I’m excited to share this month’s featured photographer: René Algesheimer. René is a photographer whose work I’ve been enjoying for quite some time. It’s particularly his clean and calm style that I’ve been drawn towards.
In this interview, you get to learn more about how he got started with photography, how his profession as a scientist impacts his photographic choices, and much more.
Tell us a little about who you are and how you got started with landscape photography.
Thanks a lot for this opportunity, Christian! Happy to do so.
My name is René Algesheimer. I am a landscape photographer based in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. I have been photographing nature and the landscape for about six years now after re-discovering the camera in 2015. My father was very fascinated by photography and a passionate photographer. From early on, visual imagery had a huge influence on me.
While my father has an analytical and scientific background, my mother’s family was heavily influenced by music and the arts. On my artistic path, early on I was fascinated by poems and in my high school years, I learned almost one new poem every day. We met with friends and celebrated poetry by climbing hills at night and reciting the poems to each other. Later on, I fell in love with the poetry of music. I played in a band and many weekends we were out at a gig. It was a wonderful part of my life. I studied music at college and wanted to become a music and math teacher, but it turned out that I was always the mathematician under musicians and the musician under the mathematicians. Having a strong analytical, rational as well as strong emotional part of my mind, I have often struggled to find my path.
In my professional life, I am a data scientist, full professor and lab director at the University of Zurich. There, I gratefully received the opportunity to manage a research excellence lab of about 25 young researchers on the topic of social networks. We do research on human values, sustainability, and social influence in online networks. Years ago, I received my master’s degree in mathematics and a bachelor’s degree in music (piano, sax). Then, in the Ph.D., I switched to applied math in management and marketing. Today, I mainly teach courses on personal branding, digital marketing, and marketing analytics.
Curiosity is my driver of everything – in research and in the arts. I try to ask many questions, read about the background of my photographic landscapes and always try to think out of the box.
Wondering makes me aware of my limits of understanding. It is a still desire to understand the world, but it also translates into love, awe of the world, gratitude, humility and stillness.
I’m a big admirer of your work and you’re one of a handful of photographers’ work that I instantly recognize. Can you tell us a little about how you’ve created such a distinct style for yourself?
That is very kind of you and means a lot to me. Thank you! There currently is a rich discussion about the development of personal style. However, I think style is the wrong word. I specifically choose a visual style when it fits the intention of my project. This means in full consequence that I can change a style as a tool. Perhaps today I am more interested in abstract, high contrast black and white photography in a project. Tomorrow perhaps in lush, colorful photography of large landscapes. A style is a tool for me.
However, what remains behind each style in each project is my own personality, which exerts an influence on my questions, projects and the particular style.
Following up on the previous question, what do you recommend other photographers to do in order to create their own recognizable styles?
An authentic personality is something I can work on. From my point of view, this artistic personality is driven by three influences:
1. Who am I? With great inward attention, a presence and mindfulness towards the world, I get to know myself and the world better. This gives rise to a lot of questions that spill over into my projects. Photography is the medium I use to discover new facets of myself. I’d therefore recommend others to don’t look too much to the outside, but rather listen to yourself and find what makes you excited. Follow that path.
2. What do I want to express? From my questions, thoughts and feelings towards the world, an intention emerges, what I want to say. My contribution, so to speak, to the world. Based on my intent, I start thinking about the photographs I’d like to make to tell my story. Photography might be a tool, but think about what you are using the tool for.
3. How can I communicate my intention? I love to learn, to develop, to get to know new facets and I learn with great passion, discipline and commitment. With this attitude, I try to find the best possible form of communication for my intention.
In sum, I believe that through mindfulness, patience, hard work and an authentic self, your personality will find its path to shine through your artistic work with time. There are no shortcuts for this. But there is also no enforcement necessary. Just create, and stop consuming.
One thing I may add: Of course, I have a very special situation of not having to earn an income with photography. This has always given me great independence to focus on those subjects that I enjoy. My focus should be on my intent, not on followers nor likes.
How important is personal branding for a landscape photographer?
In math, there is always a clear answer. In management, I have learned early on that the most reasonable answer in almost all situations is “it depends”. Well, to answer your question: It depends.
The focus of your question should be on the word “photographer”. First, there must be something that you can communicate as a brand. People discover very quickly when brands are empty of content and soul-less.
It takes a personality with an intention to communicate something through its visual images. If I can offer this intention as a promise on a permanent basis, the opportunity to build a brand around me presents itself. But the motivation must come from within and not imposed from outside.
If these conditions are present and if I want to make a promise to my potential target customers like in a contract that I can offer the same high quality of my work permanently through my authentic personality, then branding can be very important. Branding then helps to build a comparative competitive advantage through a clear unique selling proposition (USP).
Currently, I am very excited to work on an upcoming mentoring class, in which I support and accompany young photographers in finding their true personality, their intent and visual style. We’ll work together and create project drafts. Throughout this process, branding will be very important, and we’ll slowly develop the personal brands of the involved artists.
Stillness and peacefulness are two words that come in mind when looking at your work. Are there any specific approaches you make in the field or in post-processing to ‘simplify’ an image?
If this is the case, I am very grateful. Across all my projects, this is certainly the great underlying motivation and intention.
I don’t use any special techniques, but I look for calmness and slowness. It is important to me to get involved or immersed with nature. Often, I sit, sometimes with my eyes closed, and let all the impressions such as sounds, smells, movements, or sounds and colors affect me. This helps me to get more involved with nature and to see new sides of it. When something appeals to me, I try to find out what it is that fascinates me. I then work this out. I often stay with an object for a very long time and experiment a lot in order to create this calmness already in the camera.
When working on the computer, I simplify further and try to strengthen my intention of the image, but to let the tones, colors and contrasts come to rest. I don’t like it when images scream at me. I have to be able to open them up and discover them for myself. I succeeded little at the beginning, but I am on a path now.
As a professor of Marketing and Marketing Research, what are your thoughts on social media and other platforms for photographers?
How much space do we have? Overall, I would say that social media was one of the worst inventions of man. It has caused people to lose sight of the inside and orient themselves to the outside. Through clever mechanisms like gamification and intelligent algorithms that learn from our behavior, people become addicted. From a young age on. Suddenly only the feedback from the outside counts. It is a competitive world in which you only see what everyone else has. This development leads to a great artistic emptiness and replicated images without soul and without intention.
While in a few years we will probably say that we could have never approached a large number of potential audiences and get attention easier and cheaper than through social media, but we will then finally realize that we all became the product of social platforms. Eagerly giving them insight into our preferences and behavior by sharing data with them. A high price we then pay for the free use of these platforms.
You’ve mentioned that both music and words have inspired you throughout your life and that images have recently been added to this list. What is it that inspires you when looking at photography, and what inspires you to create your own?
Inspiration comes from everywhere. I firmly believe that in order to work creatively, we need a lot of different inspirations, a lot of rest and a lot of reflection. For me, books, music, pictures of any kind, but also woodworking, crafts or cooking are good sources of inspiration. Ultimately, of course, my wonderful family and all the mirrors they hold up to me every day. Planning to have off-photography time, seems important to me.
The Japanese philosophy Ikigai is also something you’ve mentioned as an inspiration. How has this philosophy helped shape your photography?
I have a great and deep fascination for Japan, Japanese history, culture and the arts – though a limited knowledge that I am slowly trying to expand. I find inspiration in many Japanese sources and wisdom.
Ikigai describes the state of living one’s life meaningfully and with a purpose. It is important to me that I know myself and live a life that is true to my nature. For me, human values, faith, gratitude, energy and joy are very important in life. I try to bring myself in harmony with my nature.
When I achieve this (which I have often failed to do), then I am in harmony with myself. This means that in the best case I no longer have to make conscious decisions in life, but that life shows me the way. Transferred to photography, the images then come to me.
So much for the theory. In practice, I struggle, but I am learning…
What’s one piece of equipment you always have in your camera bag?
Guess you are searching out for the surprising rather than the expected gear. I have some weird stuff in my bag. When I’m in the mountains or in the “wild”, I always have a whistle with me. Since the movie Titanic, I have learned that it can even make sense on the open sea if you can be heard!
All kidding aside. I think safety should always be the first priority. I usually use a Garmin inReach mini as a secure satellite connection, mobile apps that send my GPS coordinates to my wife’s email account, and my whistle. Otherwise, the Multi-Tool by Novoflex to have different hex keys and screwdrivers at hand. Tape that I use for all kinds of things. Finally, an LCDVF viewfinder that I enjoy using to control the composition and verify the edges of a taken photograph.
Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with any of these mentioned brands.
What are your top 3 advice for someone who’s just getting into photography?
#1 Focus where happiness lies and follow this path.
#2 Now is now. I don’t believe in any dogma, greatness, role models, templates for life, or any shortcut. There is just the moment. An artist is present. And from this stillness comes brilliance. Limit your inputs to listen to your stillness and share your insights with the world. I believe that this is an artist’s task.
#3 Don’t judge your life in a day. Don’t make harsh decisions on your career, let it organically come. But, put your heart out in every photograph, every caption, post, talk, or work you do. Clients don’t buy your work, they pay for the authenticity of who you are as a person.
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