Greece yet.
Thank you for your time, Udo!
– Leica Internet Team
You can see more of Udo’s work on his website.