Chris König is a portrait and outdoor photographer from the Netherlands. He is a gifted visual storyteller with a keen eye and a unique style for capturing people during his travels around the world. While other photographers have difficulty interacting with strangers, Chris has a talent making connections with people by using simple eye contact, a smile, and patience. He makes people or street photography seem like an effortless yet masterful exercise. Chris talks to atlas this week about why portrait photography resonates with him the most and how he was able to capture these brilliant images while in Morocco. (Editor’s Note: We wanted to showcase again one of our favorite features on documentary photography. Chris Konig is one of the masters!)
How did you first get started in photography? How long have you been shooting?
Chris König: Around four years ago, I bought a camera to film some of the sports like climbing and running that my friends and I were doing. After a while I found myself constantly taking pictures of them and forgetting to film the whole thing. From there, my interests expanded into travel, adventurous lifestyle, and definitely the human interest such as in my Morocco photos.
You enjoy taking portraits the most. What is it about portraiture that appeals to you the most?
It is absolutely great to make that connection with someone. In the beginning I tried to capture people with a long telephoto lens so they would not notice I was there. I wanted to capture genuine emotions and day to day life. However, it was absolutely not satisfying to take pictures in this ‘sneaky’ way. So more and more I tried approaching people and asking to take their photo. The more I took photos, the more I found that you can put people at ease in a really short time and let them just do their thing without them paying attention to you. Of course, not everyone is interested in being in my photos. However, when they are it is so satisfying to have that interaction and connection with them, to share a laugh and to give them their own picture afterwards (by mail usually when possible.) I just love to capture emotions and show people how similar everyone is in certain ways all over the world.
Your “Fez: A Moroccan Experience” series is fantastic with vibrant light and skillful composition. How did the Fez project come about? What inspired you to go to Morocco and take these images?
I think it is important to keeping working on personal projects to improve yourself. At the same time, I just love to experience some new adventures. When you are flying in between seasons, tickets can get fairly cheap and I arrived in Morocco basically not knowing anything. Of course, it is useful to know how to get around, where to sleep, what kind of money you need, etc., However, on previous trips (including six months in South East Asia), I found myself in the most amazing situations when I did not plan ahead and just went with the flow. I like to think of these projects as small personal challenges.
While making this series, did you encounter any challenges? If so, what were they?
Although it is great to not have a plan, it can also work against you. The Medina (old centre) of Fez contains more than 8000 small streets and it can be quite tough to find your way around there. Sometimes I thought to myself, “I have to go back to this place during the sunset because it will be perfect with the right light!” But of course I could not find the place afterwards anymore. During those times, GPS can be helpful. On the other hand, the unsuspected situations and getting lost might get you into some perfect moments as well.
What was your experience like photographing strangers in a different country such as Morocco? How did you connect with the people?
When I arrived in Morocco and spoke to some people on the bus en route to the city, more than one person told me that it was difficult to photograph people in Morocco as they generally do not like it and think all pictures are going to be misused. In the end I did not come across people who were reluctant. I think the lesson I learned from it is that the connection you make with someone is even more important than what is ‘normal’ in their culture. Even though there is a huge language barrier (I do not speak French or Arabic and they did not speak English) the moments of eye contact, a little smile, and patience bring you quite far. Usually I just wait around a little bit when I see something interesting happen. By being interested in the actual moment while your camera tucked away inside your bag, people tend to be more open for interaction. I found that walking up to someone with your camera already in your hand makes it so much more difficult to get the picture. Just go for genuine interaction and something good will come out of it. It is more fun anyway to work with ‘real people’ instead of just seeing someone as a subject for your picture. As I mentioned before, handing them their own picture whenever possible is a great gift for most people.
Are you currently working on any new projects that you can tell us about?
Since I just returned from another project in South Africa, there are fewer projects scheduled in the portrait category for the next two months, but I hope to go to a nice Scandinavian country in January or February to capture those beautiful snowy landscapes. It is so relaxing to just hike all those kilometers in order to find the perfect moment.
Are there any photographers whose work have influenced you?
Portrait-wise a huge inspiration is Joey L. He is only 26 years old, but he has already done so many amazing projects. Earlier this year he went to a war zone in Syria to portray the women fighting on the front lines. I think the combination of his beautiful lighting/composition, willingness to take risks, and passion for human emotions is just amazing. It is a true inspiration for me.
If you had one piece of advice for a novice photographer, what would it be?
Do not think too much about what you want to achieve later on. Just go out and shoot a lot and along the way you will find out. I spent so much time watching tutorials and learning about everything, but I think it is much better to just learn while doing.
For more information about Chris, visit his website. All images © Chris König.