Dirk Behlau - The Eyes of a Stranger: Part 2

Published: 25 June, 2012 - Featured in Skin Deep 213, June, 2012

In the second part of our interview with Dirk Behlau, we showcase some more of his incredible work from the road and dig into what life is like for a pro photographer a little bit more than some pros may like…

It’s not often you come across people who are truly satisfied with what they do in life. I query whether there are other areas Dirk might like to explore as he pushes on in his career? Does working for National Geographic magazine appeal to his sensibilities at all, or is there anywhere he would like to take his talents that seem to be out of reach at the moment?

“Actually I am pretty satisfied that I’m mainly shooting within the Kustom Kulture scene at the moment – hot rods, custom bikes, pin-ups, tattoos, rock ‘n’ roll, and so on. That covers most of the stuff I love, but I think I would like do more extreme sports film and photography, like skydiving, surfing, extreme skiing, bmx, big vertramp and high-jumps – all that crazy weird shit. But let’s see what happens… if someone approaches me with an interesting project, I am the last one to refuse!”

Thinking along the same kind of lines, I ask Dirk to consider whether the majority of photographers need to think less about what they are shooting and more about being part of the experience. After all, when you get a great photographer, they can tell a whole story without the need for any words to describe the situation, even if that’s not something that happens often.

“Being within the action and feeling the heat is essential in my opinion. When I see, for example, soccer photographers with their ultra-zooms and tons of equipment around their neck, I always feel sorry for them. Shooting from the borders of the field without being part of the action is not my cup of tea. Of course, you can’t run with the camera behind a football player, but that would be nothing I would like to do on a regular basis. Good shots grab you with the emotions of the scene. You immediately feel the desire to see and know more about the theme. Unfortunately, that doesn’t really happen a lot to me. I think lots of photographers don’t have a real passion for what they shoot, they do it for the money first, just as a job. But I don’t want to judge anybody. I believe that you need to be your own biggest fan in the first place. You need to love what you do. It’s all about love and passion.”

I’m thinking to myself that with technology surging forward at a pretty relentless pace – and I know we discussed this earlier, so forgive me for coming back to it again – but am I the only one who can see a day coming when the iPhone will get so good that you can just get on a plane with that in your pocket and produce results as good as a pro can get from pro-equipment? In fact – are we closer than we think?

“My theory is actually that most people could use the latest iPhone instead of buying a DSRL, but it’s a psychological thing. If I took my iPhone to, let’s say, a bike shooting with good available light – and we had all the circumstances that would make it easy to take a good picture – the client would ask why I can’t afford a good camera. They would just think that I’m not worth the money they paid, even though they couldn’t really judge if the results had been shot with a DSRL or an iPhone.

“And lots of people can’t see a difference, especially when you can use all those filters of a modern photo app. I do know photographers who sold their pro-equipment and use only the iPhone – and their shots are better than from other photographers with a big gun too. So I think the future is already here, but because of the ‘bigger is better’ idea, the psychological element won’t change in the near future.”

That’s something that I think we should all contemplate as we sit here reading what is essentially an art magazine. So much of what we perceive as being artistic or not artistic is wrapped up in these psychological elements, and yet, in the hands of somebody wrapped in the love of what they are trying to achieve, great things can happen.
Flipping through some magazines we have lying around, I open the stable door on how, regardless of how good your photography is, a careless magazine can reduce your great work to a pile of shit without even thinking about it. As magazines are having to think about margins and production values in what’s become an environment that is changing daily; I wonder if Dirk is personally looking forward to magazines moving towards digital formats. We look at Skin Deep on the iPad and the definition pours out of great photography and it looks beautiful. There has to come a time when you have to hand over your work and trust that they will do the right thing with it.

“True. A bad layout can easily ruin your photos or make them look cheap. I had – and have – that experience quite often. You see the results and think, ‘OK, not bad, but not good either!’

“I have a strong graphic design background, but you can’t do everything on your own. I always loved reading a stylish pdf magazine; I did my own lifestyle magazine called ‘sceyelines’ ten years ago – sceyelines.pixeleye.de – before the big rush of flash-based flipbook magazines came about. There have been some great digital magazines in the last decade and it’s great that you can read them on the iPad as well nowadays, but I still prefer a printed one. The possibilities of digital magazines are still in their infancy. Interactive things like animated adverts, videos, and photo zooming, still need to come to most of them.

“It’s always kind of an experience when you hand over your photos to a magazine and see what they make out of it. You need to trust them and you never know what will happen. There are few good magazines, and lots of average stuff and bad ones. I always try to pick out the good ones because my work will be used in the right way – and that’s the stuff you show around.”

I know a lot of people like to surf the web – not necessarily to pick out new ideas, but more out of a genuine interest in what other people are making of the world in their own particular fields. Is that a typical Dirk kind of thing to do?

“Not really. I check on facebook what artists I like are doing, but actually not other photographers. I like a few, like Tim Sutton and Viva van Story. I'm more into illustrators like hydro74, Palehorse Design and Felix LaFlamme to name a few – and independent movies, underground graphic design, and things like that.

“Inspiration comes from a lot of directions, but I hardly ever do I think ‘wow, this is stuff I want to do as well’. I love what other artists do, but I never copy an idea, because I want my own version of it. That’s useless if somebody else already did it. I just want to express myself with my own ideas.”

And to wrap up… what is there still left for Dirk to do? Go on tour with Aerosmith? Bed yourself in with a circus for a month? Is there something he would like to almost ‘join’ to milk it dry of the experience?

“I would maybe change Aerosmith to Motörhead or Metallica! If these guys would take me on tour and would let me do whatever I want, it would be a great experience. But bands of this size would never let you do it your own way, so I don’t think it would fulfil my expectations. So I’d rather, like, join a spaceship crew and walk on the moon.”

If you could be invisible for one day with your camera…

I would go and shoot famous people, just to see how they act when they don’t know that they are being photographed  – maybe in the White House. I am really interested in people and looking behind the blinds to see the ‘real me/ them’.

What talent would you most like to have?

Drawing – I won a drawing competition at the age of six, but that doesn’t count. Drawing like a pro takes a lot of experience and talent.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?

My family: my girl, my daughter, my son, my parents. Without them I would be nothing.

What is your greatest fear?

To lose my family.

Something that is overrated?

Can I say ‘Nikon’? Har har…

What item do you wish you had designed?

The iPhone.

If you could have lunch with anyone who is famous who would it be?

Lemmy Kilminster.

Where you’ll find me on a Friday night at 9 p.m.?

Probably partying with friends at a car show, tattoo convention, concert –pretending to work!

First thing you would do if you won the lottery?

Depending on the amount, I would by a house/ houses in Germany, a beach house in California, a skiing hut in the mountains, and if there was still money left, I’d also buy a house in Italy since my girl is half Italian.


Text: Sion Smith; Photography: Dirk Behlau