Thomas comes from Germany and lives in Paris for a few years, he takes superb black and white pictures. His favorite subjects are around and people who use the city as a playground: writing, the route and trainsurf are at the center of his wonderful photographs.


How long have you been doing photography?
I started as a music photographer in 2005 and switched to reportage and street photography in 2010.

Have you studied the photo before?
Before I started photography, I made an apprenticeship in a camera store for three years. With this apprenticeship I had to visit a special school where I also learned a bit about photography. To thèse times I was painting graffiti by myself and one of my teachers was super disliking that but still motivated  me to take school equipment caméras with me to at least do some photography while painting. I also took photos of a friends band which happened to be seen by a local (american) photographer, Jeffrey Delannoy, who saw some potential and he took me under his wings. He showed me the craft of developing films and printing by myself in the darkroom and took me to countless concerts and festivals to take photos. He also showed me the work of Anton Corbijn, Dennis Stock, Richard avedon and Robet Capa which influenced me a lot. We had a small Artist collective called “kill your Idol“ and we all just tried to take pictures of our music heros. Jeffrey was into the gothic scène and I tried to take photos of all hip Hop idols I had fo that time like Mos Def, RA The Rugged Man, Necro, Sean Price and many more.  After three years, Jeffrey went back to the states and I moved to Berlin.


What made you choose this medium?
I think it was me wanting to create sth that stays and after realizing that I was at best a médiocre graffiti writer, this was the second-best option for me. I also have to admit that I enjoyed a lot hanging out with all those guys whose music I was listening to.

I think you are hard on you, I saw you tagging and your style has flow. Can you tell us what is a good photo for you?
Thanks, that’s very kind of you. Bit this was also other times. I was painting graffiti in a small city in West Germany and that meant directly having stress with the police. I can remember having like ten raids at my place without Even getting busted. When I got finally busted the judge gave me two years of probation for honestly not doing too much damage, haha. And for every raid I had, thé police were taking all my things. They weren’t just taking sketches or cans but also my computer and camera equipment. So I really had to decide in which way I wanted to go.  A good photo for me is a photo you want to watch for longer than 30 seconds. I don’t care too much about technical things like the golden ratio or what kind of camera you use. Some of my favorite photos have been shot with a mobile phone.


You have chosen to treat only certain subjects in black and white, such as painters in action in urban space. Do you have other favorite subjects and why did you choose this subject, these subjects?
I like to shoot People using the city as their playground. These can be graffiti writers or street artists, Parcours and train surfing, or even pickpockets and drug dealers. I like to show, what “normal“ people usually don’t see. I started another project some years ago where I tried to show the beauty of the human body without all those things the beauty and fashion industry wants to make you believe is necessary. I’m disgusted by this kind of photography where the models wear tons of makeup but still, the photographer retouches every inch of what makes the human body interesting and beautiful. So I started to make exactly the opposite, taking photos of people without clothes and makeup, Not using artificial light and not retouching anything in Photoshop.

How to explain these original, non-standard choices? Are we not more successful when we do mainstream? Why against the dominant culture?
Yes, sure it’s way more accepted by the mainstream like this. But for me, this is just wrong. I’m totally against advertising in general. For me, this is the main engine of capitalism and it’s made to make you feel bad, thinking if you would buy certain products, you would feel better or be more beautiful or whatever.  And especially in beauty or fashion advertising,  everything is just fake.  I find it to be ridiculous how those photos are being retouched to death. Every wrinkle and every spot is getting erased to make the models look like puppets. This is neither beautiful nor human for me anymore.  So I think it is important to fight that.


Yes with the social and economic fundamentals, the fundamentals of communication go together, which we talk about less often. My professor of advanced morphology at the Beaux-arts de Paris (Guy Debord) would speak here of eugenics, these perfect bodies, muscular, fat-free, wrinkle-free, stereotyped on an unassailable model for ordinary people. Are there any other reasons you think are these models that make us so bad if we don’t buy the last cream or car?
I  wouldn’t say That my work is very political but sure it is influenced by my political State of mind. For example, I am choosing the Artists I work With Not just by their aesthetic but as well as their political ideas. One reason I chose to work With the Berlik Kidz was That they don’t just paint to See their names in the streets but also to fight gentrification Which is a very huge problem in Berlin. Another Good example would be Vermibus, an Adbusters I am Working With for Nearly 10 years now.

Is there a current of political philosophy to which you would feel closer than liberalism?
No, I don’t have any solution. But I recently saw a tweet or a meme of somebody that stayed in my head saying that nobody should be allowed to be a billionaire. After you reached 999 million, every cent directly goes to health care and education. You will get a trophy saying that you won capitalism and they will name a dog park after you. As funny this sounds, I strongly agree with this concept but with way less money than a billion. How can you be happy making a fortune on the back of others?


What do you look for when you take photos?
This already starts before I actually take photos as I’m curating the artists I want to work with like a gallerist. This doesn’t necessarily mean I just work with artists I like but I try to just work with people where I feel that they contribute sth interesting or new to the scène. While taking photos I’m trying to focus on the action itself but still showing as much background or extra Information as possible. For me, a photo of a person walking by judging the graffiti writer while painting is far more interesting than a photo of just a graffiti writer doing his thing for example. I’m also looking a lot for lines and frames I can use.


You exhibit your work and also publish catalogs, is it important for you this aspect of dissemination of your work
Yes, totally. I don’t get a kick from social media and for me, a picture on the internet will never look as good as a printed and nicely framed photo. Like I said in the beginning – I want to create sth that stays. I also enjoy a lot the idea of one day being the crazy grandfather having a lot of funny stories to tell. What’s better than to have all these photos printed in a book on top to force everybody to look at them, haha.

Do you have any projects to come?
I’m while working on my first book. Last year I made together with a journalist a reportage about train surfing in Paris for le monde. We realized that we work very good together as a team and we decided to make a book about the vibrant Paris urban art scène in 2020 called “Avenue des petits crimes“.


Why this choice of title? How is your collaboration going?
I Made a small zine Last year called “Paris je t‘abuse“ based on the title of this super Kitsch Movie “Paris je t‘aime“. This Came to my mind thinking of how much People in the entire World adore this City and its Beauty while you have a very vibrant Graffiti scène over Here “abusing“ it a bit With putting color everywhere, haha. We thought about Taking this as a title for the Book as well, but it Turned out that it’s Not proper French Language so we found this one which is a bit following the Same narrative.

Well, we are impatiently waiting to be able to see and experience all of this, do you have a word for the end?
Yes, I have something I’m wondering about as I often find myself in discussions about this with graffiti writers in Paris. I don’t get why people are so much hating on street art over here. Sure, I get the jealousy part – Paris is a super-rich city with obviously a lot of galléries selling crap to rich people not knowing anything about urban art. but if you are jealous about that, then just do the fucking same – paint some Star Wars or Batman related shit on a plastic bear and people will buy that, easy. I also get that there are many street artists who are just doing things in the streets which are made to enjoy the people with lots of colors and cute designs but this problem you will also find in graffiti if you are honest with yourself. So maybe hate on the artist itself if you want to but Not on an entire scene. There are so many great street artists over here like OX, Kraken, or Levalet just to name a few and I think you are just limiting yourself if you hate on a whole scène just because you don’t like some artists. It’s like saying photography is bullshit when you just know some photos of Anne Geddes and therefore refuse to dig deeper. You are missing great stuff like this.


Thank you for this very interesting interview Thomas.

Paris Tonkar magazine

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