His style is unmistakable. Over recent decades, the Hamburg photographer has perfected expressing his particular view of the world. From Siegfried Hansen’s perspective, the urban landscape arranges itself to create perfect picture compositions, as he wanders through the streets and cities with his Leica Q2. In his everyday urban motifs, a wide diversity of lines, signs and structures combine with the architecture of buildings, and even bridges and squares. Everything seems to adapt to his graphic and abstract way of seeing. Hansen not only pays attention to surfaces, shapes and colour; he manages to amaze the viewer with his whimsical, sometimes absurd and often poetic, still lifes. The photographer is also in demand as a workshop leader. Now he has published a new photo book titled The Flow of the Lines – and it is already virtually sold out. With his unique style of imagery, the photographer appears to have captured the essential atmosphere of a cityscape transformed by the lockdown. We spoke to him about his perspective, his experience and his new book.
What is it about street photography that fascinates you most?
The fact that you never know what to expect. When I head out onto the street, I don’t have any specific picture in mind. Every day is new; the light and weather the following day can make the same place look completely different. You can increase your chances for a good street motif by having a certain awareness and behavioural patterns; yet I know that there is something new waiting around every corner, and that is what makes street photography so exciting to me.
What should photographers who want to have a go at street photography be aware of, in particular? What kind of advice do you give, during your workshops?
A very important thing for photographers who want to dive into street photography is to actively take pictures, whenever they’re out and about. The crucial point is to build up a concept in advance, so that you don’t just walk around, waiting for the decisive motif to “suddenly” appear. I have developed a certain tool for this in my workshops; I call it PILOT. Through it, you move from hunter to collector, and through collecting and the corresponding change in perception, you get to good pictures.
What experiences have you yourself acquired, during the workshops?
After getting to know my PILOT system, the perceptions of the participants in my workshops usually change, immediately. They become much more active, when they’re out and about, and are more productive as a result. This has shown me that a lot about photography has to do with a change in your everyday perception. This change can be trained. It’s also very inspiring to see how diverse photographers are, and how much incredible potential is around. I’m repeatedly impressed by this.
Considering the empty streets and town centres, has your eye changed, during the lockdown? Have you noticed new things, or were they highlighted, due to the lack of people around?
Yes, my way of seeing has changed. I took advantage of the unusually empty streets to take photographs of my home town of Hamburg with fresh eyes. New things suddenly became visible. I was able to produce a series where I combined street markings, in the forefront, with the empty street and a well-known building in the background. I was inspired in this regard by the photographer Chargesheimer and, above all, his book Köln – 5.30 Uhr (Cologne 5:30am); back in 1970, it showed a city without people. During the first lockdown, I thought that it would all be over in a couple of months; now, I’ve given myself more time.
What do you find important about equipment?
I place a lot of value on good equipment, because it’s the tool I use to express myself, creatively. I’ve been photographing with the Leica Q, since 2015; and today, with the Q2. The 28mm wide-angle lens is very good for my graphic, spatial compositions. With the fixed focal length, I’m able to concentrate completely on looking for motifs.
What would you still like to see, concerning the camera’s technology? Are there any optimisations that you’re missing?
Personally speaking, a flip-up display for the Leica Q2 would suit me; because then, I would also have the possibility of changing the angle of view more rapidly. The locking of the shutter speed dial would also be good, so that the setting doesn’t get changed accidentally, when you take it out of the bag. On the whole, the Leica Q2 has optimal quality in all respects.
What is more important to you – colours or shapes? Or should the two simply work together?
In all respects, shapes and graphics are the most important thing for me; colour is then a plus. Due to the fact that I often photograph in black and white, I can tell from the pictures that at times – but not always – colour can make the motif appear even stronger. This means that many colour pictures would also work in black and white, because I focus very strongly on the motif. If the colours also work, the motif simply becomes stronger and more perfect.
How did the selection for your new book, The Flow of the Lines, go?
The Eyeshot book project was initiated by Marco Savarese. He has put together an ongoing street photography book collection, by well-known and contemporary street photographers, in a limited edition of 500 per book. He asked me to first make a selection of 300 images, which he then reduced and edited down to 150 motifs for the book. All the pictures were taken between 2002 and 2020, and interestingly enough, the book has around ten pictures for each year. This consistency in quality over the years surprised me, but also gave me satisfaction. At the moment, there are only 45 books left from the white edition, and the black edition is already sold out. A delightful success.
Born in 1961, Siegfried Hansen is a self-taught photographer. An exhibition of the work of André Kertész, in Tokyo in 2002, proved the decisive trigger that changed the way Hansen took photographs. In 2015, he published his first monograph: Hold the Line; at the end of last year, his latest book, The Flow of the Lines, was published by Eyeshot. His inimitable style has earned him numerous awards. He has been a member of the UPPHOTOGRAPHERS (formerly iN-PUBLiC) photography collective, since 2014. Find out more about his photography on his website and Instagram channel.
Issue 3/2021 of the LFI magazine presents a portfolio with a selection from the book.