Berliner, now Singapore based photographer Olaf Schuelke, dedicated to capturing candid moments and the authentic, talks to IMAGO about staying visible and the changing role of photography in a digital age. With his vibrant and colourful imagery documenting the lives of those in the busy and bustling city, we sit down to hear all about the artist himself.

Let’s kick off, how did you get started in photography and why?

I received my first own camera at the age of 14, a rare silver Mamiya ZE and started taking photos of my neighborhood and friends. On summer holidays I would always bring my camera along as well. I enjoyed capturing memories and moments. My parents also had an interest in photography and I suppose this kind of influenced me on some level too. In school I participated in a photo seminar and experimented with studio lighting, posed portraits, etc which I found rather boring. I needed the real thing. Later at university, I took a much bigger interest in the world, in traveling, in different countries and cultures and hence in photography. On all my travels I packed my camera and my interest in outdoor, street and documentary photography grew rapidly, mostly focusing on people.

What was your first experience with a camera?
Took my very first image when I was 7, 8 or 9 with my dad’s b/w camera on a sandy beach in Spain (I believe). Always wondered what happened to this first photograph that I took.

Meet the Contributor: Olaf Schuelke
Photo: Olaf Schuelke

What five words describe your photographic style or captured message?
Authenticity, Moment, Candid, Dedication, Curiosity…in other words…”I try to stay invisible”

What is the best element about being a photographer, and most challenging?
Not sure if there is such thing as the best element. The most challenging for me is to constantly keep myself motivated and to work at a self-set high and professional level despite the hardship and struggle to sometimes make ends meet. My passion and commitment still drive me immensely, although the monthly or quarterly revenue oftentimes make me question everything again.

To you, what is the role photography has in the world?
Photography doesn’t have the role that it used to play 25 or more years ago before everything became digital with the upcoming of the internet. Back in the day, one had to browse through magazines, newspapers and photo books to get an idea of what the world looks like unless you were fortunate enough to travel intensively. Today, we are all connected and can access almost any information and any image with a mouse click or two. I’m uncertain if photography is still as powerful as it used to be. Millions of new images are uploaded daily, most of them not worth looking at. Yet, photography still has the ability to move people, make them aware and question things. And very seldom photography can even make this world a little better.

What one important lesson has your work taught you?
Always expect the unexpected.

What is currently really getting you frustrated or annoyed?
My very noisy neighbours constantly annoy the **** out of me, not only currently (sorry for putting it that way but that’s how it is). And obviously the massive restrictions to travel overseas due to the ongoing COVID situation is also very frustrating. I had to cancel my trip to Berlin this June due to the pandemic.

“Always expect the unexpected. ”

OLAF SCHUELKE

If you could photograph any historical event, what would it be and why?
The fall of the Berlin Wall. Being a “Berliner” myself and missing and not witnessing that historical event in person is one of the very few things in life that I regret to this very day. Capturing and documenting the emotions of former East Germans crossing the open border and setting foot on Western soil for the first time again after decades must have been overwhelming. At that time I was living in my own bubble in a small town in West Germany and just didn’t really bother much of the outside world. It took me months before I visited Berlin again.

What does success look like to you?
Happiness & contentment

What’s your go to album to listen to when you’re working right now?
David August Boiler Room Berlin Live Set

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