Sven Kräuter lives in Neukölln and works on local and international photo projects. In the core his photography evolves around the urban human condition. How do we live in big cities? What do we have in common all over the world? How do certain quarters change over time? In search of answers, Sven Kräuter delivers observations in the form of moments and juxtapositions. His photographs have been exhibited in Germany, Europe and the USA, including at D&AD in London as part of the London Street Photography Symposium and at the Harvey Milk Photo Center in San Francisco.
Good question. I think growing up with street skateboarding and in the punk rock and skinhead scene, there still is a strong DIY spirit in me. Building things like skate obstacles or concert ready stages out of what you find, or just showing up, using that set of stairs to skate or that corner pub to play a gig, for me street photography is just like that. There’s nothing to photograph on the sidewalk that is meant to photograph, let’s see what we can make out of it. Also, people really don’t get why you throw yourself down that gap with a skateboard, just like they don’t get why you have a camera dangling around your neck all the time. So maybe I’m just a difficult person and that’s why. Maybe I’m looking for some connection between all the dots I see walking from A to B. Can’t tell. I love watching people reacting to the results of my work, that’s for sure a big reason why I love photography.
What inspires you?
It’s all about that light. And these moments. When both comes together… I just stand there in awe & snap some frames away. Oooooooh… just wow. Apart from taking the picture, I’m totally voyeuristic when it comes to people consuming the products of my work. I always hope for an emotional response to my photography. Seeing people reacting at times physically flipping through my zine / book dummy / standing in front of a print hanging on a wall, that is just unbeatable. That’s what I do all of it for really.
Among your works, which one is your favorite? Why?
My latest (speak: first) zine is my favourite I’d say. It forced me to focus four or five years of spontaneous photography into a concise artifact. It was a tough road to go, I’m glad so many people including you Daniel took the time to help me find a way to do it. And I really love to watch people browse through it. If that zine’s sequencing is a sentence, there are some conscious harsh breaks in there. Everybody reacts to at least them, and it polarizes. I don’t want to spoil the fun for the readers. See for yourself & enjoy the little ride.
How do you connect with your subjects? What aids you in getting what you want out of a photo?
Most of my subjects are just brief encounters. I sense something, snap away. Or I see some connecting elements or a strong moment that I just grab without people noticing or at least them not caring too much why I take pictures of nothing. But sometimes I see a scene that I can’t photograph without getting in touch with people. I normally put the camera in the bag or at least on the back, and start a chat. I just had breakfast in beautiful morning sun. Oh that light. Then I saw a scene in front of a local store, a guy sitting in front of his shop and some interesting other things going on. So I left my table, walked by, asked about that race bike, listened to the story, and after a while told him that I need to take a picture. In addition to the picture I was looking for, I now know two more local shop owners & was invited for more photos. I’ll bring them their prints next week, let’s see if the invitation still lasts after that.
How do you educate yourself to take better photos?
Mainly by inspiration. Photo books and zines, exhibitions. I’m mainly educated by hanging out with people and always being curious if there’s something they do or produce that I’d like to add to my way of working too. Street skateboarding worked like that. I never was the biggest fan of formal education, but I just got accepted for a seminar at Berlin’s prestigious Ostkreuzschule. Let’s see how that goes.
What type of cameras do you shoot with?
Mostly rangefinders and compacts, using 21mm/24mm/35mm lenses. Film and digital. I’m too cheap and lazy for film lately, so I mostly work digital. That’s the best path for me from seeing something to holding the print in my hand.
How would you describe your photography style?
Aesthetically, it consists of deep shadows that make the colors roar. Content wise it deals with the question of how we live together in urban areas. It’s about moments between people or moments that people share with the space they move through. It is not documentary work, it’s more of a visual journey through what I see. The world is a strange place to look at for me, and words fail to explain that. So I use photography to transport that.
How long have you been a photographer?
I started when I was twenty something, lots of personal documentary and concert photography. I lost track of photography for a couple of years and I’m back for maybe six or seven years again now.
What is the most rewarding part of being a photographer for you?
That sweet spot somewhere between simplicity and complexity is what I find most challenging and rewarding at the same time. A photograph or zine that works for people who have an acquired taste may be too complex for the casual photography consumer. The images of mine that work both intuitively and have enough substance to be discussed or just explored a little visually are the ones I find the most rewarding. And the most challenging.
What kind of gear do you use? ie. camera body, lens, prior, filters, flash, camera bag, etc.
Apart from what I described above, I just use flash at times. For traveling, I have a proper photo backpack. When I leave the house I normally just throw a camera, spare batteries or spare film in whatever bag I carry and run since I’m mostly super late.
What is the gear you have used in the past and present?
I used analog rangefinders and premium compacts a lot in the past. With digital, it’s at times hard to find these type of cameras. I said that I’m too cheap and lazy for film these days, and presently I just attach an external viewfinder to my digital full frame sensor compact camera to have a rangefinder like experience. This setup blows my digital rangefinder that still takes my old lenses straight out of the pond. Plus it’s so much lighter. Love it. I also try to tell me that my digital premium compact is as good as my Contax T3. Works well enough. What I can’t shake off is analog medium format. I’m still shooting 6×7 on 120 film, mainly portraits. That’s about it, past and present gear that I have used.