When he is not shooting a campaign for global brands, such as Porsche, BMW or Audi, seasoned professional photographer, Simon Puschmann somehow always finds the time for a range of innovative personal projects. His latest work combines photography and video, highlighting the creative potential of the Leica Q. Every day for the entire year of 2017, Simon shot anywhere from one to one thousand images, capturing a kind of visual diary of his life. Taking each single image as a still frame allowed him to transform the series of photographs into a video with the help of his editor. We caught up with Simon while he was in LA to talk about the virtues of pushing yourself in the face of a challenge, the pleasure of working with family and just how many photographs he ended up taking in 2017.
How did you come up with the idea for the project? And what did you hope you get out of it in the end?
In 2011 I started a similar project, where I walked around with a Leica M6 and Kodak PlusX film for a whole year and because it was analog I didn’t know when anything was shot so I developed this mechanism where I would shoot a number at the beginning of each day. We printed them and scanned them but it was super exhausting. In 2014 the Leica M Monochrom came out and I thought I would do the project again because it would be a lot easier not having to print and scan. During the first month I was looking at the files on the screen of the camera and by holding my finger on the button they began to jump and I realized I was actually making a film. I decided to keep the numbers even though they are not required. The Monochrom films were very jumpy and I decided I wanted it in color and to be a bit faster. In 2017 I had just bought the Leica Q and I realized that the camera could shoot 10 photos per second on the jpeg setting. It was a journey of discovery.
It was awesome to have and look back at my whole year. It’s a super schooling effect because you need to photograph the whole time. You don’t just want to photograph nonsense. You no longer have an excuse for not shooting. Only in very rare circumstances would I not have a camera. There were months when I would shoot 45,000 photos. You want to be creative and come up with new things. I set this challenge for myself and I always shot something. Like with most of my personal work I don’t have a goal in mind, I just decided to see what happens.
Your film includes mundane moments such as brushing your teeth, as well as your travels all over the world and some behind the scenes footage from your commercial jobs. How does it feel looking back at this kind of diary?
I’ve never kept a diary but that’s kind of what it is. The first time I watched it all back I was sitting with my wife and it was lovely to revisit. It’s a great project for me and for the family, and that’s kind of enough.
It’s a very personal project, not just because you shoot everything you do, but we see your family quite a bit and your son also produced the music for the film. How did that come about?
My oldest son is 28 and he was my first assistant for 7 years. He’s been with me in the business for a long time. We have twins who are 23 and one of them is a 3D artist and you can see him in the film rendering on set with me for a few jobs. His twin brother Tom is a musician and they work in the same post-production house called Harvest in Hamburg. It’s the only post-production house I know that does film, music, photography and 3D. Basically all the genres I cover in my work. I go there a lot because they can retouch my pictures, edit my film and do my music all in one place. It’s good for him because I’m there knocking on his door telling him I need a new track each month. It’s a real family business.
What was it like carrying around the Leica Q everyday? How did your relationship to the camera develop over the 12 months?
It looks pretty beat up but I simply love that camera. I have an M but now it feels weird to be focusing and framing with a viewfinder. I was a pure M photographer but I would sell my M in a heartbeat if Leica made a Q with a 50mm and 35mm lens. It feels really nice in your hand, especially with the grip. It’s super quick and the electronic viewfinder, which I detested before, is amazing. I love the fact that it’s macro, as well as automatic and manual everything. I was shooting mostly manual and got quicker and quicker the more I used it.
How many photos did you end up taking during the 365 days of 2017?
I would say in my average month I shot around 15,000. If we say 9 months then it’s 135,000. In the good months where I was traveling and shooting a lot I shot 40,000, so that would be 3 months and 120,000 photos. That all adds up to about 255,000 shots in total.
How did you then go about creating the videos from this huge number of photos?
In the first month I spent hours looking at all of the jpegs and it took so long, it just wasn’t possible. There were also some shots that worked really well on their own but they might not work so well in the video flow and vice versa. In the second month I called Harvest and I said to them, “I’ve just produced 50,000 frames can you throw them into Avid and make them a film?”. They made me a film and it was way too long and so we needed to shorten it. They then asked if I wanted to grade it, which was a great idea. We never switched the order around or changed days, we made it look good, but the whole process for each month would take up to 6 hours. It was interesting to see what my editor picked in his pre-edit. It’s super interesting to see what someone else sees in what I saw.
At the beginning I was keen on keeping it super short because I thought people wouldn’t have time or be interested but towards the end of the year I changed my mind and didn’t want to edit it down just because people have such short attention spans. I received a comment on Facebook, which I found very interesting. The person said that it was probably the first time that they had watched a video for 6 minutes on Facebook.
How much were you aware of the individual motifs, while shooting, in terms of composing the final film? Did you have a kind of storyboard in your head?
I had no idea what the day would bring. My editor would ask why I shot so much but I didn’t know if anything would get better that day. I would be at the beach and the weather wouldn’t be nice but then we’d take a drive and the weather would get so much better so I shot everything again. You don’t know what’s going to happen during the day so I kept shooting, shooting and shooting. There was no layout, no plan, no storyboard because the storyboard was life and you don’t know what’s going to happen.
I had the feeling in some scenes that I was 100% sure it would make it into the film or I thought I was wasting my time because I was sure it wouldn’t make it into the film.
I learnt a lot about film during the year. The pictures gets smoother, the moods are better, things just got more interesting. It would be a shame to do something everyday for a year and not to show any improvement.
Are they any scenes, which you consider favorites?
There were some really nice scenes in a car in LA where I’m shooting in the rearview mirrors. I like March because I was in Cuba but I’m also a fan of the repetition and boredom of everyday life. I think it’s an important part of the project. It’s not just a highly edited highlights package. There’s an intimate everyday side to things as well.
If you could offer any piece of advice to your fellow photographers, what would it be?
Becoming a commercial photographer is a long and hard road. Especially since things have changed so much with the advent of the iPhone and Instagram. Everyone has a decent camera now and that has made it much more difficult to become a professional photographer. My advice would be to really stick at it or you probably won’t succeed.
You’ve worked with some really big clients in the automobile industry. How did you get into that?
It was a little bit by accident. I was a still life photographer for 12 years and I liked it a lot. Then I was asked by Jung von Matt if would be interested in shooting the BMW Z4 before it was first launched. They wanted to try out photographers who had never shot a car before and they wanted to see if I had a different approach.
In 2002, I ended up shooting 45 days for BMW and I was basically learning on the set. I had no experience and would be in the studio until 3am because I wasn’t fast enough. Over the years I have learned a lot and now I can go home at 6pm and still get the job done.
I like the fact that I don’t just have car clients. I do still life, portraits, landscapes and that’s healthy. Even with the cars there might be a rig shot, some CG or a car-to-car pursuit kind of thing. I like that every job is different.
Are there any other personal projects you have planned or are working on at the moment?
I’m currently working on a series of still life pictures called Assaulted Flowers. I have laser cut and destroyed flowers and taken pictures of them. Beautifully lit and super sharp. I did focus stacking and I really liked it.
I also have a project called Windows. I love walking around in the dark and photographing into peoples windows. Obviously, I ask them in advance if it’s OK because I don’t want to end up in jail and I photograph into their lit windows in the evening. I’ve already done the first nine in Germany and I’m now planning the next country.
The Leica Gallery in Zingst is displaying an exhibition of Simon’s personal work opening on 8th March. For more information please follow the link.
Listen to more of Tom Puschmann’s original music on SoundCloud.