Hamburg-based photographer Anatol Kotte has made a name for himself shooting portraits of film stars, politicians and musicians, including Angela Merkel and Rihanna. He took the new Leica CL and put it through a complete day of shooting, as he accompanied Cuban entertainer and model Jorge Gonzalez. The resulting collage is a unique, day-in-the-life portrait, which reflects the breakneck pace of celebrity life, as well as the extremes of excitement and stress, glamor and exhaustion.
How did you first get into photography? And who inspired you along the way?
I started photographing my friends when I was 14 and I set up my own darkroom. My parents were both graphic designers and worked in advertising. Through them I got to know photographers and their photo studios from an early age and I was amazed by their lifestyle and the fact that they all drove such cool, dented English sports cars.
You have photographed politicians, film stars, footballers, musicians and even the Muppets. How do you go about putting your subjects at ease?
I have a few different methods for that but most of my portraits come about as part of a commercial job, so both parties know what’s going on. Most of the time everything goes very smoothly and professionally.
Your style tends to be very candid and a far cry from classic, posed portraiture. How much direction do you give your subjects?
A lot! I like to keep things quite tight but also leave enough room for spontaneity.
You are known for your excellent black and white photography. What is it about this medium that appeals to you so much?
I can only quote Nicholas Ray as he once said, “Life is color, reality is black and white”.
Your style could also be described as dramatic or even cinematographic, including your landscapes and architecture photography. How do you go about creating this style of photography? And what role does editing play in your process?
I’m influenced by a few big photographers, who I have admired ever since I was a kid. It was always important for me that my photos have a certain texture, materiality and depth. Often it’s important for me to work towards one single image and to set everything up to achieve this. Selecting images then becomes very simple. No matter how many photos you shoot of the same subject, there’s always only one good photo.
How did your shoot with Jorge Gonzalez come about?
It was actually kind of a coincidence. The actual story, which I had shot with another celebrity, was pulled at the last minute and then I thought of Jorge. Looking back, I’m glad that it worked out this way. He’s such a great guy.
You managed to achieve incredible access to Jorge for your day-in-the-life shoot. How was it accompanying and shooting him so intimately?
On the one hand, he trusted me, and that allowed me to stay so close to him. On the other hand, the Leica CL is so discreet that people simply forget that there’s someone taking photos next to them.
What was it that influenced your decision to create a collage of your photos?
I wanted to try out all of the excellent technical features of the CL and that’s how I came up with the idea of accompanying Jorge long into the night. In my opinion, to then present all of the 150 images was only really possible in the form of a collage. At the end of the day it’s a portrait, just that it’s made up of lots of small pieces.
It seems like you were shooting from dawn until way after dusk. How was it shooting with the CL on such a long day?
You always need a few extra batteries if you’re working all day; on the plane, in the taxi, the TV studio etc. and you don’t have time to recharge in between. Apart from that, the size and the weight make the CL incredibly comfortable to use. You just don’t realize that you’ve got a camera hanging around your neck all day.
You shot a complete range of photos from close-ups to landscapes in utterly different locations with correspondingly variant lighting conditions. How would you rate the performance of the CL in these demanding conditions?
Simply perfect! Controlling the settings with just the 2 dials, the high ISO numbers, the brilliant viewfinder. To be completely honest, I really don’t see how you could improve it!
What do you think of the camera design, reminiscent of the Oskar Barnack’s first Leica?
It’s a classic design piece – a work of art. Even if I wasn’t a photographer I’d buy one just to carry around with me instead of a handbag!
What advice would you offer to anyone looking to improve their photography?
Ask yourself why you like a certain photo and not another. This is the quickest way of finding out how to replicate the result. Definitely don’t carry too much equipment – a camera and a lens. Definitely no zoom. There’s not a second to spare when you’re shooting to be thinking about your equipment. You should only be thinking about the photo itself.
What can we look forward to seeing from you in the near future?
I’ve just been shooting at an orphanage in a township in Cape Town. I was shooting a portrait of Mama Rosie, who has been nominated this year by the CNN Hero Awards, as well as lots of her children. It’s a real passion project for me, in addition to all of my commercial work with celebrities.
You can check out more of Anatol’s photography at his website.