Magnum Photos Blog
Ajax loader
Interview with Thomas Hoepker
April 13, 2012
On Monday we fielded your questions for Thomas Hoepker and today, the answers are in (Thomas answered as many as he could!). Look for your question below:

1) When you look back at the stuff you have shot, at the end of a days' shoot, do you tend to be disappointed, or pleased?

TH: Yes, most of the time I'm unhappy, questions pop up like: why did I not wait longer? Or why the hell did I shoot too much of this non-situation. But then, once in a while there are happy flashes - something did work OK, the light was good, and things came together for a split second. Also there is the test of time: an image I like may seem flat the next day - and vice versa...

2) If you could travel back in time and give your past-self one tip about photography, what would it be and why?

TH: Be patient, look around and observe before clicking the shutter. Relax!

3) In your social documentary images, you obviously have a knack for making people feel at ease. What's your secret?

TH: Don't enter a situation with blazing guns. Hang around with people, smile if you don't speak the language and most importantly: PATIENCE! Come back if you're not happy what you shot.

4) Do you feel that people (and newspapers, editors,...) still appreciate photography or is quantity winning from quality?

TH: If anything has changed it has changed to the better since my early days. More people appreciate good pictures. It's a joy to look at good newspapers/magazines and the work of highly professional picture editors. Every day I see some outstanding images in, say, the New York Times or TIME online. Not necessarily the hot news-shot but also quiet pictures with good composition that make you laugh or cry. And there are so many young photographers out in the field doing top jobs under horrible and dangerous circumstances! Bravo to all of them!

5) Out of all the photographs you have taken, what's the one that has had the biggest impact on you?

TH: That's easy: my now "famous" shot from 9/11/2001 where five young people sit at the East River bank in Brooklyn, New York and seem to ignore the bad black cloud on the other side of the water. It's a picture that I had thrown into the B-edit box in the days after the catastrophe but over time it has become the stuff of heated debates, many articles, TV and magazine interviews. Prints of the image are now in museums and on the walls of collectors—I must have hit a nerve and, almost, I might have thrown the slide in the trash....

6) Do you shoot medium format more than full frame digital or film?

TH: No I only use 35 mm cameras, like Leica or Canon. Only now they are all digital.

7) As a photographer, which would be the question you'd really like to give an answer to?

TH: A question which I hear all the time: "Film or digital?" My answer: Totally irrelevant. What counts is the image, the moment, the composition, the emotion...

8) Are you a rule breaker in your work or stick to the 'rules'?

TH: Are there rules??

9) How did you like the move from film to digital & do you prefer 1 over to the other?

TH: Obviously - digital has a lot of advantages, no waiting, no labs, no stressful moments when the film has run out. The main problem - one tends to shoot far too much. Will someone please invent a chip card that holds only 36 images!

10) If you had one lens to carry around and one lens only, what would it be ?

TH: 35mm

11) A single image or a photo-essay - which one do you prefer and why?

TH: The essay. Most stories have several aspects it's hard to bundle that into one snap, but occasionally it happens.

12) Do you believe studying photography/photojournalism at university hinders rather than helps photographers?

TH: Well, depends on your teacher/professor. But I've seen so many young photographers who were molded into one specific style, one way of seeing. Unfortunately, most photo professor which I have met are photographers who didn't make it in real life, so they became teachers and influence more young folks shoot in their (mostly boring) style... At least for me it's “learning by doing...”

13) How did you learn "composition"? Did you learn from paintings, other photographers, ...?

TH: Did I learn that? Don't know. But I guess, going to museums and seeing art (real art) may help. And then have the guts to ignore the rules which you've absorbed!

14) After so many years, how do you keep up with your inspirations and finding new ways to capture unique photographs?

TH: Do I? Not so sure. But the world around us has changed, is changing every day, how can you not be influenced?

15) Did you notice any evolution during your career? I mean, do you recognize yourself in your firsts pictures?

TH: Well, sometimes I come across a very old picture of mine and think: “I wish I had shot this a week ago...”