Florian Wagner: Adventures in Wildlife

Florian Wagner is a photographer, paragliding instructor and helicopter pilot based in Munich, Germany. His work explores wildlife, outdoor sports and the environment. Leica Blog contributor Alex Coghe  conducted this interview.

Q: Hi Florian, this is your second interview for Leica Camera’s blog. So, I would start this interview asking if you’ve done other safaris after that movie.

A: Yes I have. I went horseback riding again. This time I went to South Africa, did a Wineland safari near Stellenbosch and another one near Johannesburg, where you can swim the horses and play polocrosse. I cannot remember having had such fun before on a horse than playing this game.

Together with my business partner Sybille Quandt, we offer very individual flying safaris with Leica “FW” photoservice. We did our first run in January. It was very special.

Q: Would you give a brief walk through your work flow? How do you decide on locations & subjects?

A: I usually try to find out where I would like to be seen in the near future and develop ideas for my clients. If some other jobs come along I am happy to do them, but I focus on the themes I believe I can do best.

Q: Your photography often has wide open spaces, but it is never just landscape photography. How would you describe your photography?

A: I have a lot of respect for people who can actually do good landscape photography without anything else but landscape. For myself, I prefer something happening in the landscape. I always want to touch people by telling a certain story or freezing a powerful moment. It is my main focus. The image is not so much about the landscape; it is more about what happens in that landscape.

Q: As a photojournalist I appreciate your work to your ability to tell true wildlife stories.

A: Thank you. I believe this develops out of the fact that I really live what I am shooting. If I do a story about helicowboys, I work with them. If I do a story about the German hang gliding team, I fly with them. If I do a story about a skiing expedition, I ski with them.

Q: When we think about wildlife photography we often associate this with animals, but you show us a different approach to this photographic genre.

A: We usually observe wildlife from a safe distance, even if we go on safari. Lions and elephants don’t see a truck or Jeep as prey or enemy, which changes on horseback. You stop being a visitor and enter the real world. That makes it harder to get good shots, but they are taken from someone who is with them. Plus, on horseback you can go to places no car could ever go.

Q: Are you a self-taught photographer or did you have a mentor? Are there influences that you would like to tell us?

A: I am self-taught, but I was privileged to work with Helmut Newton for few days at the very beginning of my career. That taught me a lot.

Q: The adventure component is absolutely dominant in your photographic experience. I guess your physical preparation is higher than mine. In your biography we can read that you’re a “paragliding instructor and helicopter pilot,” and I would add that you are an experienced horseman.

A: My riding is OK but not good. I had a few lessons when I was eleven years old. When I was twenty three, I wanted to work as a Cowboy in Australia. They sat me on a horse and we went mustering for eight hours. So, my riding is more about staying in the saddle than dressage or anything of higher school.

Q: Why the Leica S2 and not a common DSLR?

A: Because I Leic-a it and the lenses are better.

Q: Do you use other Leica equipment?

A: I did test the V-Lux 4 and used to work with the M6 a lot. I am now looking forward to add the new M and the Leica M Monochrom to the equipment.

Q: Have you tested the Monochrom? What do you think about a camera dedicated to black and white?

A: I only took a few test shots but the concept is brilliant. If you have a fable for B/W, you will love this piece.

Q: Of all your works, what was the most difficult?

A: For avalanches: Mount Shishapangma (8.026m), Tibet. For heat: Helicowboys: Following 1200 cows through a hell of dust at 49 degrees Celsius. For unpredictable: The Spirit Bear on Canada`s west coast

Q: Is there a project that you love most?

A: “Horseback Safari Kenya” and “Rafting Grand Canyon” and “the Spirit Bear” and the “Eagle Hunters in Mongolia….”

Q: Describe a day in the life of Florian Wagner.

A: Preparation: Get up as late as possible, work as long as possible, trying not to forget to eat. Travel: Get up early; prepare the shooting, do it as good as I can, have dinner and a glass of wine or two. Weekend/Holiday: See my friends and family, ride my horses, walk my dog, go mountain biking, skiing, paragliding,

Q: What are your next projects?

A: One for Leica in Africa (Jan 2013). One for the Sheikha of Abu Dhabi (Nov 2012). One for National Geographic in Germany (July 2013). One exhibition at Corso Como in Milano, Italy (Nov 2012). If I find some time in between, I would like to think about two more in Africa!

Thank you for your time, Florian!

- Leica Internet Team

Visit Florian’s website to see more of his work.

Alex Coghe is an Italian photojournalist currently based in Mexico City whose professional activity ranges from editorial photography to events.