Interview: Tobias Freytag
Many people complemented DUST for the striking pictures of Ebo Taylor in our last issue. We caught up with the man whose eye was behind the lens of many of those shots. Here, Tobias Freytag shares with us some stunning shots of African musicians in the Diaspora.
D: You are an architect as well as a photographer. Is photography just a hobby or something more?
TF: Photography is as much a hobby to me as architecture. I am dedicated to both and do it from the heart and for the art. The difference is I studied architecture but I am just an autodidact in photography. I earn money from both though. Your job should never just be a job. The difference is that with photography you can see your outcome straight away, whereas in architecture it sometimes takes years from your first draft to the final building.
D: When (and how) did you get into photography?
TF: I got into photography at the end of 2009. I get bored really quickly. I graduated as the 2nd best in my architecture class in 2006 and immediately found work with a well-known architect (Hans Kollhoff) in Rotterdam, with whom I won a big competiton for a new town centre in the Netherlands. After a year and a half, I left because I wanted to live in Cologne and I quickly found work with Ortner + Ortner (a well-known Austrian architecture duo). I started my own business at the same time to do joint projects with them, but after half a year I thought “this can’t be it”, and started thinking about doing another creative job.
There was a photography exhibition in Cologne that anyone could enter. I submitted a picture of a staircase in Berlin that I took with a digital Canon Ixus camera. It was exhibited and a week afterwards I bought my first ‘real’ digital camera. My skills were quite limited in the beginning but I get better every day and my aims keep rising.
Because I‘m an architect, my eyes are trained to see things and details others miss. I capture so many mentionable moments that are sometimes hard to describe to other people, so I make it a habbit to take a camera along everytime I’m outside.
D: What sets your work apart from other photographers?
TF: Well, I try to capture the moment. I don‘t use flashlights or studio setup. I take every picture with the help of natural light because I want it to be pure. I always use solid 50 or 85mm lenses because I think it‘s false to stand 200 metres away from the actual motive to get your picture. I am always “right in your face.” I’m probably not the only one who does this. There is no recipe: my eye tells me what to do.
When I do concert photography, I always get in contact with the musician before the show. I like to get to know them and build up some kind of relation to get the best picture when they perform. They also get to know who the guy behind the camera is.
D: Between TY, Shad, Blitz, etc, you’ve invariably shot a lot of artists of African origin. What kinds of artists interest you enough to photograph or listen to them?
TF: They need to have character. I need to feel that their music is coming from their heart and of course, it needs to make your booty shake. I am interested in music by Fela Kuti, Tony Allen, Mulatu Astatqe, Matata and of course Uncle Ebo [Taylor]. I am also a big fan of reggae/dub music, which also has its origins in africa.
In my teenager years, I listened a lot to hip-hop like KRD One, Wu Tang Clan, Biggie Smalls, Jungle Brothers… By the end of the 90s, gangster rap became too popular and hip-hop parties became a meeting place for little wannabe gangster so it became quite unattractive!
Through my many friends in the music business, I was introduced to Afrofunk and it was not just the music, but also the people who listened to it and came to the parties that made it more enjoyable. Everybody dances as soon as such sounds come on and everybody is in such a good mood. I noticed this on Uncle Ebo’s face when he played in Cologne in January. He received such good vibes from the Colognian crowd that he just kept on smiling and in the end he joined the crowd and started dancing with everybody! We all had smiles on our faces for days after that!
D: So… any plans to come to Ghana?
TF: At the moment I live in Andalusia/Spain. From here you can see the Atlas mountains of Morocco, so this year I’m planning a trip there. Next year, I will hopefully travel a bit further in and come to Ghana. I hope to make it to the next Asabaako Music Festival where I’m really looking forward to meeting nice people, having a blast, taking good pictures and getting to know the interesting characters in front of my lens.
By Kobby Graham