Arina Dähnick: Playing with Light

Arina Dähnick was born in 1965 and grew up in Hamburg, Germany. At 17 years old, Arina had the opportunity to present her photos at an exhibition and later completed a practical training at the photo press agency Transglobe. She works as a professional photographer and homeopathic psychotherapist and trains young psychotherapists. Arina describes her photographs as fine art and explains below how she focuses on playing with light and color.

Q: How would you describe your photography?

A: My photography focuses on the modulation of light as well as on the interplay of colour and light. The summarizing title of my work is “playing with light.”

My pictures originate from a playful easiness as well as from an immersion into the moment, which I equally have to search and find, or even better, discover. It arises from special moments, which are hiding behind the facade of the usual and the banal, like a hidden secret that desires to be discovered. This holds for all categories of my photography as architecture, nature, reflections or people.

Q: How do you think your penchant for capturing disparate and fascinating reflections relates to achieving that goal of discovering special moments and hidden secrets?

A: Especially landscapes often look trivial, at first glance. This may also be the case for themes that formerly had a spectacular look but now leave a trivial, uncool and touristic impression, because photographically their story has been told so many times. For example, it took courage for me to take pictures in the area of the Reichstag in Berlin.

The pictures of reflections are challenging in so far as they require a modified perspective on the side of the beholder. What seems to be in front actually is not in the front. Three-dimensionality is pictured in way which is totally different from what the beholder is familiar with. This causes irritation on the side of the beholder.

When I am reviewing my reflection shots I become aware that there is only a subtitle borderline between challenging and unsettling the beholder. This subtitle borderline separates child-like delight and the desire to understand the picture from hidden or sometimes open anger to face a confusing world in the picture.

In my pictures as in my work as a psychotherapist, I take care not to cross the borderline towards excessive demand. While challenging the beholder (or patient) may open up a new reality, excessive demand often results in reticence and withdrawal to expected patterns on the side of the beholder (or patient).

Q: What camera and equipment do you use?

A: In the past, I had used DSLRs. Since the M8 came out, I shoot with Leica M rangefinder cameras. Via the M9 I arrived at the M, which is the perfect tool for me, since it combines outstanding image quality with innovative features, which assist me in my work. For black-and-white work, I use the Leica Monochrom. Working with various Leica lenses, I prefer the current version of 35 and 50 mm Summiluxes for their rendering and character. The Leica D-Lux compact camera series is useful to accompany me always in my bag — you never know what life has in store for you.

Q: Aside from their outstanding image quality, what are some of the characteristics of the Leica M9, M and Monochrom that you find especially conducive to your kind of work? How would you describe the “rendering and character” of the current versions of Leica 35 mm and 50 mm Summilux lenses you favor and do you agree that there is such a thing as a distinctive and identifiable “Leica look” that characterizes your images?

A: The M cameras perfectly integrate into my creative process. If I remember it correctly, it was Henri Cartier-Bresson who said that the M Leica was an extension of his eye.

This is exactly how I feel about these cameras and what I highly appreciate. The camera and its intuitive handling allow me to follow my intuition in composing my pictures. In particular with the M, I felt familiar to a high degree from the first moment I held it in my hands.

I seemed to me as if we had already cooperated for a long time and if she simply returned to me after undergoing technical improvements. Furthermore, the rangefinder concept with its precise focusing capabilities and its immediate responsiveness after pressing the shutter release perfectly enable me to capture the decisive moment. Compared to DSLRs which I used before, this a large improvement for my work. All in all, the M is the perfect tool for my style of work.

The Summilux lenses are sharp from corner to corner and produce pictures of superb clarity. Since in my pictures I spend much attention to little detail, it is important for me that even the smallest detail is clearly imaged across the frame. Looking at large prints from my Leica images, for example 100 X 150 cm prints, the amount of detail is simply stunning. Furthermore, the Summiluxes create a 3D-like look in the picture which makes them so special and perfect for my work. The image is of crisp sharpness in the areas where I want the sharpness and is of smooth and pleasant unsharpness in the areas where I want the unsharpness.

And yes, I can clearly see the Leica look in my images. Comparing the Leica images with images from 35 mm DSLRs with prime lenses I used before, the improvement in rendering and image quality is evident.

Q: This image conveys a sense of serenity. The composition is masterful, the lighting is magnificent and emotional, and the reflections of clouds, etc. lend it a certain surreal quality reminiscent of a Dali painting. Where did you take this picture, and what was going through your mind when you pressed the shutter release?

A: In the best sense, I was part of the scenery, like Cartier-Bresson once said, “It is putting one’s head, one’s eye, and one’s heart on the same axis.” I was excited, not only when I captured this shot, but from the moment I came to this place, on a very special day. It was a Sunday in Berlin. It was the day after heavy rain. The sky was extremely blue and at the same time wonderful, interesting clouds were running across the sky rapidly.

So I took my camera and walked to the “Neue Nationalgalerie” constructed by Mies van der Rohe. I am fascinated by the building. It is unique. No other building is in close proximity. However, the Potsdamer Platz, where the heart of Berlin was constructed almost from scratch after the Berlin wall had tumbled down, is so close that its skyline is mirrored and reflected in the windows of the “Neue Nationalgalerie.”

Q: What makes this image interesting for me is the tension between feeling of space and the feeling of containment. It is a fascinating tableau on its own but the reflections of a spare, fashionably attired mannequin wearing large sunglasses and various lights around him and in the sky, take the image to another level. What were you trying to convey with this image and what does it mean to you?

A: First of all, thank you for your observations.

Yes, it is the tension between the feeling of narrowness and the feeling of wideness. The only bridging elements between the worlds are the light spots of the ceiling lamps.

The mannequin expresses exactly this discrepancy between being caught in a structured narrowness and the desire for freedom, represented by the promising with of the skies. Maybe the picture expresses a modern attitude of life; people often like this picture.

Q: In this image there is a palpable tension between the hard geometric lines of the window frames, the burgeoning clouds, the kind of amorphous background and the perfectly delineated boy in sneakers apparently captured in mid-jump? Was this a randomly captured moment or did you set it up, what are the technical details of the shot, and what do you think makes it successful?

A: It is interesting to read your impression and your thoughts, with the picture before my eyes. It was randomly captured in the sense that I did not arrange anything in the scenery. Again, I waited for the very moment. The building that is reflected in the windows, is the center of political power in Germany, the Bundeskanzleramt in Berlin, the seat of government of German chancellor Angela Merkel. The building in front is the main parliament building.

On this afternoon, I saw a family (mum, dad, a girl and the boy in the picture), like visitors from a completely different world. The children were playing, jumping on and around the blocks in front of the buildings, while the parents were enjoying a moment of rest. I used my Leica M with the 50 mm Summilux, choosing a medium ISO and aperture and setting a short shutter speed. Then I watched the scenery through the viewfinder of my M waiting for the very moment. When the boy jumped, I pressed the shutter release and captured a single shot. The picture is the result.

The Leica was the perfect tool to capture the decisive moment. It was the camera’s responsiveness (without the blackout of an SLR) that rendered this shot possible. I am in serious doubt, whether with an SLR, even with 10 fps or so, this would have been possible. And if so, it would not have been the same!

Q: The landscape image appears to be a straight shot without reflections but it certainly has a surreal and otherworldly quality with its salmon pink sky, dark foreground figures, a series of jetties defining the perspective, and even a ship on the distant horizon. It is expansive, serene, and transcendent. Where and why did you shoot this image, did you alter it in post-production, and can you provide the tech details such as camera, lens, exposure ISO, etc.?

A: In my nature shots, I am searching and finding metaphysical moments, during which the human being becomes small and integrates into a larger context.

In my opinion, we as modern people tend to lose sight of this larger context. During discussions we often behave as if we would have the choice to rescue our nature or not, to stop climate change or not. I feel that we actually do not have these choices; it is just an illusion. For me, the truth in this regard is found in nature. I feel joy, if people come to rest in my pictures. Likewise, I have the heart to picture the direct sun. I am searching for these spots of total brightness, in a transcendent way, yes … I suppose.

I captured this shot near the Baltic Sea where I have a certain location there, which I really love. On my website, you will find other pictures captured at the same or nearly the same location. There, the sky is extremely open and it changes its colors with a breathtaking variety. It seems almost incredible to me to experience and see this in a scenery in my mother country.

It is such a common attitude to picture your mother country in a critical, reserved and distant manner, particularly in Germany, but I think also in the USA. How do you think about that? A project of mine is titled “The Beauty of Home”. I strongly believe that we all have a desire for it and a need for belonging to a bigger context.

Technically, this shot was taken with the M with the Summarit 50 mm at f/4.8 and 1/125 s at base ISO 200. Indeed, the color of the sky in the picture is as I had seen it in reality.

Q: How do you see your photography evolving over, say, the next three years and do you plan to explore any other fine art genres such as portraiture, photojournalism, classic street photography going forward or have you already done so?

A: I have the great wish to surprise myself. That includes freedom, of course, but also an obvious risk. For the moment I am fully occupied with my current projects. How long will it last? Actually, I don`t know. What will come next? Actually, I don`t know yet, but of course I hope that there will be something to come.

Perhaps it is my demand to photography as my second profession not to become routine, not to turn into pressure. Photography has been a constant companion in my life for so long and I trust that we will be a couple for a long time to come.

Thank you for your time, Arina!

- Leica Internet Team

See more of Arina’s work on her website.