KT: How did you get into photography? When/What was your first encounter with photography?
MH: After my school time, I started to travel around the world. I took pictures with my first analog camera, Canon A1 which I still have. Back home I organized ‘Dia’ – shows for family and friends, with self-composed music tracks; just for fun, the people liked my work. Therefore, I did take it more seriously and visited an art academy in Germany and started working on my first self-sponsored exhibition.
I met with professional photographers and started to work as their assistant in the fashion, entertainment and pop culture world.
With years of experience, I founded my first studio in Berlin, in the early 90s.
KT: You switched the focus of your work to art photography, dedicating your artistic vision to natural landscapes, following a spiritual path of silence and beauty. What was the ‘spiritual path of silence and beauty‘?
MH: The spiritual path of silence and beauty is something which everybody has to find out for themselves. It’s the essence of existence, an inner voice which follows no rules or habits, you put yourself out there in the middle of nature, and you listen to all sounds around you. You let your emotions fly, and you start working with your camera – you just focus on what’s there, what’s real, you capture the beauty and soul of mother earth, and you turn into a very humble person; that’s the ultimate freedom, like surfing the big wave.
KT: Your collaboration with Gerhard Steidl, a printer and publisher of photography publications, resulted in a beautiful book with poetic landscape photos – ‘Woodlands’. How difficult/easy was it to work together? What was the collaborative process between you and Steidl like?
MH: It was an extraordinary time, I will never forget the incredible hours I spent with him. Steidl is unique; and his book is unique, Steidl is art, a philosophy of life; the process of making a book together works nearly without words. I presented him with the finished work as art exhibition at his publishing house, framed and in original size; without any glasses, he immediately understood everything, he could feel the woods like I did. So, we decided to print it on a paper which is 100% pure and imported from the UK. Then we reduced the presentation to the max – no bio, no explanation, no text, nor numbers, just the woodlands with locations. You can walk through the woods from the beginning to the end with nothing else than yourself being in nature. For me, it is the perfect format and scope – I am looking forward to our next project together: presenting the ‘woodlands’ on big screen (LED) in concert halls (Paris, Munich, Switzerland, and others) in collaboration with the French pianist Helene Grimaud (my life partner).
KT: What seduces you towards ‘Landscape Photography’ that isn’t found in other genres, such as portrait or fashion? What’s the key to making a great landscape photograph?
MH: The ultimate key for a great landscape photograph is: you have to love what you see; you have to feel the soul of beauty.
Let your boundaries fall. Do not be afraid and go to the search – You must be very patient if you are looking for revelation, and you have to hike and hike and hike and if you do it, then your happiness will be limitless.
In portrait photography (which I still love doing) you are never alone, you play a dialog, you will experience a unique coexistence which is never the same. The result is often a surprise, and it is an art on its own to do all of this in completing a job. Fashion photography is excellent in the real sense of the word. You follow your dreams, and you create your world, you are the director of inscribed imagery of the nature; you are all alone. You are part of an indescribable sequence of uniqueness. You can only let go and be part of the whole experience.
KT: In your latest book-project ‘Woodlands,’ you have celebrated genuine portraits of trees, the results of numerous hikes through various forests in Europe and the USA. Tell us how you to begin this project did. Did the final result come close to what you had envisioned in the beginning?
MH: Well, I could write a book about the process – it is an ongoing project, a life journey so to say, it took me months to figure out how I could capture woodlands in a way that the result reflects my emotions being in these woodlands.
I decided to make photograph with a lens which corresponds to the human visual habit; it took me a while to discover that it makes sense to photograph from a slightly elevated point of view (a real challenge being alone out there). For atmospheric reasons I excluded the horizontal, sky and ground. The result was sacred spaces, cathedrals with unimagined depths.
To answer your questions: all of this leads me to something completely different than what I imagined in the beginning, but the result came closer than ever expected and like I said, it is still an ongoing project and I will continue on this spiritual path of silence and beauty.
Images ©Mat Hennek