Tamina-Florentine Zuch is an award-winning documentary photographer based in Hannover, Germany. She is currently studying photojournalism and documentary photography. In 2015, Tamina went to India with her camera and took a six-week train journey. While on the train, little did she know that she would capture some of the most brilliant and moving images. Not yet thirty years old, Tamina has not only won one but two photography awards this year for her images from that train journey: She was named the winner in the Travel category in the Smithsonian’s 13th Annual Photo Contest this year for her “Women’s Compartment of a Suburban Train” and was the winner of the 2016 Zeiss Photography Award for her “Indian Train Journey.” Tamina’s skillful use of style, composition, and light will no doubt bring her more recognition in the years to come. This week, Tamina speaks to atlas about her passion for photography, how the photography awards have impacted her young career, and how the “Three Kids” project resonates with her.
Your photo, “Women’s Compartment of a Suburban Train” was awarded the winner in the Travel category in the Smithsonian’s 13th Annual Photo Contest this year. Congratulations! What was your reaction when you first heard the news?
Tamina-Florentine Zuch: I could not believe it. Since I was a child, I was dreaming about visiting the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C. There is so much to learn there. I heard about the photo contest and participated just to get a connection to the Smithsonian in a way. Thousands of photographers participated so it needed a huge amount of luck to get selected. Amazing.
How has winning the Smithsonian Photo Contest impacted you as a photographer?
Winning awards like this gives a photographer the possibility to continue realizing their work. It is always a struggle. You have good and bad times. When the good time comes, you can be sure sooner or later a bad time will follow. Awards like the Smithsonian confirm what you are doing is good and give you an ego boost. You need something like this every once in a while (I do) to not lose faith in yourself.
Can you tell us more about your “Three Kids” project? The images here are beautiful, powerful, and compelling. How did this project start? How long did you work on this project?
After I graduated from high school, I decided to live in Ghana for a while. I traveled and found a social project I wanted to support in a small village of the Volta Region named Santrokofi-Bume. After I began studying photojournalism, I wanted to return to this place as a photographer. I stayed in this village for three months during the summer term brake. I worked at the school again and after a few weeks I found my attention on three particular children: siblings Cecilia (8), Ewuga (6) and Junior (3). Cecilia was a very quiet but harsh girl, Ewuga was the boy running, shouting and hitting the most and Junior was a round faced boy either crying or smiling. He was smiling most of the time though. All three of them wore torn and dirty clothes with dirty hands and faces. I spent quite a lot of time with them after school. One day they took me to their house. It was one of the last houses near the hill side. It was a huge house. Some centuries ago it must have looked very posh.
Having a closer look one realized that half of the house broke down. Only two small rooms could be used. One room was the bedroom containing a collapsed bed with a thin mattress and torn blankets. All three children sleep there with their father. Junior and Ewuga still peed in their pants at night sometimes. The other room had no window. It was used as a storage room for the little they had: Some clothes, two pair of rubber boots, and one machete. The house had no windows and a broken door and was not connected to electricity or water.
The children live with their father. Their mother left shortly after Junior was born. She lives in the neighbor village trying to become a hair dresser. She hardly ever sees the children. Their father works on different farms around the village. He leaves the house at 6 am every morning and returns home late. He hardly earns any money but every once in a while the farmers allow him to take some cassava or bananas home. It is not much and he struggles to feed his children. He loves them more than anything else. They are everything he has. He came to Santrokofi Bume and found a job on a farm, fell in love, and everything was fine for a few years. Then she left and now he is alone without knowing how to deal with the situation. He does not get any support from the villagers as he is not from here. He knows how difficult it is for the children — especially Cecilia — having no mother and their father working all day. He does not know how to do better.
What message do you hope viewers will take away from the project?
The message is that everywhere, in every country, you can find injustice, poverty and bad luck. It is up to you to stay focused and stay good even though life seems miserable. You always have to try and make the best out of it. And in the end it is you alone who has to deal with it and you alone have the power to change it. Sometimes I get a feeling that people, growing up it a western society have this talent of always finding something to complain about. “My parents got divorced, when I was only a child.“ Is some excuse for a lot of things going wrong in their life. We keep blaming others for our problems instead of starting to work on ourselves. I was impressed by these three kids, especially by Cecilia. How well organized she was, how tough, and not once complaining.
You are currently studying photojournalism and documentary art photography. What inspired you to pursue these two fields?
I started studying communication arts and design first, but soon realized that it was not what I really wanted to do. My photography teacher there told me about the university in Hannover. When I read the description, I immediately thought: this is exactly what I want to do. Photojournalism and documentary photography are for me the key to everything I want to do: travel, meet people, see things happening with my own eyes, and to experience all these different worlds out there. Considering all these facts, this job is for me the best job on earth.
What are your plans after your studies?
I will continue working on my own projects. Not being attached to one place will make me be more flexible, which means I can do anything and anywhere as long as I want.
How did you first become interested in photography?
My interest for photography started when I was a child. Although I was more into filming. I spent days wondering around the house and our farm, commenting and capturing everything. I even took a photograph of me eating a marmalade toast. The focus on photography developed after I graduated from high school. I traveled and worked a lot and slowly understood what I wanted to do: tell stories with pictures.
Are there any photographers whose work you admire? If so, who?
Right from the beginning when I started to look at the work of famous photographers I fell in love with Joacim Eskildsen’s “The Roma Journeys.” He has this perfection of using natural light and composition to transport moods and feelings. He is able to take you to the places and situations he experiences. I also adore the work of Andreas Meichsner. He is brilliant. His work absolutely hits my kind of humor.
What is your next project?
My next project will be my graduation project. I decided to have a closer look on a big topic of migrant workers. My focus will be on the families, the workers left behind, and the situations in their home countries.
Thanks for being our featured photographer of the week, Tamina!
For more information about Tamina-Florentine, visit her website. All images © Tamina-Florentine Zuch.