German photographer Paul Ripke is known for his creativity and versatility having worked in advertising, fashion, portrait, landscape and sport photography. Today he offers us insight into his long-term project “Zwei Minuten bei Paul Ripke” (Two Minutes with Paul Ripke).
Q: In your last interview, we talked about your impressive versatility. Do you consider narrowing your focus to specific core topics or are you too fascinated by various subjects?
A: I really like to reinvent my photography every two years. But work-wise, I am concentrating on people and sport photography for the advertising part of my work. Some fashion stuff that I personally would not call fashion photography, but rather textile photography because my clients are mainly from the print domain for catalogues and the like. I am also not the fashion, Vogue Italia type of guy. I prefer to drink a beer and watch a soccer game in the stadium. So, if you’d ask me where my photographical heart is, I’d answer that it is mainly in sports, and for sure in people photography.
Generally, I always was and still am very fascinated by authentic and impressive personalities. I get the chance to meet many of those in my job, even if it is just for two minutes. However, I am not the person that wants to take a portrait of a World War II veteran, for example. I would rather love to take a portrait of Obama, which is by the way, one of the main goals in my life. Maybe I will be lucky one day…
Q: Tell us something about your “Two Minutes” project.
A: It basically started as an idea and now it will hopefully end as a proper book. The main motivation was to shoot people, who are used to being photographed and thus have their trained looks and expressions. It was a challenge to create something that goes beyond that. What makes it difficult and exciting is to create something authentic in a very short time. Overall, I decided on a very consistent approach. I used the exact same lighting, the same setting, background and camera over and over again in order to reduce everything as much as possible and to put the clear focus on the people I was photographing. Although the series has a very steady approach, each picture appears very singular and unique to me.
Q: Why did you pick these people as your subjects for your series?
A: Next to the idea of photographing people who are somewhat famous and frequently photographed, it was very important to me to pick personalities who I am personally very interested in. Since my interests are in various fields, this series is distinguished by a vibrant mix of different characters. Be it actors, politicians, musicians, photographers or even clerics – I simply wanted to work with people that have an interesting story. Since I am a big sports enthusiast as well, I also enjoyed working with famous sportsmen who are known worldwide, like Wladimir Klitschko, Michael Schumacher, Oliver Kahn and many, many more.
When it comes to the selection of people, you can break it down to the rule that without necessarily knowing the personalities I photographed, you can tell from their portraits that these people have extraordinary stories and might have experienced astonishing things in life.
Q: How did you develop a certain passion for people photography?
A: I think I was always hugely fascinated by big personalities, and being a part of that – even if that is a rather small part – made me very proud. One of my most important pictures, for instance, is the portrait of Ingrid Betancourt, who held captive in Columbia by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) for six years. She was for sure the most impressive person I have ever met in my life, even if it was just for two minutes. She will never remember me, but for me, it was one of the highlights in my life. And being able to shoot such personalities makes me very proud.
Q: When shooting people, what do you consider success factors to get good photographs?
A: Being quick is probably the main factor. People don’t get more interesting the more time you spend with them. I never care too much about technical things. I always try to have my set ready beforehand, so I can concentrate on the person in front of my lens and start a conversation while shooting. I try not to look at the screen because I am convinced that this does not help the model. For the same reason, I never show pictures on the camera afterwards. But for sure, you need a good team for a quick and successful shoot – especially a good assistant, who cares about the whole technical part. In the end, I simply try to take as many shots as possible in a short time, and try to make the person I am shooting feel good.
Q: In your point of view, what is especially important by developing a distinctive photographic style?
A: Shooting, Shooting, Shooting! One of the best things that happened in my life was that when I was 25 I took over a studio for textile packages for one of the cheapest discounters in Europe. All of a sudden, I shot four days a week, over 1,000 pictures every day, always with models and always textiles.
I shot pictures that I would never show to anybody else in the world, but it was a perfect stage to try out some new things and to get used to shooting people. This way you don’t care too much about technical concerns and only concentrate on the picture itself and of course on the model. Still, you sometimes get frustrated if you do not shoot satisfying pictures, but for me this was a perfect motivator to leave work, go home and shoot personal projects in the evening or on the weekends. This was how I killed six Canon 5Ds and a Leica S in the first four years of my photography, just because I took so many pictures. So, I’d recommend to everybody just to keep on practicing or basically: shoot, shoot, shoot!
Q: The Leica S-System was your weapon of choice for the “Two Minutes with Paul Ripke” project. Why?
A: In addition to its benefits in workflow and image quality, it also has a less obvious advantage: it’s a great ice breaker. Most of the people I photographed for this project were immediately interested in the camera I was using. That way it was pretty easy every time to start chatting in an easygoing manner. Usually, I am a people person and never had substantial problems building up a good connection with my models. However, it helps a lot when you only have two minutes to create a striking portrait.
Q: Who are your photographic idols and which photographers have had a big impact on you lately?
A: My main idol is for sure Tom Nagy. He shoots the best landscapes I have ever seen and he possesses a photographic view that I simply adore. Portrait-wise, I like Platon, especially if you get to know the stories of how he managed to take a portrait of, let’s say Putin or al-Gaddafi. That’s just extremely impressive. Lately, I have also been influenced by Tim Navis, who is just a huge talent.
Q: How do you foresee your photography changing over the next few years?
A: I have no clue what will happen in the next years. For instance, I have never thought that my M9 street photography would be that successful in 2012. So I am quite sure that there will be some more surprises for me in the next few years. But one thing’s for certain: I see many photographers every day that are so much better than I am and I am driven to narrow this gap. I have to keep on evolving and learning new ways of taking pictures and capturing emotions. It really motivates me that I see many, many extraordinary photos that I did not take. I try to stay hungry. And if anybody out there has Obama’s cell phone number, please let me know so I can finally cross this goal off my list.
Thank you for your time, Paul!
– Leica Internet Team