A s a photographer I can’t think of a better way to approach a new photography campaign than to leave behind familiar territory, embrace the unknown, and take your talents to the limit. But this campaign sounded different from the start: for “Grow up”, Mercedes-Benz wanted to put the spirit of a new generation front and centre, to focus not on the cars, but on the people who were passionate about them. “Wow – I thought. What a cool idea.”
My agency had pitched me as a photographer for the campaign and I knew straight away that my style was a perfect fit for the concept. I like it when the people in my photos are authentic, and when my pictures tell a story. What happens on set should be visible in my work. I was given free rein for my work on “Grow up” and in the beginning that was kind of confusing. On top of that, the shootings were on a tight schedule, with film work taking place at the same time. Sometimes I had just half an hour, other times two hours.
There were so many slots to coordinate that we had to improvise a couple of times. Sometimes a shoot would be brought forward abruptly to the early hours of the morning. But I found it a fascinating experience – working in the moment, taking things as they come and being spontaneous. At one shoot we turned up the music full blast – just to see what would happen. And there’s a vibrant energy to the photos that I shot that day.
Mercedes-Benz was really interested in my style. Everyone that I worked with was down-to-earth and focussed on achieving a common goal. If I noticed during filming that one of the scenes would make a great photo, the crew would put everything on hold so that I could take the shot. That’s not exactly common in the industry. And you can’t recreate a moment like that after the fact. It just doesn’t work – at least not for me.
People didn’t always get it at the time, but every one of those photos turned out sensational. Some of them featured later on gigantic billboards around town.
I was also given a free hand when it came to processing the images. I’m not a big fan of retouching images. I like it when a picture retains the truth of the moment. And Mercedes-Benz had no reservations about that. Unlike other campaigns, they were really interested in my style and how I approach my work. It was almost as if Mercedes wanted to learn from me and not the other way around.
While I am still a fan of analogue photography, I used a digital camera for “Grow up”. Because of this, every image that I made contains a wealth of information. Digital images contain a huge amount of data that can overwhelm the human eye in its complexity. Reducing the information load lends the images an air of tranquillity.
I like this effect. And the next generation is going to need all the tranquillity it can get. There’s just too much information, too many options. And too many pictures. Not that people look at them properly any more. They have been devalued. This is part of a trend that began with the advent of digitisation.
Just a few years ago the situation was very different: you had to collect information by visiting libraries or actually going to the place that you wanted to know about. Today, the challenge lies in filtering out relevant information from a veritable flood of data. And it’s the same for us photographers. We spend our time sorting through the images in the hope that we won’t lose our minds. I wouldn’t be surprised if our children and grandchildren embraced a new and radical form of minimalism. What remains are the values that we make our own. Family, friends, professional fulfilment. Loyalty. Reliability. And all of these values play a role in “Grow up”.