Back in Germany in the 1960’s and early 70’s, and I believe I was 3 or 4 when my dad started to take photography to a more serious level.
He was studying with the photo course books of the ‘Famous Photographers School, Inc.’ in Westport, Connecticut, an art education by mail under the guidance of some of the field’s most famous names, from Richard Avedon to Bert Stern to Irving Penn. I have seen the large photo academy books and although the describing words didn’t make much sense to me since I didn’t speak English back then (I hardly learned to speak German), I was focused on the photos in these oversized books – mostly black and white work. I especially was drawn to the photos with people.
My dad’s camera was a Miranda Sensorex 35 mm SLR. Not sure what camera he was using prior to that, I only remember the Miranda with the 50 mm lens. There must have been a camera before that other than my grandparents old KODAK Brownie box camera because we had a lot of family photos from when we were kids.
There were occasions when he took family photos of the neighbors in the studio converted living room – at one occasion the grandkids of one of my neighbors from the other side of our house block. The girl was my first crush I later discovered. She probably never found out and neither did I know back then.
My dad spent a lot of weekends shooting on the Nuerburgring racetrack, which was pretty close to our hometown. Photos of the cool F1 racecars and drivers like Jackie Stewart, Graham Hill, and Emerson Fittipaldi, or Niki Lauda in his first F1 race 1972. His photos looked so different from the typical car pictures. Although he must have been right in the pit area and very close to the cars and drivers, there was something in the photos that gave them a candid appearance. Very often with people around. Sometimes I got the impressions the main focus in the photo wasn’t the race car or the driver but the woman walking by, the kids standing next to the cars with their eyes and mouths wide open. One race car driver sitting in a folding chair during a break talking to the mechanics, unaware of the shot. No posing, no staged shots and we are talking about a 50 mm lens. A 3/4 portrait of Jacky Ickx walking by – seemingly unaware.
Street photos in his portfolio had the same candid looks. There is the portrait of an old man with a snow covered hat, his mouth covered by the wide collars of his dark leather jacket but you look into his eyes and see he is far away on another planet with his thought, another man, most likely a spectator at some event smoking the last bit of a filter cigarette with a very long ash that did surprisingly not fall off in that weather under what seems to be part of an umbrella piece covered with snow, and snowflakes on his jacket – in thoughts.
Although for some reason I never really got the opportunity to join my dad on his photo tours, I did spent many times with him in his darkroom. Which started out in the family bathroom but later expanded to a more stationary location in the attic. I remember the wet photos put up against the tiles, the peaceful darkness of the room with the red light only interrupted by the short time the enlarger turned on for a few seconds with the egg clock buzzer controlling the time or somebody attempting to use the bathroom.
It was probably the many hours I spent with my dad in his dark room watching him turning plain white paper into wonderful pictures using a ‘light machine’ and some fluids in colored trays that got me interested at a young age into photography. There was magic in this room behind the always closed door. The mood, emphasized by the red dimmed light, the film rolls, the developed negative films hanging on clothespins and the many wet photos posted on the tile walls and later put between 2 layers of some drying device for the prints. I remember I would hold my breath, and watch as the white paper in the trays turning into wonderful black and white photos. Photos that captured a moment in time – moments that came back to life again. Muted but with a story.
I believe my first own photo was either of my mom or my grandma in front of a cake at my first holy communion. I got my very first camera that day. A KODAK Instamatic 56X with some flash cubes. The film with the 12 exposures lasted 2 minutes or so. Not sure what I liked more, freezing a moment on film or triggering the flashes. I believe it was the power to do both. The pictures were … actually pretty close to my conceptual style today. Now that I think about it, I am not too sure if that’s a good thing though.
Living in Chicago, deciding for a cool background for a street style shoot should not be that difficult. The city with all the skyscrapers, cabs, railway tracks, the cool bridges but somehow that wasn’t really what I was interested in. I wanted to show a different Chicago. Timeless. A different world maybe.
Chinatown was the first and – actually only choice. The first time I visited Chinatown was before I even moved to Chicago. There was something about this place – the buildings, the signs, the people. These were the people I wanted in my shots. I loved the colors – but imagined it black and white. Something that would remind me of my dad’s photos. I would not be able to make them look like 1960’s or early 1970’s photos, since we were shooting in the streets and the cars alone would be a huge give away but this was not my intention anyway. If I wanted a vintage shot I would have selected a shoot location that looked like … ummm vintage. This shoot was streetstyle high fashion and I was interested in the contrast of the high fashion, avantgarde designs clashing or blending in with the dominating darkness of a black and white Chinatown.
I always wanted to do this shoot. Since ages. But the decisive moment came September 3 of last year, when I learned of Peter Lindbergh’s passing. I wanted this to be a hommage to Peter Lindbergh who was and always will be my spiritual mentor and one of the very few photographers I really look up to.
I talked to Carmela of C. Rinella Designs who I work with a lot. My vision was a high fashion look that stood out in the black and white converted location and as usual this designer nailed it. I worked with C. Rinella Designs since 7 years or so on various occasions including an editorial shoot for VOGUE Portugal. She knows what I am looking for and I can fully rely on her.
As for the models, Lena, Egan and Kelsey were all models I worked with several times before. I love each of their looks and although all of them have their own modeling style and personality, I was sure they would work very well together.
Photography wise I was interested in people, looks and maybe candid photos. Shots that were not staged. I was interested in the reaction of the people. During the shoot I realized many of the locals behaved in a way I didn’t expect. I was doing streetstyle shoots before and shooting downtown Chicago you see that most Chicagoans don’t really care about being in the shots, as long as you let them mind their own business, but shooting in Chinatown was surprising to me. I had to respect it though.
I got sequences of shots of people covering their faces, and obviously didn’t want to be in photos. I got a sequence of shots of a couple with the male’s eyes focused on my model while his wife is trying to forcefully pulling him away, out of the frame of the photo, around a corner in a sidestreet only to show up a few shots later again being surprised that we were still there shooting. Well I had to respect that.
What I like about these streetstyle fashion shoots is seeing the unexpected reaction of people that are supposed to be extras or props in a shot but exactly these people somehow may turn into the main focus of a photograph, I remember the people in my dad’s photos of the car races. And although I do see a lot of things happening while shooting, often, when I look closer at the photos in post I discover things I haven’t seen during the actual shoot on location since I was too focused on the model.
One thing I did see coming – out of the blue and right into the frame was the infamous ‘Hamilton Beach’ man. When Lena was posing on the sidewalk I saw the man coming from behind with Lena right into his path, him carrying a box of Hamilton Beach Kitchen Utensils. Seeing the look in his face there was no way he would walk around her and his face read he will bump right into her if she doesn’t step out of the way. I waited a – few milliseconds – and decided that I wanted to see what will happen. I felt a bit sorry for Lena though since it looked like he was either going to push her with that big package or walk by last minute. Since he was behind her, she didn’t see him. Fortunately for her – and him – he walked around her in the very last second, proudly or for some unknown reason holding that big Hamilton Beach box into the camera. We got a great sequence of shots. And I swear I could even see a bit of a smile in his face in the last shot.
You see interesting people at places that may differ a bit from your culture. The man who was carrying the big stock of cotton candy around, did he ever sell anything? I hope. For us it was at least a great addition to a shot, and he was okay with it. There was that family eating in that noodle house with noodles sticking out of the dad’s and kids’ mouths while looking at my model, the newspaper lady trying to talk my model into purchasing a paper, the shy teen who was getting closer and closer to Kelsey until his dad finally showed up in my viewfinder to take a few photos of him with his cell until he got the right shot, not being aware that he was in the middle of my shoot. The church women, who thought Lena and Egan got married and congratulated us, the guy with the smokes and the woman with the Victoria Secret bag who both were very excited to be at and in the shoot – or the man with the bicycle with a camera duct-taped to a very long wooden stick to the handlebar instead of just using a mirror.
Some things may look weird, some may appear crazy – but things may be totally normal. Maybe you are just the weird person in a perfectly normal place. So don’t judge people, unless you know their story or their culture.
Camera equipment used for this shoot was a CANON EOS 5 Mark IV with a Sigma 24-70mm f2.8 and a CANON 70-200mm f/2.8 IS II USM. Most shots were done using natural light with ISO settings between 200-400. For a very few shots we added an AlienBee B800 with a Vagabond battery pack or an external flash for some in store shots.
So We were shooting end of last year. And although we didn’t experience the typical Chicago winter cold yet, it was near freezing with remains of snow on the ground. After the shoot we sat together and I have asked all 3 of my models about their impression – and here’s what they said:
So now after finishing the shoot, what did you girls like about it?
Egan: I liked this shoot because we went to a new setting and not confined to a small studio. Seemed to me that we could be more creative.
Lena: I liked that the shoot was different and stood out. Shooting with you is always very cool and a unique experience.
Kelsey: I had a lot of fun. The location was honestly a favorite of mine, some of the best ice cream I’ve had came from there.
Was this shoot in any way different from your typical work/shoots?
Egan: Yes, this shoot we traveled to China Town and did all of the shoot outside. Rather than shooting in the studio or close by.
Lena: I’ve never done a shoot in such a crowded area. It was a really cool experience!
Kelsey: Well, this was my second time shooting on the street and there were many more people. I’ve never shot in something like that in those temperatures before, but it was worth it.
You guys surely stood out. Was it easy to get out of your comfort zone, how was the reaction from locals? Any interesting stories or funny moments?
Egan: It was a little hard at first because we really stood out and everyone on the street stared but after a while it became more comfortable and the people on the street started taking their own pictures.
Lena: One guy kept hopping into our photos advertising his store! We got lots of compliments and took pictures with many locals!
Kelsey: I think this shoot gave me a sense of normality, being out in a crowd of people just being a person feels much different than isolated in a room. I really enjoyed getting out of my comfort zone on this project. I wish I would have gotten out a little more.
We were shooting at near freezing temps, how was it to walk around in these garments/heels?
Egan: It was physically painful to be outside in that cold.
Lena: My outfit had long sleeves, but a short skirt so my legs and feet were pretty cold, but I’m used to it, because I live in Wisconsin!
Kelsey: The Snowglobe and heels I wore were actually pretty comfortable, though I did step in a pot hole and almost lost it.
Anything you took home from the shoot or would do different next time?
Egan: I learned how to push my limits. I also learned how to focus on my craft when there can be some many distractions.
Lena: Next time I will bring warmer clothes (Well, good luck with that Lena!) and maybe we’ll shoot when it is warmer! Other than that I got to experience another culture and gained an appreciation for it!
Lena Seyfarth is a girl with big dreams. She is 16 years old and a junior in high school. Lena is a straight ‘A’ student and her goal is to study Biochemistry and get her PhD. Lena hopes to work in research one day and find cures for diseases. Lena started modeling when she was 10 years old. Since then she walked in numerous fashion shows, some of them being Chicago Fashion Week and New York Fashion Week. She had the opportunity to work with some wonderful designers and great photographers. Loving to be in front of the camera, Lena has been published in multiple magazines. In her spare time Lena loves to play her flute. She is also a cheerleader in her high school. Lena always tries to make time to volunteer in her community. It is important to her to help others and give back to her community.
Egan Bello is a model with 19:30 Model Management based in Chicago, Illinois. Egan is a Senior in high school and planning on attending Hofstra University in Fall of 2020. Egan has been a model since she was a child but signed her contract with 19:30 in 2018 and has been modeling full time for two years.
Kelsey Fleming is a blank canvas for the inspired artists. She strives to make new opportunities through her love of art. A deep passion inspires Kelsey to be exuberant with her work. Her enthusiasm is just as strong creating art. When she finds the time, Kelsey enjoys hiking and going for limitless runs or bike rides. Keeping her mind focused, she feels confident in the things she does. Kelsey also supports keeping the environment clean and protecting healthy ecosystems.
Carmela or C. Rinella Designs was born in Chicago. She lived in Italy with her family for 10 years and returned to Chicago 1996. Since she was a little girl, her dream was to become a fashion designer. Through out high school Carmela has won many art competitions. She graduated from the International Academy of Design and Technology in 2004 with a degree in Fashion Design. Her strong art background influences her creativity expressed in her garments. Carmela’s first fashion show collection was debuted in July 2004, proving to have been a great success. She also participated in a televised benefit fashion show, in November 2004, sponsored by StarBorn Productions. In 2006, Carmela won the Best Up and Coming Chicago Designer Award.
Hair Stylist Bio
Trina Barandela is a Hair Stylist with a studio in Crown Point, Indiana specialized on commercial and editorial work.
Thomas H.P. Jerusalem of MUTE Photography is a Chicago based German photographer who is specialized in fashion and conceptual photography. His work has been published in the US and in international magazines including VOGUE Portugal, Italian VOGUE/PhotoVogue, FHM, ESTETICA, Dark Beauty, DODHO, Kaltblut. He is a PhotoVOGUE Gold Artist, and has been listed in the ONE LIFE 2012 Catalog and is represented by the prestigious New York agency Art+Commerce/VOGUE NYC and Motion Licensing, London UK and gallery represented with YELLOWKORNER and LemonFRAME.
His childhood during the Cold War in West Germany and his father’s over-sized Photo Academy books from the sixties influenced his style that emphasizes atmosphere and strong narrative. Thomas H.P. Jerusalem started his career with Street Photography and Photojournalism, both very expressive ways of photography that forged his distinctive sensitive approach. His work includes dark romantic, high-fashion, avant-garde and vintage space-age fashion photography with an European touch. His models are often placed in surreal environments – devastated, displaced, out of the world. Their appearances eerie and edgy with rebel and punk influences. Often spiced with irony and sarcasm. But always with a strong meaning or statement. His photographs are strong and are telling stories. His portraits are capturing souls – not just faces. [Official Website]
Models: Lena Seyfarth (@lenaseyfarth_model), Egan Bello (@egankbello), Kelsey Fleming (@flemingaka)| Make-Up and Hair (Kelsey): Trina Barandela (@trinabarandela) | Designer: C. Rinella Designs (@c.rinella_designs) | Lighting Asst: David Strohl | Photographer: Thomas H.P. Jerusalem – MUTE Photography (@mute_photography)