What prompted you to start taking photographs?
I'm German and my parents were born during the war. I never had direct contact with war growing up, but I believe that war doesn’t end when the last bomb hits the ground. War continues in the mind. And economically, the generation after the war was very privileged but mentally, there was still a feeling that everything can change in a second. When you take a picture, you can stop time for a moment. When you document a moment, it is yours and it is proof. Maybe my interest in photography initially had something to do with not wanting to lose this moment.
When I was fourteen or fifteen, I went to India and Myanmar and that trip was a turning point of sorts. I am lucky because my mother is a very courageous person. At that time, Myanmar had just opened up and it was a military dictatorship. I had an analog camera with me that I shared with my sister, and I understood that I had to document that trip. We were visiting places that I had never talked about with my friends or the parents of my friends. When I went there, it shocked me that nobody knew of these extraordinary places. I was compelled to document how wild, beautiful, stinky, cruel, and generous the world can be at the same time. Even if people are left out of our media, our conversations, our thoughts, they still exist. They know everything about us and we don't even know that they exist. This lack of knowledge about our world - the blind spots - motivated me to capture and share my experience. I also was exposed to different ways of living, beyond the German or Bavarian way that I knew and understood. That process was really fascinating to me.
Do you have rules about what you take pictures of and what you don’t take pictures of?
I think that’s an instinct, or common sense. I don't take pictures of dead people. I also think grief is very personal. If a mother is grieving, that moment belongs to the mother, not the rest of the world. It’s pretty clear when it’s a more welcomed situation and when it’s not. I am talking to a Yemeni group at the moment, and they are encouraging me to come and document what is happening. They feel forgotten by the world and want what is going on to be seen. I can feel it when someone doesn’t want me to share their story, or they are traumatized. There are also ways to take a photograph without being intrusive.
If I am in the Nuba Mountains in Sudan, for example, or in Libya, there are different rules, and it is important to pay attention. I always have to adapt very quickly to a given situation. Other people might say, I want to take a very specific photograph of a particular woman, or a man in the countryside, etc. But you never know what you will see and it’s important to understand that you have very little control. This feeling of being out of control really makes me focus. I must be very present, and the world around me then feels much more immediate. I don’t think about Germany or newspapers, I just observe. In that clarity and trust, I am then very happy that I have this camera, this apparatus, that can transport what I am seeing.
There's conflict everywhere, there is conflict next door. How do you choose where you go?
I'm very interested in going to areas that people haven’t heard about. I am compelled by the blind spots. I haven’t been to Yemen, for example, but I have heard these stories that I can’t believe. Stories of women getting arrested in the street and being held hostage. How is nobody talking about this? How are there no images of this? How can something like this happen in the 21st century? We have billions of pictures circulating and we don’t have pictures of the innocent Yemeni women.
During the Iraq war there were hardly any images of Iraqi families. The images were of conflict, soldiers, or terrorists. Where were the everyday people? When I feel there is no proportional representation, I want to document to fill in the gaps. This is the same reason I wanted to photograph in North Korea. The pictures I knew of North Korea were of Kim Jong-un and military parades. There are over 25 million people that live in North Korea, but hardly any pictures of them.