I recently had the pleasure of interviewing a very insightful photographic storyteller. His name is Ralph Hassenpflug, he was born in West Germany and currently resides in Camden, Maine. Ralph is self-taught and regularly shows his work in national and international shows. Ralph’s body of work is a representation of multi-layered interpretation. Through a finding of duality between the image and expression of self, Ralph provides the viewer with an opportunity to look beyond the image.
Ralph also offers workshops and tutoring with a Skype tutoring class called, “Find your Voice as a Photographer.” These classes provide photographers with Ralph’s personal perspective on their current work and also helps in the building of their portfolios.
Ralph, thank you for taking the time to participate in this interview and best of luck to you with all your future creations. You are a very talented photographer and someone whose work is definitely worth following. I hope to see more great things from you in the future.
Can you please tell the readers a bit about yourself?
I am from Europe, born in Germany, education in European literature in colleges in France and Germany, extensive travel all over Europe and North Africa since my teenage years. I photographed a lot during those years but the work is all lost since I never considered it important. I now wish I still had all of it but with a turbulent family history and many moves, everything is gone. I was a successful entrepreneur for two decades and have gotten back into photography in 2010. I moved to the US, the beautiful state of Maine, in 2002.
Where do you call home?
Maine, definitely, but I still have the travel bug and need to go back to Europe on a regular basis, mainly to refresh my mind and my soul with the art treasures, the architecture and the way of life.
After browsing through your website, I see that you’re truly immersed in the field of photography. What is it that led you towards photography?
I’m afraid I do not really have an answer for that. I might be a painter or sculptor if I was better at those wonderful arts. What attracts me to photography is the fact that you can shoot like a documentarian but edit like a painter. That’s what I do.
Are you self-taught or formally-taught? Where have you found the majority of valuable information along your journey?
Self-taught but I had a few wonderful teachers in workshops. You just gotta look around, find photographers whose work you admire and find out if and where they teach workshops and then go for it.
Who or what inspires you in your personal life and work?
Beauty and sorrow.
How do you choose what you are going to shoot?
It’s the other way round …
How did you find your niche in black & white photography?
By doing work that is genuinely mine and doesn’t follow fads.
When shooting subjects, what do you find most challenging?
Getting out of the headspace. Mine and the subject’s. Gotta find the groove. Not always easy.
Which photographers influenced you, and how did they influence your thinking, photographing, and career path?
The pictorialists of the early 20th century, Steichen, Stieglitz mainly. Josef Sudek. Some of the crazies, like Man Ray. The seventies had a few good ones like Nan Goldin and Diane Arbus. I like some of the earlier fashion photographers like Lillian Bassman and Helmut Newton. The Japanese photographers Araki and Daido Moriyama. Among the contemporaries, there is none better than Keith Carter, Todd Hido and Arno Minkkinen. That’s a personal list. Question of taste …
What’s the best part of being a photographer?
Um, making images that speak to myself and a few of the viewers?
What is the most challenging part of being a photographer?
In the present art “market” there isn’t a lot of space for poetic vision. But that will come back. I’m working on it.
Share with us your favorite image and why.
That changes on a daily basis. One day it might be one of Stieglitz’s portraits of Georgia O’Keefe, the next day the “Fireflies” by Keith Carter. Some days I like my self-portraits and landscapes.
What do you hope viewers take away from your images?
Questions and meaning.
What is one piece of advice you would like to offer a new photographer just starting out?
Just do your work and don’t give a damn what anyone says. Find a person you trust and have him/her give you feedback on your portfolio. Make sure that person is honest and compassionate.
What type of camera(s) do you shoot with? What is your favorite lens?
It doesn’t matter! My Nikon dslr, my travel favorite – a Fuji X100S, smartphone, whatever is handy.
What is your favorite photography accessory, other than your camera?
A still mind and passion. That might sound contradictory but it isn’t.
How important is Photoshop or other image editing software in your final images?
I use lightroom and some nik software to align an image with my vision but all that means nothing if the original image isn’t true.
Can you tell me about one of your favorite or most memorable photo shoots? What made it so great and why did you like it so much?
My most memorable shoots happened with a model that was in the “zone” and just moved and made art happen and I just had to follow and shoot.
Do you have any projects that make you look back and shake your head? What made the experience so unpleasant?
Not so far.
Are there any areas of photography that you have yet to pick up on that you’d like to learn?
I have done a lot of alternative processes and I’m glad I did but it’s just technical. The image itself is the only important thing. I have always just followed my curiosity and that has led me to good places.
I will just continue to do work that calls me and expands on my teaching a bit more.