Photographer Henry Balaszeskul has been documenting the area of Berlin around Kurfürstendamm – known locally as City West – for over seven years. He finds the protagonists for his photography in the streets between Friedrichstrasse and the notorious Bahnhof Zoo. The City West project is his way of halting time for a brief moment, and revealing a corner of Berlin that is currently undergoing rapid change.
What is it about the old West Berlin that fascinates you? What’s so special about the area?
Already, back in the day when I started studying at the Ostkreuz School of Photography in Berlin, I enjoyed being out and about in the City West district – in particular, around Kurfürstendamm. It was always the people there that fascinated me. In addition to the many tourists, there are certain characters who capture my attention, whether because of their clothes, their presence or their appearance. I’ve now been taking photographs in the area for the past seven years, and I’ve noticed a significant transformation during that period. To start with, so much has changed visually. Many of the buildings have disappeared, and others have grown skyward in next to no time. Many businesses have gone, and big brands have brought a completely different kind of movement to what was formerly a really quiet district. The area around the Bahnhof Zoo, alone, has become like a small, self-contained cosmos. The things I’ve already seen there are incredible.
What was your approach when taking pictures?
In May and June this year, I wanted to make use of my involuntary free time, and collect impressions within a limited time-range. My idea was to produce a street documentation that would centre around the current state of the City West district. My focus was on the people, their surroundings, and on everyday situations in public spaces. I also wanted this project to challenge my photography; to oblige me to step outside my comfort zone, and set myself new goals. My aim was to photograph exclusively with a wide-angle lens, capturing the surroundings, while getting closer than normal to the people. On the whole, I moved around at a distance of about 1.5 to 2 metres from the pedestrians passing by. I worked exclusively with zone focusing, and always set the camera at f-stop 5.6 or 8. With the Monochrom’s grandiose ISO potential, that worked very well.
Why did you decide on black and white for this subject?
It’s a big challenge to capture mundane moments on the street in colour. Colour often directs the viewer towards unimportant elements, and away from the actual content of the image. With black and white, I have the feeling that I can concentrate more on the content; and so I’m less distracted by the presence of colours.
Which camera did you use, and why?
I used the Leica M264 Monochrom and the 28mm Summicron. The camera was kindly made available to me by the LFI editorial team. At first, I wanted to work with a 24mm, but I realised that the 28mm was sufficient for daily documentation. The year before, 95% of the work I did was photographed with a 35mm, but throughout those two intense months, I rediscovered the advantages of the 28mm.
Do you have any street photography role models?
As far as I’m concerned, it’s the usual suspects of this genre; like Joel Meyerowitz, Garry Winogrand, Vivian Maier and Matt Stuart; more recently, Joe Greer, as well. When composing, I’m fascinated by the idea of filling every corner of the image with content and life. That’s something I will always be working on.
What are your next projects?
I’m leaving Berlin and returning to my home in Basel, where I’ll try to start something new with a similar approach; but probably in colour.
Born on September 5, 1993, in Rheinfelden Baden, Germany, Henry Balaszeskul lived in the Upper Black Forest, until he was 15. After moving to Switzerland and finishing school, he dedicated his gap year to nurturing his curiosity and interest in street photography. After internships at local newspapers, he began to study Photography in 2014 at the Ostkreuz School of Photography in Berlin. He graduated in the autumn of 2017, and has been a freelance photographer in the regions of Basel and Berlin, ever since. His areas of emphasis are street, reportage and wedding photography. Find out more about his work on his website or follow him on Instagram.