Dirk Behlau - The Eyes of a Stranger: Part 1

Published: 28 May, 2012 - Featured in Skin Deep 212, May, 2012

Quite publicly, I have gone on record as saying great writers are born not made. Sure, I’ve taken my fair share of heat – normally from students staring down the barrel of £30k of debt – but I still believe it to be true. When the money runs out, who will you find still writing? The born or the made? The same is true of photographers, on which note, allow me to parade Dirk Behlau before your eyes.

I originally came across Dirk’s work when working with Scary Guy a few months back – although now I come to check that fact, I see it was nearly a year ago. It’s not as simple as you think to shoot somebody who has a personality to take care of. Timing is everything – and I suspect that the more you work with people like this, the more you become aware of your sixth sense doing a lot of the work for you. You get to instinctively know what is likely to happen next and be ready for it.

Dirk is one of those guys and he somewhat backs up my statement of ‘born not made’. Having hung out with Dirk for a little while and seen him action, it’s clear to me that he doesn’t even think about what would make a good photograph. He doesn’t think about framing and is probably only marginally aware of the technicalities behind what he’s doing.

The genius of Dirk is that he simply thinks ‘photography’.

He sees the subject and knows what he wants his work to look like at the end of the session – from there on, it’s simply a matter of letting yourself be driven by time and space. Yeah, I know. I make it sound like a dark art best left to those who have sold their souls. Maybe that’s how it should be. Since every mobile phone under the sun has a camera on it these days, the world and his dog seems to think they can make the grade given half a chance.

“Actually my goal is always to get the best out of the person I work with. Make them look good, larger than life, epic, stylish, iconic. I don’t have a special concept before a shoot and I always try not to think about what I’m doing while shooting.

“I like to be kind of unprepared and spontaneous. It’s more about getting into the flow of the action, getting in the mood. Don’t let your brain do the work – let your feelings guide you. I use the camera like I’m shooting a movie, trying to create an atmosphere and a special feeling. It often happens that I say out loud, ‘wow, great shot!’ during a session because to see a good shot makes me happy immediately. The shots have to convince me in the first place otherwise I won’t publish them. I’m not producing photos in a way people may expect it. I’m shooting them the way I love them.”

See. I was telling the truth. And when you think about it, how else are you ever going to make a name for yourself if you’re not doing the kind of work that makes you happy. You’re a long time in the game if you’re going to play by somebody else’s rules. Being as Dirk has been doing this for one hell of a long time now, I wonder exactly how much forging his own path influences what he’s able to do now.

“I get a lot of requests from models – male and female — who want to work with me, but I’m quite selective and I’m not doing many ‘TFP-Shoots’ because of the lack of time.

“From time to time there are models like Victoria van Violence, who you had on the cover some issues ago, who contacted me when she started modeling and I immediately see the talent in the person. But this is kind of rare. Most of the shootings are clients’ work and I often combine them with shots for my own output.
“Bands and other clients contact me because they have seen my photos somewhere, come across one of my books, or just by the word of mouth. It’s been like this for six or seven years now. Clients are coming from everywhere because I never focused on just one subject.”

One thing that stands out in Dirk’s work with tattoo is his ability to capture masculine and feminine character traits in a way that you certainly don’t see everyday. I kind of had it in the back of my mind to ask him if this was purposeful, but I really don’t need to anymore, but on that subject, we try to elaborate a little as we talk about framing the subject in the mind’s eye.

“It just happens that way. Whether a girl or guy, I always try to make them look timeless to allow the photo to stand the test of time. A lot of people also want to work with me because they know they will get a lot of media noise as well, which pushes their career…”

He leaves the comment hanging, which is fair. That’s part of the game of getting on in your chosen field, and it’s perfectly valid for those who can live with working like that, but it wasn’t always like this. As with all lone-gunmen, it’s hard work digging the path as you go along.

“I started out shooting hotels, interiors and other design-related themes. About eight years ago, I started focusing more on the whole rock ‘n’ roll world with fast cars, pin-ups, rock bands – one day I found that it all just came together for me. I worked, and still work, for a lot of design and lifestyle, hot rod and motorcycle mags around the globe. I never really pushed it that way, but I’ve been very active in the graphic design field for over 15 years now and people already know me. I really can’t explain it. I always just did what I love and with a lot of passion.

More from Dirk next issue.

Dirk on His Kit

I mainly work on location, I personally don’t like studio stuff. I always try to carry the least amount of equipment with me as possible – mainly just a camera and two lenses. If I do bigger indoor productions, I have an assistant to take care of the light set-up. At the moment I shoot with a Canon 5D Mark II and a 7D, but actually, I think that the gear is not that important. It’s the craft not the tool.

I often post quick ‘n’ dirty iPhone shots on Facebook while shooting and a lot of people then ask what kind of equipment and lenses I used for that shot. So if I need to grab a tool, the latest iPhone would work for a lot of stuff and few will recognize the difference. So if I had to give any advice to a non-professional photographer, I would recommend the latest iPhone because it’s basically what you need to take shots – I use it myself for all non commercial shots I do in private.

Dirk on Starting Out

One of my first professional pin-up shoots was with Swiss Zoe Scarlett, who was at the beginning of her career. It was actually my first shoot with a traditional hot rod as well – it was raining the whole day. We met at a drag racing track in Germany during a Drag Racing event. She was a crew member of a Pro-Mod racing team and we only had half-an-hour. When we shot, the sun came out and we produced some really good stuff which went on five different magazine covers worldwide.



Text: Sion Smith; Photography: Dirk Behlau