Interview für den französischen Blog für Familienfotografie Joyeux Bazar
Die renommierte Gruppe französischer Familienfotografen Collective Joyeux Bazar präsentiert in ihrem Blog immer wieder internationale Familienfotografen in einem Porträt. Es hat mich sehr gefreut, dass ich hier einen Überblick über meine Day in the Life Familienfotos und Arbeitsweise geben durfte.
Hi Katrin !
First of all, can you introduce yourself ? In a few words, tell us who you are and how did you get to where you are today
I am Katrin Küllenberg, a family and wedding photographer from Germany. I am living close to Cologne with my husband and our four kids. I have studied art history and have always been interested in visual representations of the world around me. I have always taken pictures and this became more the bigger our family got. A few years ago I finally decided to do this professionally and became a wedding photographer. I took a lot of workshops with a broad range of excellent photographers like Fer Juaristi, Mauricio Arias and Brett Butterstein. Besides technical skills they taught me a lot about composition and waiting for the right moment and this helped me to find my own voice in photography. I expanded into family photography because I want people to see how beautiful their everyday live can be.
You can find my work here: katrinkuellenberg-familienfotografie.com
How did you come to documentary family photography ? How do you practice this form of photography ?
I have been working as a documentary wedding photographer for quite a while now, so this way of documenting people’s lives is not new to me. Also, practicing your general photographic skills in a family with four kids practically leads you directly to it.
I have always taken pictures of my kids and when I found about Kirsten Lewis and studied her work, I knew I was on the right track. Still, you need to practice a lot. Most important for me was to overcome my shyness. You should not be afraid of getting close to people with the camera, of placing yourself into weird positions, standing on tables, crouching on floors. Practicing within your own family is perfect, of course. I got the « Oh no, mom, not again! » a lot, but now my kids are so used to it that they simply don’t care anymore when I am around with the camera while they are doing their homework or chasing each other around the house. This helps building my confidence in what I am doing which I then transfer to a client’s home.
Do you also work as a lifestyle photographer ?
I am not offering special lifestyle versus documentary sessions. My approach is always documentary but with the shorter two hour sessions one always has to compromise. A family booking me for a whole day is much more relaxed and natural in their ways. They know I will be around them for a long time and that there is enough time for a lot of things during that day. You cannot be a perfect family for fifteen hours straight. But the family booking me for two hours usually wants it all. They expect to be documented while spending all of their attention on their kids for 120 minutes - and everyone of us with kids knows that this is not natural. The parents will read to their kids, build a Lego castle, play football and spend nearly every second close to them. Of course, I document it, meaning I will not pose them or interfere but still it has always that whiff of lifestyle. But I can understand that – if you book a photographer for such a limited time then you don’t want to be doing the dishes or folding laundry while she is there.
I have realized how important a family picture it to all of my clients. So a small part of the session will be reserved for that. They ususally start out trying to look « lifestylishly perfect », all of them looking into the camera – that photo will later find its way into big frames in the grandparent’s home. But I am always counting on the kids to « ruin » the picture and it usually works. Kids tend to hate that kind of posing ordered by their parents and pretty soon they begin to climb all over the adults, start a fight with their siblings or run around the room. I tell the parents to relax and keep on shooting because the longer it takes the more they are losing it and the images will regain a natural and documentary look. Afterwards these ones usually become the familiy’s favorites.
Do your clients see the differences between lifestyle and documentary ? Do you have to explain to them ? If so, how do you explain ?
I am not educating my clients by talking about the difference between lifestyle and documentary - I presume they know what they are in for by seeing the images on my website. I just tell them in advance that they don’t need to prepare anything and when I am at their house I only advise the grownups not to look and smile straight into my camera (these photos are the first ones I throw out when culling). I don’t tell the children because sometimes a kid staring at you can make for a very intense picture.
In your country, what is the economical context for family photography ?
It is still pretty limited. People are willing to spend a lot more money on pictures of their wedding day than on the ones of their family. In the field of family photography the unspoken premise is that people still think they can do it themselves with their smartphone, so why pay a lot of money for a professional. But, luckily, my client base is growing. Some of them are couples I have photographed on their wedding day and I love to document how they are now becoming a family.
Is documentary family photography well developed in your country?
There is a growing number of photographers working with that approach, mainly women. That is probably because most of them have started documenting their own families and now are doing it professionally for clients. The problem, as I see it, is still getting the message out that there is an alternative to getting your pictures taken in a studio. It is not that families don’t want to be photographed in a natural way: Most of my clients tell me they hated the « regular » studio pictures but it had taken them some active research to find about DITL photography. So I think the more photographers work like that the more it will be noticed in public.
Are there many photographers working as a documentary family photographer ? How do you get along together? Is there like a community or do you each do your own thing?
The group of documentary family photographers is growing steadily, though I sometimes fear that for some it is more a markting tool than a serious approach when I check the images on some photographers’ website. Offering a natural honest style and then putting sleeping newborns in a basket is doing nothing to promote documentary photography.
There is a community of photographers mainly online: The two photographers Barbara Puchta and Julia Rose-Greim run a group « Nudeln mit Ketchup » comprised mostly of German photographers, and the rapidly growing group « Documentary Family Photographers Worldwide » has become an international forum for exchanging ideas and promoting the genre in general. I get online with photographers but I don’t usually meet them personally due to distance and lack of time.
What do you like in documentary family photography ?
It is very interesting to get to know so many different families and to see what the relations between all the family members are, what exactly makes this family work so well. Instead of the time and efffort it takes to get to know new acquaintances closely, as a photographer you are invited right into the very heart of them, into their home. When working as a wedding photographer I am under much more pressure as at some moments you just have to be in a perfect spot (the kiss, the cake cutting, the bouquet toss), because if you don’t get the image right the first time there is no second chance. As a family photographer I am much freer in my work. There are no key moments but I pick what I think will be important to the family – and they sometimes do not even know of it until I show them afterwards.
What is your personal approach? What are you sensitive to ?
I want to really get into people’s lives without bothering them. When I am in a client’s home I will be on the floor a lot to see things from the kid’s perspective, not shooting from above, looking at them but looking with them. I am working with two small cameras, Olympus OMD-EM 1, and use the tilting LCD a lot. This helps not to intimidate because my face remains visible and my camera is much closer to them than I am as a person. This way I still respect their personal space and don’t distract them.
I found out that it is much easier to photograph families I have never met before than my friends’ families. With new people it is clear from the beginning: I am there to work, to watch them and be with them but I don’t need to be entertained. With friends my approach is the same but they usually feel the urge to talk to me, probably in order not to appear rude and often they are more self-conscious than strangers in front of the camera. Maybe this is because they are feeling they have to live up to a certain impression they think I have conceived of them or fear to be judged by me. Of course, I don’t but I rather work for people I haven’t known privately before.
When I am working I am shooting from a documentary perspective but I always try to find a more abstract, creative angle for some pictures. My goal is to surprise the family with some perspectives, to show them how there is perfect beauty even in simple things around their home which they have never noticed before.
For me, children’s nudity is a sensitive issue. I know that some photographers show it on their websites because they want people to appreciate its innocence and normalcy. But even though I heartily agree I tell my clients that, although I document everything I see, those are the images that only belong to them and will not be shown publicly . It is a decision that sometimes hurts: I took this one picture of a little naked girl while she was watching her favorite TV-show. She was completely absorbed and looked like a relaxed putto from a Renaissance painting. It is still one of my alltime favorites but in times like these I would not want a picture like that of my own kids published for everyone to see.
Did you ever have any issues during a session or with the family who was hosting you ?
No, so far ( and I l also hope in the future) I have never had any trouble. I usually talk to them on the phone or meet them beforehand which helps a lot for both sides to figure out if it is a good match. I am not out there to find new best friends but it is of great importance that there is a certain bond of sympathy between us. Otherwise they will feel uncomfortable around me and I would have diffficulties to get the perfect images for them. But, again, fortunately I have never had any problems.
Which is your favorite moment in a DITL session ? Any particular story that happened during a session you’d like to share?
There is no favorite moment. I like how different that day can turn out from what I might have expected.
Who are your influences ? What is a source of inspiration for you?
A major influence has been Kirsten Lewis because her pictures have shown me how to approach the field of family photography in general. But I also admire the work of a whole range of street photographers, from the rather quiet images by Martin Kollár who often combines bizarre street scenes with beautiful symmetries to the the very bold, straight-in-your-face approach practiced by Dougie Wallace.
Day in the Life Familienfotos: Seht Euch gerne mehr an.