A MunichNOW Interview:
Munich Photographers Nir Avner and KaFai Mak
We recently sat down with two local photographers, Nir Avner and KaFai Mak — who are collaborating on a photographic exhibition from March 14th to the 28th at the Salon Irkutsk. Their styles and approaches are so different, yet they have chosen to exhibit together. This should make for an interesting contrast in both style and content.
MunichNOW: We heard that it is an interesting story of how you two first met. Tell us about it.
Nir Avner: We first met at the hostel we were staying it while visiting Vienna. It was not until the next day when we realized we were both living in Munich. As we started visiting some of Vienna’s landmarks and streets together, it became clear to us that we shared the same strong interest in photography and have a complementing style in our work, which led us to this joint photo project about Munich and doing an exhibition together.
MN: How did you arrive at the theme of Munich in black and white photos?
NA: Since both of us wanted to capture the emotions of our subjects, black and white is the most natural choice. It helps isolates the main subject from the bewilderingly colorful urban background, and the emotions and facial expressions can be more strongly communicated. It is, as well, more of the documentary style for which we both opted to express in our series.
MN: You shoot digital while KaFai is using a Rolleiflex. How will, if at all, this affect the shots or the way you shoot? Do you still do film? Does KaFai do digital?
NA: There are two majors school of thoughts in street photography. The first one is where the photographer should be documenting events without disturbing the scene. The other school allows or even encourages the photographer to interact with their subjects.
KaFai Mak: I do both types, but lean more towards the former, and by using a Rolleiflex with its waist level view finder, people are less guarded and will behave more naturally. The subjects often knows that they are in the picture, but when I do not act like a paparazzi with a big zoom lens in their face, people are usually much more open about it. On the other hand, Nir’s friendly subjects do not mind being photographed (as far as we know…:) ), and a DSLR allows more creative use of angle etc. I definitely use digital when I have to shoot weddings etc, but film remains my medium of choice.
NA: I concur with Kafai. I do mainly digital photography, but only due to costs limits for the time being. With digital photography a lot of times you shoot a lot, whereas in film photography, you think twice before pushing the trigger and making your photo. Again, this is due to costs reasons…I do however from time to time, film photography. I recently bought a wooden medium format camera that I would like to test first in panoramas then on portrait photography.
MN: Analogue (film) v. digital is always a hot topic. We see that Kodak is bringing back Ektachrome. Is film making a resurgence?
KaFai Mak: I think film will always have a niche market as it involves a unique process that will fascinate generations to come. Naturally, digital has dominated every fields where efficiency and convenience are important. And in technical aspects, digital even outperforms film in light sensitivity. But even when digital surpasses film in every other technical measures, shooting film will have an emotional aspect to me that cannot be replaced.
The film was there at the very time and space when the information was captured. It was the very photons bouncing off the subject’s face that changed the films’ chemical state. The image of Mona Lisa can be found and reproduced everywhere, but there is a reason why people still want to see the original, which Leonardo painted with his very own hands. This is the extra human feeling I have when looking through my films. They are not a mere display of imagery information. They are physical witness to the captured moment.
MN: You primarily work with animals. How did this come about?
NA: I came to this fascinating topic by accident after photographing babies and families, that i liked but not as much as photographing dogs. I just went to a dog grooming salon in Cannes, France, and asked if they would be interested in photographing their dogs’ clients after being groomed. The answer was yes. We started working together, and a week after I found myself in a dog show in San Remo, Italy. I discovered a whole new world, and found it very exciting, and something I want to learn more about and develop.
MN: Other than the obvious, how is it different with animals? We would assume it is mostly house pets, but what other animals have you photographed?
NA: The main difference with animals is that you can’t tell them what to do…. I believe that my role as a photographer is to observe and find out the ‘real’ dog’s behavior. In my photos I sometimes have to trigger a certain situation, but it is always if the dog reacts positive to it and feels we are playing a game. Sometimes, like with people, the dogs are not concentrating or don’t feel like being photographed, so I give up, and come another time. I never force something! I mainly photograph dogs, cats occasionally, as it is much more difficult and you have to go to your client’s house.
MN: Tell us more about dogs in Munich. What is it with Germans and their dogs? They seem to go everywhere together. Was this affection for the animals the Germans show so easily part of the reason you wanted to photograph them?
NA: I started photographing dogs in France. i think that in Munich it’s very particular as there is a certain respect from dog owners towards society and environment, that’s the main reason you see dogs almost everywhere. This is also one of the reasons but mainly because I love photographing dogs.
MN: You have referred to KaFai’s photographs of Munich as “snapshots” – what do you mean by that?
NA: KaFai’s photos lean towards the more candid style, with his subjects as minimally disturbed as possible. This is why the word ‘snapshots’ is a good description of these free and unarranged photos.
MN: How did a photographer born in Hong Kong, living in Auckland, end up shooting street and city life photography in Munich?
KaFai Mak: Actually I have been living in Germany for the past six years: four in Erlangen, and two in Munich. And Auckland was my home for almost 15 years. I believe this background gives me a fresh pair of eyes in identifying the unique character of a city and its people. I enjoy taking street photos wherever I live or travel, whether in Hong Kong, New York or Shanghai, and I am determined not to let Munich slip through my lens.
MN: Tell us a bit more about your work with the animal shelters here in Munich?
NA: When I first arrived to Munich I wanted to photograph dogs, but every start is not easy, so thought to myself, why not volunteer and help with what I do best. The Munich animal shelter is not far away from my home. I started photographing dogs that needed better photos in order to get adopted. it make me happy to contribute my little share for helping abandoned dogs find a new warm home.
Thanks for the chat, Nir and KaFai — we are really looking forward to the exhibition over next two weeks. When will you two be at the exhibition and will you be giving talks about the photos during the showing? I am sure many people would enjoy hearing the stories behind the photos.
Nir Avner: The Photo Exhibition starts at 19:00 and we plan on having a short presentation of our series at 20:00 . I plan to be at the exhibition, on the night of 22-03 as well. Thank you very much and looking forward to seeing you on Tuesday evening.
Dogs in the City Photo Exhibition,
Salon Irkutsk, Isabellastr. 4 80798 Munich March 14-28