Gentle Approaches: Heike Steinweg’s Author Portraits

For the several years now, Heike Steinweg has portrayed renowned writers at the Internationales Literaturfestival in Berlin – this year, she used a Leica S2. This year the festival focused  on Eastern Europe and during the ten day event in September it brought together authors and artists from around the globe. We had the opportunity to talk with photographer Heike Steinweg and Andrea Lazi, who was responsible for the post-production of the images, about the festival and their experience working with the Leica S2.

Q: Ms. Steinweg, what are your main interests as a photographer?

A: Since 1999, I have been working as a photographer. I prefer doing portraits, especially portraits of actors and writers. Another important activity is the corporate portrait field, but my main interest is portraying writers because I enjoy reading and have been intrigued by authors time and again. Writers tend to be exceptional characters. They are people who are used to working alone and not willing to immediately reveal themselves to somebody else, but if you succeed in approaching them gently and building up trust then you may produce portraits that show the inner essence of these individuals.

Q: That can clearly be seen in the portraits of authors you took at the Internationales Literaturfestival Berlin. These pictures all share the same special quality. When did you discover your fascination with authors?

A: Around three years before, I first did the Literaturfestival in Berlin as a chance to portray authors of international standing. Since then, my goal has been to portray these different people from different countries in their qualities as artists, creative persons, and intellectuals.

Q: Which authors from all those you portrayed this year impressed you most?

A: There is Boris Pahor, a Slovenian contender for this year’s Nobel Prize. Pahor was born in Trieste as a member of the Slovenian minority. He is now 96 years old. For his whole life, Boris Pahor has been fighting political authorities. During World War II he survived imprisonment in four concentration camps. He is a personality in the presence of whom you become humble.

This year I also portrayed Carla Guelfenbein. For many years, she has worked as art director for the Chilean “Elle”. During the Pinochet regime, she had been exiled to England where she studied biology and design. Today she is an internationally acclaimed best-selling author whose books in Germany are published by Suhrkamp and Fischer.

Q: How much do you prepare your portraits? Do you actively plan the surroundings in which you want to show the writers?

A: That depends on the circumstances under which I meet the authors. As a rule, I only photograph in daylight. What I try is to combine the atmosphere and the background with the ideas the authors express in their works. That was the case, for example, in the portrait of the American author Joshua Ferris. He has written a novel whose hero runs away from home and leaves everything behind. I portrayed Ferris behind a pane of glass to express his distance from the surroundings.

Q: This year at the Literaturfestival in Berlin you used a Leica S2 for your portraits for the first time. Do you think that Leica and literature match well?

A: They match very well, indeed! Every author I portrayed knew the Leica brand and all were very pleased to be portrayed with the help of a Leica camera!

Q: Ms. Lazi, you were responsible for the post-production of Heike Steinwegs images. You have also worked on image editing for the Leica S2 shoot in Havana, Cuba. Can you tell us a bit about your experience of the workflow and the Leica S2?

Since 1996, digital image processing has been my main field of activity. The first files came from the LEAF-DCB II at that time. I have gathered experience with quite a lot of camera models by Canon, Nikon, Leaf, PhaseOne, and Leica, and have also worked as a beta tester.

Regardless of whatever photographer I collaborate with, perfect results and a good work climate are of the utmost importance to me. Since August 2009, I have become familiar with the Leica S2 files and am always impressed by their quality.

With Heike Steinweg I collaborated on her author portraits project for the first time. These portraits intrigued and mesmerized me at first sight by their genuineness. This effect is partly due to the fact that Heike refrains from using artificial lighting. Her pictures are made by time exposure and show a great sensitiveness. In order to allow Heike to fully concentrate on her work with the authors and the Leica S2, I undertook the technical part of digital development and post-processing.

A reliable workflow is always the necessary basis for an easy cooperation between photographer and the person doing the processing. For that reason, I have always used Adobe Lightroom for processing the Leica DNG files. It is much easier to open the files in Adobe Lightroom and export them afterwards than to first edit them with the camera’s or camera manufacturer’s own software. With Adobe Lightroom, all ideas concerning lighting and colouring can be realized fantastically. As a last step, the fine-tuning is done in Adobe Photoshop.

The portraits that have been processed in this way are of excellent quality and have a great range of colour and tonal values. They can be printed in DIN-A0 and even greater sizes without any problems.

Thank you to Ms. Steinweg and Ms. Lazi!

-Leica Internet Team

You can see the work of Heike Steinweg on her website: http://www.heikesteinweg.de/ and visit Andrea Lazi’s website for more information about her work: http://www.laziundlazi.de.