If you have no composition, you have nothing at all – the interview with Thomas Kakareko

16 January 2014

You most probably already heard about Thomas Kakareko and his photographic works. This incredible talented mobile photographer from Berlin became very famous not only in his home country but also abroad. His instantly recognizable style of documenting life on the street brought him legions of fans in the Instagram photo network (he is being followed by more than 470 thousand people). It is our great pleasure to bring you the interview with Thomas, done by Damian Nowosadzki.

Damian Nowosadzki: You consider yourself a street photographer. But what does it essentially mean for you?
Thomas Kakareko: For me street photography is all about shooting people. You’ve seen my photos and many of them are portraits.The essence of my photos is to catch true emotions, feelings that happen at this particular moment.

Damian: You travel a lot, photographing various, often very exotic cities. However, Berlin is the city where you live and it is Berlin which is often found in your photographic galleries. Is Berlin a photogenic city?
Thomas: It really is. It is  in Berlin where you can find folks from all around the world. It’s very open for foreigners. And it’s stylish. You can never get bored here, there is plenty of places which I always visit ‘coz I know that there’s gonna be something interesting out there, a person or a story to tell. That’s what I value most in Berlin. I can hardly imagine that I could live anywhere else. I’m so attached to this city by now.

Damian: You are a model example that with a talent, hard work and persistence one can achieve a lot, also in the mobile photography. In no time photography became to you more than a hobby, practiced in your free time. You are actually earning a living from mobile photography, you are a ‘full time’ mobile photographer now. How did you achieve that?
Thomas: Had a lot of luck. I signed up for Instagram just a month after it appeared. First two months we spent just exchanging photos with Sylvia. Only after I got into the photography in particular, found a couple of guys, with whose I stay in touch until now. The photographers, that inspired me and showed me what can you achieve with a mobile device and proven that despite that you can make really good photos. That’s how it began. I told myself: if they can do it, so can I. First couple of months I spent on streets shooting 200 – 300 shots a day, usually only two being photos I could show to someone. Took up on composition, how to use the light, what is important where you are shooting people. I also lost my fear on getting close to people, which in the beginning was a great problem for me. I remember the beginnings, when I kept the distance much more than now, however with time and experience I started to get close to people, which now feels very natural and I do it automatically. Since I was a child I wanted to do something creative, and I kept failing since I wasn’t any good at music or art, I was good at other subjects and felt it should be otherwise. I kept looking for my thing and only after Instagram appeared, I really found it.

Damian: A lot of us – mobile photographers – feel unsure and have problem with photographing people on the street. What about you? Are you asking for permission? Have you ever encountered a negative reaction when trying to do a photo? What are your best practices for recording life of the city?
Thomas: I never ask for permission. The main reason being I’m afraid to ask :) But honestly, asking for permission destroys street photography, as we lose something truly unique, something authentic. You can’t fix it with the street portraiture. I don’t have any best practices, I just try to organize my time to visit places, which are interesting for me, looking around very carefully. Still there, I look for interesting patterns, as apart from street photography I like the architecture and the bond between the person and the architecture itself.

Damian: You are great in playing with light and shades, as well as in using the elements of city structure such as stairs, bridges and tunnels. You instinctively know how to focus your photos viewers, how to emphasize emotions on your subject face and how to draw the attention. Is this because of the artistic background, a workshop or is it just the gift you have?
Thomas: It’s my natural gift. Before Instagram I have never done photography, it never got my attention. I had of course a camera, which I used during vacations, but it wasn’t the real photography, which interests me until today. Everything began with Instagram, maybe it’s just a luck, or the God that gifted me good eye for photos.

Damian: While in Berlin, where to start a photowalk?
Thomas: I would start from Kreuzburg, it’s my favourite district, I spent there most of my time and most of my photos are done there. It’s one of those ‘alternative’ districts, with various individuals from abroad, but architecture is great there. From there it’s not too far to Mitte – where old and new architectures mix together. It is also there, where you can find “Museums Island” – built in old classic Greek style.

Damian: Why have you decided to photograph in black and white?
Thomas: It wasn’t really my decision, in the beginning I wasn’t quite sure about this black and white thing. Earlier I was making many colour photos and only after I realized that people portraits look best in black and white. Also, if you shoot if colour, your viewers pay attention to colour mostly, but if you remove the colour, what is left are emotions and your subject face. It is the most important reason why I chose to shoot in black and white only.

Damian: Which apps do you use for photo editing? Do you spend a lot of time doing post-processing?
Thomas: I use mainly Snapseed and VSCO. On editing I spent an average 5 – 10 minutes per photo. Choosing the right composition takes me sometimes more time than the actual post-processing.

Damian: Where do you get your inspiration from? Where do you find ideas for your shots?
Thomas: Inspiration and ideas come mainly from Instagram. I’ve got my favourite street photographers that keep inspiring me. When I wake up, I check the feed and what I missed while I was sleeping.

Damian: Do you know any polish mobile photographers? How do you assess the current popularity of mobile photography in Poland knowing what’s happening in Germany and other countries?
Thomas: I only know very few of them. I was desperate to find anything from Poland who would post at least one good photo per day. After I found your (Damian’s) account, soon after I discovered Michał Koralewski. And I knew Joanna Lemańska as well. When it comes to comparing Poland to the rest of Europe, I think that a lot has changed during the last half a year and Poland is on its way. Let’s give it another year, until polish companies start to realize potential in mobile photography. Let’s wait one more year, until more talented people show up, the rest is a chainsaw reaction.

Damian: What is exceptional about your photography is the style, which makes the viewer’s eye wandering around the scene and eventually fixing on the subject. How do you develop your own style in photography?
Thomas: It depends on the person. I was lucky, it just happened to me, I didn’t need to think what I want to do and which direction to go. I was just walking on the street and photography was just ‘happening’. It is also important to browse photos of others, reading booking and general photography education. From all these experiences though you should extract something that works for you and this is how you develop your style.


Damian: One of the documentary photography founders – Garry Winogrand, when asked why he is making photos, answered: “I photograph to find out what something will look like photographed”. What about you, why do you make photos?
Thomas: I always wanted to create something, it was also to prove myself being a creative guy. That’s what always inspired me to create.

Damian: Is current photography recording the reality or creating it? Is photography about enchanting the real world and showing not what was once the real subject of the photo, but rather what we want to show and the story we want to tell?
Thomas: Ever since Instagram is there, many say that it is exactly what happened and that all these photos look unnatural. But in my opinion it’s not really about apps and filters. I’ve got a period of time when I was spending a lot of time editing, but soon after realized that if  you have no composition, you have nothing at all and editing will not fix it. I would be glad if most folks would go back to the roots and focus on composition and framing your subject, instead of other things.

Thomas Kakareko on Instagram

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