Klaus thymann was the winner of the Fashion & Beauty category in the 2013 Sony World Photography Awards.
Hi Klaus, you won the Fashion & Beauty category of the 2013 Sony World Photography awards, that seems along time ago now, can you tell us a bit about what you’ve been up to since?
I am working on documentary film about the unique ocean eco systems in Mexico. On the Yucutan peninsula are the world’s largest underwater cave systems and it is connected to the sea, at around 30m depth the freshwater from in the caves meet saltwater from the sea. Yet in environmental terms the boundaries are drawn by the coast. The sea off the coast is protected, but the underwater caves are not, it doesn’t make sense. Then on the other side, you have the protected areas near the coast, but the high sea are not protected. Sea life doesn’t know those boundaries when swimming in the sea. On the one hand we need to celebrate the protected areas, but we also need to look at the systems as a whole and develop environmental policies accordingly.
Working on this project allows me to combine a lot of passions, nature, diving, the environment and more. Going back to what I have been up to, then I finished an environmental science degree last year. I have been reading a lot when traveling and a few years ago I decided it would make sense to use the time reading in a more structured way, so I decided to complete a bachelor degree at the Open University.
Can you talk to us about your latest project with Project Pressure?
There is so much going on with Project Pressure it is really very exciting at the moment, we are working with some great artists but then also had an opportunity to open it up and have the open call recently. We got a very big response with more than 330 applications from all over the world. It is great to see how many photographers really care about the environment and communicating about it.
Simon Norfolk, also a past Sony World Photography Awards Winner, is on the judging committee, how did this collaboration come about?
John Wyatt-Clarke, who sits of the board of Project Pressure suggested working with Simon, and together we all worked hard to get him to Kenya to do his amazing project. When collaborating with artists we mainly try to be supportive in regards to the scientific aspects and logistics, we really want them to be as inventive when it comes to the artistic expressions.
You have worked on many conservation projects, but also many fashion led advertising/ editorial campaigns how do you move from one body of work to another?
I don’t find it complicated at all. I guess I look at things from a slightly different perspective. People often look at photography from a genre point of view, and kind of place various photography projects into these silos, documentary, fine art etc.
I have always come from a story telling perspective, for me the core is first and foremost storytelling and then the medium or genre is not so important. That is why I am happy creating radio for the BBC, images for NYTimes, Nike, Johnny Walker and more and films about the environment in Mexico.
Speaking of definitions, then in film they also exist, but they are mainly story led as in what kind of story is being told. Then when you look at books it is generally, and that is very generally speaking fiction and non-fiction.
It can sound a bit like a cliché, but overarching I work with believability as a working concept, it is not very important if the story is fictional (such as fashion) or non-fiction (such as documentary) for me it is important that it is believable as I think people will connect with real and honest stories.
When Gandalf hugged Frodo in one of Lord of Rings films, you could see their faces close-up, but if one looked carefully Gandalf’s nails were dirty, when you add enough small details like this to a shoot it add up and helps the narrative feel believable. Depending on the project I sometimes have to direct multiple departments to ensure we create stunning advertising work that looks realistic. The shoot for Johnny Walker is a good example of this. It is complete set up, lit using a ton of equipment but it still feels real. I am comfortable creating fictional stories making them real and also happy looking at factual narratives and communicating them.
You recently completed a degree in Environmental Studies, how did you find splitting your time between studying and your photography?
I am constantly juggling many projects at once, but when I was studying I would read when traveling so basically using the travel time for studying, and I would also read in the evenings at home. I was reading physical books, as in printed books, to being on a plane or a 4x4 in Nepal didn’t matter. All that time would be enough for me to read the material. I’d then often take about half a day out to write assignments during working hours to get some time for myself undisturbed where I could sit at a desk, have Internet connection.
What is your photographic philosophy?
Philosophy is maybe too strong a word or maybe not? I do like to ask questions and promote critical thinking, which is a challenge to do with photograph, but when it works it is strong and impactful. This is why it is so important to embed meaningful narratives in the images. As mentioned above I do think the dots connect between believability and the storytelling being perceived and received as honest. However there are many many other dots that need to connect either directly and obviously or in more subtle ways. But really at the end of the day the questions is; it is interesting ? is it a good story. That wasn’t really a solid answer, as you can see your questions raises more questions for me than answers to give.
What kind of projects can we expect from you in the next few months?
There is a great deal of project we are working on. Shooting fashion for Jocks & Nerds, the mentioned documentary film and commercial jobs we can’t talk about as we keep signing NDAs.