Martin U Waltz is a photographer, writer, and educator based in Berlin, Germany.
He has written and co-authored several books on street photography and published many articles on street photography. He is a passionate photography teacher and offers photography coaching and photography workshops in Berlin.
His work has been shown at exhibitions in Germany and Europe. Martin has won numerous international awards. He has served as a curator, juror, and speaker at photography festivals.
Martin is a member of the editorial board of the German Street Photography Site, and he co-hosts the German Street Photography Festival.
I asked him to do an interview on his approach to street photography and he was kind enough to oblige. Below is our conversation:
Brandon Ballweg: How did you get started in photography, and what drew you to street photography?
Martin U Waltz: I started to photograph in my teens. My father – an avid amateur photographer – showed me the basics. I pretty soon began roaming the streets and photographed what I felt to be interesting. So I started quite early and organically – blissfully ignorant of the great street photography that was already out there.
BB: Who are your biggest influences in photography?
MUW: There are many great photographers – for me three stand out.
- Henri Cartier-Bresson for his elegant compositions,
- Daido Moriyama for the blurred darkness
- Trente Park for his visual walks between dream and nightmare
BB: What are some of your favorite photography books?
- Trente Parke, The Black Rose with its wonderful dark poetry.
- Robert Frank, The Americans, this is simply a masterpiece, I always come back to
- Harry Gruyaert by Harry Gruyaert, what a celebration of color photography
BB: How would you describe your photographic style?
MUW: I feel I use multiple visual languages. So I’m not an easily recognizable photographer. Yet I like to think all my work has an element of poetry and an emotional depth. It’s easy to connect with my work.
No visual or intellectual education required. Being a human being is enough.
BB: What inspires and motivates you to create?
MUW: I feel, there is little as satisfying as creating a body of work on a subject. It is exhausting yet deeply enjoyable.
BB: What do you think makes a street photograph stand out?
MUW: I see a lot of very complex compositions or visual pleasantness driven by graphic elements and high contrasts in a contemporary street photograph.
Yet for me a great street photograph has 3 elements:
- a good use of light
- and most importantly emotional impact
BB: What would you like viewers to feel when they see your work?
MUW: I honestly don’t care what the viewers of my work feel. It is theirs to feel. My work is the basis for these emotions. My photography is simply serves as a catalyst.
BB: What have you struggled with in your photography, and was there anything that helped you overcome it?
MUW: I think like many creative persons I struggle with self-doubt and depression. There are no real recipes to over come these struggles. There is only leaving the pity party as soon as possible and pushing through any crisis with whatever ridiculously little energy is left at that moment.
BB: What do you think the point of street photography is?
MUW: That is good question. For me it is reflection of the ordinary day to day life, the human condition. A reflection of that part of our life that is not extraordinary and that makes roughly 98% of existence.
BB: In what ways has your photography evolved over the years, and is there a particular style that you’re gravitating towards?
MUW: Not sure I would call photography to be evolving. I like to think of it as change over time. Change that comes with different external circumstances and my personal reaction to it. The pandemic has changed my photographic style quite a bit. My style is different now. Is it an improvement? Not sure. I see it more as an adjustment.
BB: You’ve won several prizes and had your work featured in exhibitions around the world. What would you say to photographers who want to build a body of work worthy of being in an exhibition or win awards?
MUW: You don’t have to have the greatest work to win awards or participate in exhibition. Awards and exhibition are conversations. And your work has to be able to make a quality contribution that conversation. Then your work will be picked for exhibitions. Your work has to fit in.
And story is insanely important. The story your work is telling. The story you tell about your work and last but not least the story you tell about yourself.
BB: What’s your aim with your photography workshops, and what would you like participants to take away from the experience?
MUW: It is very difficult to improve your photography without outside feedback. I like to give my clients an idea of what kind of photographer they can become. And some tools and suggestions on how to get there. So it is a mix of inspiration and practical tips.
BB: Is there anything I haven’t asked you that you’d like to share?
MUW: I recently published a photo book “Berlin Unseen” which contains 10 years of street photography in Berlin. Text in German and English. I’m very happy with this book. It is available in all bookstores.
BB: Where can people find your work?
MUW: I cut down on social media.
My website is streetberlin.net