#LivesOfArtists…With Olaf Otto Becker
What time do you wake up?
It varies. When I am in Munich, I usually get up around 6:30am. When I’m out with my boat in the Arctic, I usually take pictures from 11 o’clock in the evening until 6 o’clock the next morning. During this time the light is best when the sun is shining or the sky is only slightly overcast. When I am out in the jungle in the tropics, I usually get up 1 to 2 hours before sunrise so that I can take pictures at dawn.
What do you eat for breakfast?
I prefer to eat a fruit salad in the morning with a strong coffee. When I am travelling, I usually eat for the first time at noon or later. In the morning the light is usually very beautiful. Without food in my stomach I feel more awake and fitter when I am taking pictures.
Describe where you produce your work, and why you chose that space.
My pictures are mostly created while travelling in the landscape by boat, car, bicycle or by foot. The slower I move, the more accurate the observation of the surroundings. The image editing takes place in my office in Munich. It has high ceilings with large windows leading to a park-like garden. Nobody disturbs me here and the view into the garden calms me. My print studio is a large space with no windows, just artificial light, so I always have the same lighting conditions when creating my prints. Above my studio is the gym, I spend the time waiting until bigger prints are ready doing fitness training.
Do you have a particular daily routine that helps you work?
When I am travelling, I explore the area all day from the first ray of sunshine to the last daylight. In the evening I edit some of the pictures on my computer. When I am in Munich, I usually work on my images during the week from 9:00 am until 10:00 pm or later. I usually spend the weekends with my wife hiking or mountain biking.
Where do you go for your creative sparks?
Visiting exhibitions can be very inspiring. But I also watch many documentaries on a range of topics. When I search for motifs in the landscape by car, I usually listen to recorded philosophy lectures. I really enjoy this combination of philosophy and landscape observation. In this way I have found many images that I might otherwise have overlooked.
What are you currently working on?
I am currently working on my new book Siberian Summer. I took the pictures last year in the Siberian Arctic. The book will be published this fall by Hatje Cantz. The image selection and retouching are not yet finished. I would also like to write texts about the pictures. At the same time I am working on four other projects. Almost all my projects are long-term and have to do with landscape observation.
What do you do when you need to reset your mind?
I go fly-fishing alone on a beautiful mountain river very close to where I live.
Who was your most important mentor or inspiration?
For several years I have been intensively engaged with the work of Heinrich Riebesehl, a German photographer. Most of the influences, however, come from my extensive collection of photo books and from visiting international exhibitions.
Who do you speak to when you need a second opinion or who gives the best feedback?
When a series of images is finished, I usually present the pictures to several colleagues. I observe their reactions when they flip through one of my book dummies. I usually don’t say much about the pictures. Afterwards I wait for their reactions. Mostly there is overlap in the feedback. That is what interests me the most.
What’s the best advice you have ever been given?
Follow your heart and your passions. Be considerate, respectful, honest and attentive to everything you encounter.
If you weren’t an artist what would you do?
I could imagine working as a sociologist, I am very interested in research. I could also imagine sailing around the world in a sailboat and taking guests with me or working as a guide in remote areas. There are many great things that I would like to do as well as being an artist.
How do you switch off from work in the evening?
I leave my office and go out into nature for a jog or a walk. Sometimes I meet with friends or go tango dancing. Sometimes I enjoy a good glass of wine or reading a book.
What book are you reading right now?
John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley: In Search of America, Ilija Trojanow, The collector of worlds and Fritjov Capra’s The Web of Live: A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems.
Who is the other artist working today that you most admire?
I really like the work of David Hockney. I like the cheerfulness of his colours and the way he translates nature into his paintings. Gerhard Richter’s work is of a completely contrary mood, but I like it. I also admire the work of Hieronymus Bosch. Among the photographers I like are: Stephen Shore, Joel Sternfeld, Alec Soth, Paul Graham, Chris Killip, Emmet Gowin, Bruce Davidson, An-My Le, and Evangelia Kranioti.
If you could have lunch with any artist from across time, who would it be and why?
I would like to talk to Hieronymus Bosch about his paintings.
What are you most proud of in your career?
I am proud of all my books and that I was able to help myself in many life threatening situations during my projectwork.