Wild landscapes, breathtaking nature, and extraordinary people – Christian Heeb is one of the most successful travel photographers worldwide, able to capture the essence of a country with all its facets. The U.S. is a recurring theme in his images, which take the viewer on a journey through a country full of contrasts – diverse cultures, big cities, vast landscapes and deserted places.
IMAGO spoke to him about his work and life as a travel photographer.
How did you get into photography and especially travel photography?
I am a trained architect from Switzerland but got addicted to photography early. We, my wife and I, went to the US for almost two years in the eighties and photographed landscapes and Native Americans. Those images started my long career as a travel photographer.
Was traveling always a passion of yours or did it only develop with your work as a photographer?
At the time, my main purpose was to get photos and find new photo subjects. Travel itself was never my passion, it was always about finding new things to photograph.
What fascinates you about travel photography?
Travel today is highly overrated. People travel as consumers and literally consume a destination. The tourism industry has done a great job of turning the world into a type of travel Disneyland. Real travel is hard and dirty work and I admire photographers who work outside their comfort zone and do real travel photography.
How would you describe your images and style of photography?
My travel images are colorful tightly composed images created for books, calendars and stock use. My creative work like the American Dreamscapes are created with several strobe lights and using staged real life models.
As a trained architect – how much does architecture influence your photography today?
It came in handy when I was shooting for real estate companies. Since I did overseas building projects for my dad, I developed the skill of managing itineraries which helped planning my travels and running photo tours with clients. The static nature of architecture probably influenced my style and made it more rigid and less impressionistic.
The industry is constantly changing. What do you think the job as a photographer and travel photographer will look like in the future?
There will be more personality driven photography. Photographers will be mostly internet celebrities or servants of the industry. Few of them will get lucky in the arts and very few will be able to created real travel photography without commercial influences. A lot of the National Geographic photographers teach Workshops now.
You live in the USA, among other places, and the country is a main focus in your photos. How has the USA influenced you and your photography?
We live in Oregon and Mexico now but still maintain a place in Switzerland so we are pretty international. Of course since I am known in Europe as the guy who photographs the US I am influenced by the country. Mainly through the work of other great American Photographers who inspired me. People like Ansel Adams, Richard Avedon, Pete Turner, Gregory Crewdson or David Muench to name a few.
What do you think makes a photographer stand out? Is there a recipe for success?
If I only knew. Of course you need a signature style but you also need good networking skills, outgoing personality and marketing skills. I find it hard to say what it takes today. There are incredible photographers who created consistent good work over the years and honed their skills, progressed and built up their reputation.
You have traveled and photographed all over the world. Is there a country that you most enjoy photographing?
I love Argentina because few people go there and it’s not well known. It is a spectacular country with fantastic landscapes. Of course, after spending so many years abroad I enjoy seeing my old country Switzerland through new eyes. It is incredibly beautiful.
People or nature and landscapes – what is your favourite subject in front of the camera?
Both are equally challenging and fun to do. People sap more energy out of you and nature recharges you.
What are the biggest challenges a photographer faces shooting in unknown locations?
It’s pretty much a matter of homework. These days it’s very easy to find the information you need to photograph in foreign countries. Once you travel as much as we have, it gets pretty simple.
Is there a place that is still on your travel wish list to photograph?
Not really ….it is mainly little gems like some lakes in Switzerland or some hidden spots in the western US. I am looking forward to going back to Tasmania and New Zealand.