The photographer Marco Fischer visited the DJ, television moderator, and now painter, Jan Köppen, in his atelier. During our conversation, Fischer explains what he considers a successful portrait, why he appreciates the Leica M10-R, and why photography is part of his life.
How did you get into photography?
There was no real starting point, but rather a subtle ongoing process. I grew up with it: my father took many pictures, and I was holding a camera quite early on. It was always part of my life; and then there came the moment when I realised that I could earn money with it.
How would you describe your particular photographic approach?
I would describe my style as reduced, honest and characteristic. I often work with just a few tools. I find it more interesting to work with the existing surroundings.
On your website it says: “It’s only when a person opens up that my camera can capture the story that may otherwise remain hidden.” How do you manage to get your protagonists to open up?
I think that photographing people may well be one of the most difficult things of all. Even if it sounds like a rather trite comment, the most important thing for me in portraits is authenticity. This can only be achieved when you really take the time to connect with people. There are portraits that only came about after I had spoken with a person for a number of hours, quietly getting to know them. I do a lot of advance research, so that I’m informed about virtually everything concerning the person I am going to portray. Of course, trust is the essential thing about portrait photography. This is why you have to build up a personal relationship, listen to the individual, get to know who’s in front of you, and get a feeling for the situation and the right moment to take the picture.
You photographed Jan Köppen while he was working in his atelier – what appealed to you about this idea?
Jan and I met a few years ago, during an exhibition opening in Hamburg. We’ve remained in touch ever since, and we always wanted to do something together. It took a while before we both had some free time, but we finally managed to find it this summer. The thing that appeals to me most about Jan Köppen is his artistic direction. I simply wanted to accompany him, while he was following it: being there, drinking a cup of coffee, chatting, and taking a few pictures. We had a very familiar-feeling relationship, right from the beginning.
How did Jan Köppen react to your idea?
He was completely delighted. He had been wanting to paint this picture series for some time. In the end, it was more like a meeting with an old friend, rather than planning a joint project that takes a lot of effort to organise and get going.
How did you manage to photograph him painting in such a relaxed, spontaneous and natural manner? The artistic process tends to be something intimate, to which a third party is rarely given access.
The whole situation was rather like when you meet with someone you quite simply find friendly. You let things go along, and you see what happens. In such a situation, I tend to be there to observe and take photographs. In that regard, the Leica really does help, because it’s naturally inconspicuous. The Leica M and the Leica Q, specifically, are super cameras for working in a reportage style. That way you’re not intimidating someone with a big camera, but getting great picture results with a small one. Simply being there, adapting to the moment, getting a feeling for what’s important, for when you might set the camera aside, as much as for the moment you actually pick up your camera and take a photograph.
In addition to the intense portraits and photographs that show Köppen in his painting space, you also focussed the camera on interesting details and excerpts – like traces of colour, and shoes…
When I’m portraying someone and documenting them in a reportage fashion, is precisely when I find it very important to also capture the setting they’re in. Then my eyes turn to things that interest me, because they look colourful or graphically great. As far as I’m concerned, it’s about completing the narrative, so that the viewer can see what happened during the story, and why something came about.
Your impressive photos were taken in just one day. That’s an enormous output. Are you always so effective in your work?
The pictures were really taken in just two hours. We only had a very small window of time, because afterwards Jan had to go on to the next production. I believe my large output is due to the fact that I work very fast and intuitively. I have a picture “in the box” relatively quickly, and I’m not someone who spends a lot of time working on a motif. I take what I like; and I’m sure that what I get is right. Then I just continue straight on with it.
Your images – which in this case were colour photographs – testify to a very good sense for colour compositions. To the same degree, you also photograph in black and white. What is it about the one or the other that appeals to you?
In this case, as I was photographing someone who was painting, it was obvious to opt for colour photography. However, now and again there had to be a black and white picture among them. In that case, I directed my attention more to the person. My concentration was fully directed at the face, on the gestures, and on the moment that I wanted to capture – not on the surroundings with all the paintings and colours in the background. I find both modes very appealing. Black and white photography definitely reduces things to the essential, and that’s also what defines my style. I’m not a person who works with a lot of effects, like with a lens hood or the targeted use of unsharpness. For me, it really is about the pure clean image.
You took the pictures with the M10-R and a Summilux 1:1.4/50 Asph…
I was given the camera to try it out; and the sharpness of detail you can achieve, of course, due to the high pixel count and the recalculated sensor, reaches another dimension. I was completely convinced by the camera. You can once again see the wonderful capabilities of Leica lenses, especially regarding precision. The 50mm lens is the one that corresponds most closely to the human eye, and therefore offers a very good image reproduction. I like to use this lens for portraiture, but also for reportage. The equipment is amazingly small, handy, and has super picture quality. On the whole, when I take pictures, I focus less on the technology and more on the person I’m photographing.
Please complete this sentence: Photography is…
… my passion, which I’ve been lucky to make my profession. As a result, my work doesn’t feel like work. Photography has become part of my life, and my daily companion.
Marco Fischer feels at home with photography. His portraits are precious snapshots that move the viewer, and that share the story of a single moment or of a whole lifetime. His black and white pictures underline the essential, and allow the person to appear authentic and clear. His work is defined by calm, concentration and curiosity. Fischer lives in Germany, and photographs for Harper’s Bazaar, Zeit Magazin, GEO, Adidas, Odlo, Boss and Versace, among others. Find out more about his photography on his website and Instagram channel.