“The axis of my work is about content, stories, things I want to say, things that keep me busy. I always try to stay as close as possible to the story happening in front of me. But there are different truths.”
Osman Balkan (born in 1987) is a self-taught photographer currently based in Berlin, Germany.
Osman Balkan is a self-taught portrait-photographer living and working in Berlin, Germany. His work is strongly dedicated to the portrayal of life and people around him. Moments depicted by the means of fragility and exposition of the inner truth. He creates a space of melancholy and raw beauty within a picture that catches your eye and forces you to have a second look.
Interview with Osman Balkan
Osman, what was your first camera and photographic experience?
A Canon AE-1 which my parents bought before I was born to document my childhood, when I moved out it was passed on to me. Which is quite funny actually when I think about it, in a way you could say that they predestined me to become a photographer. But when I said I was going to make it my job they really hated me for that. All the financial insecurity: “becoming an artist”. But I’ve never looked back on that.
It was the most natural thing to do for me. It is my language. It was never something I would’ve decided on. There was actually a moment where “photography” switched into a more conscious thing to do, rather than just natural.
When I was 15 years old, I had an exhibition and there was a lady with her daughter standing in front of one of my pictures. Something moved them both. Something in that one photograph. They started talking to me about it, but they couldn’t find any words to describe how they felt, instead the mother gave me a hug with tears in her eyes.
That was the moment I became aware of the power photography and the effect a picture can have on someone. Not just a story you hear about, but something you experienced yourself. That was a very crucial moment for me.
What does photography mean to you?
It’s my best friend. It’s always been there for me and hopefully it always will. I couldn’t imagine expressing myself without it. I guess I’m a nerd.
It’s always been the tool I’ve used to explore and understand myself and the world around me. It comes from a very philosophical place. I become fascinated with a subject and try to dissect it through photography.
Which photographer has inspired you most and why?
Too many to count. Henri Cartier-Bresson, Annie Leibovitz, Richard Avedon, David LaChapelle, Sally Mann, David Armstrong, or Nan Goldin. They’ve inspired me in various ways and these aspects changed as I got older.
I started to see different things in their work that inspired me to understand that photography is an ongoing development just as life itself. Therefore I understood it’s the best companion that one can call one’s best friend.
But I could never take it down to only one major inspiration. It would be a very boring life, wouldn’t it?
“My work is about making candy for the eyes. It’s about grabbing your attention. Even though my work is appearing in magazines I am trying to make a large picture. I want my photographs to read like a poster.”
Your favorite photography quote?
None that I can think of right now.
How would you describe your photographic voice?
“When I’m feeling good I’m not creative.”
Emotional, self-portraying (even when I’m not in the picture), melancholic, focused on the important things of a situation, and truth.
The way I work depends on the situation. Sometimes I start off with a song that recently shook my world, other times I just listen to someone’s story and let myself float into that world and visualize it.
But it is always very sensitive and empathic how I deal with my surroundings and my subject.
I was always true to myself and learned to sit in my misery. A lot of study, trial and error helped me to visualize my thoughts, I just never gave up.
I was never interested in the good times in life that’s when I go out and have a good time. I don’t need pictures of flowers and bees. When I’m feeling good I’m not creative, but when there’s something happening and I’m in a miserable situation or something just kicks my ass, that’s when I get creative and that machine in my head starts working.
That’s when you get to know yourself. That’s where you can learn to develop an own photographic language. When you are close to your own inner core of yourself, that’s where uniqueness begins. Just don’t be afraid to talk about these things. Just try to do something that makes you proud of yourself at the end of the day.
What do you consider to be the axis of your work?
“The camera and the technical side should always be just an extension of your hand and mind.”
The axis of my work is about content, stories, things I want to say, things that keep me busy. I always try to stay as close as possible to the story happening in front of me. But there are different truths, which is why my work is divided in to big parts. The first one is the portrait work with which I approach more complex situations and ideas.
The second is street-photography where I just walk around cities and places, very isolated in my mind, and try to catch what’s happening in front of me.
Technical means such as color treatment or lenses, camera bodies etc. are just the road you walk on but never where you want to get. The camera and the technical side should always be just an extension of your hand and mind. Don’t even think about it. The mastery of camera techniques is a premise.
What qualities and characteristics does a good photographer need?
What does a photo need to be a great photo in your eyes?
Where do you draw inspiration from for your photographic projects?
Music, movies, people’s stories. Many things actually. things that catch my interest. If I think about it, what they all seem to have in common is a flash of realistic truth. Something I can grab and hold on to. Not just a made up good-looking surface. Beauty is a cool thing but I need a special reason, something unique that gives me a reason to make a picture of it.
What kind of photography equipment and photographic supplies do you use?
Oh well, there is many: Polaroid cameras, viewfinder cameras, 35mm cameras, my beloved Hasselblad-Camera, and even one digital camera, but no flashes or artificial lightning equipment.
What’s your favorite website about photography?
I guess it’s just a collection of Tumblr-Blogs, homepages and RSS-Feeds of other photographers.
What photography book would you recommend?
None. I would never want to push someone into a specific direction. Walk into a bookstore, browse through pages spontaneously and buy what seems to get a hold on you.
Which advice would you give someone who wants to become a professional photographer?