When I first meet Raimar von Wienskowski in his elegant Eppendorf apartment, I’m instinctively drawn to a large, colourful photo on the wall. Playful faces stare directly into the camera, it’s as if I’m involved in a game of tag. I hear it was taken on a voluntary trip to Namibia for Steps for Children. It seems that Raimar has led a bit of a double life over the years: simultaneous to his successful career as an independent business development consultant, Raimar pursued his passion for photography.
As I learn later when visiting Raimar’s photography studio on top of an industrial complex in Wandsbek, a “real Raimar photo” is taken against a black background and edited only very slightly to enhance natural features and expressions (see below!) But experiments are always close by, as we can discover in Raimar’s blog.
Raimar, first things first. Who are you and how did you get here?
I was born in Hamburg, lived in different German cities and spent my last years of school at a conservative boarding school in Sydney. As a teenager I had this crazy idea of one day becoming a politician. I had this sincere feeling of responsibility, an urge to help develop society. So when I finished school in Sydney, I went straight back to Germany to follow my plan — study law, then go into politics.
… Today you’re neither a lawyer nor a politician! What happened?
Well, I did do those things. I got politically involved straight away in Göttingen where I started my law studies, but I was shocked to see it was all so narrow-minded. So I thought, let’s try my hometown Hamburg — you know, port city, open to the world and all that — but I found it was just as provincial and narrow-minded. Party politics aren’t right for me anyway, I don’t have the mental setup for it.
And when does your camera ‘come into the picture?’
At the age of 18 I bought myself a little camera and started to click away. I taught myself about photography during my days in Göttingen by means of a Kodak book series, and I got quite hooked. You know, I recently found some old photos and I would still consider them to be good photos. I took those with my tiny, simple camera and flashlight, and I have no difficulties showing them.
What did you do when your plans to become a politician weren’t an option anymore?
Straight after university I went for a trainee programm with a merchant house in Hamburg, only to find out that this wasn’t the right environment for me neither, but once again I finished it of. Advertising was the next testing ground. By coincidence I ended up in a direct marketing agency doing mailings and address-targeting for a big client. Actually it’s a forerunner of what today is online marketing.
Why didn’t you drop it all and become a full-time photographer?
At that time I wasn’t ready for that. I couldn’t identify how much photography really means to me. You know, back then the world was very different from today, still very structured. This was the ‘80s and ‘90s and side-stepping from the normal path just wasn’t really done. But a few years later, in 1994, I had the chance to get involved with a very interesting, different topic. That was the start of me becoming an independent business development consultant.
Let’s hear it.
The agency I worked for had also been involved in social marketing when I learned about an Israeli organisation called Amcha. They offered psychological support to Holocaust survivors and the next generations in Israel, and they were looking to enlarge their charity base in Germany. It seemed like such an amazing political topic, I imagined traveling my own country in light of that topic would be a very special life experience. It was a perfect crossroads between direct marketing and politics, so I managed to convince Amcha to take me on as an independent consultant in fundraising.
Was this a way to act on your inner feeling of taking up responsibility?
That’s a nice way of phrasing it. There’s definitely an urge to do something more profound. That’s actually the greatest problem I have with what I’ve been doing since 1999 — introducing foreign online marketing companies to the German speaking market. In the light of the stars there’s hardly anything more vain than marketing.
Yeah, what about that?
I’m actually not especially interested in the technology behind the internet, but nevertheless I’ve been working as a business development consultant in the digital space for so many years. My greatest gift by nature — and it’s nothing you can train — is empathy. That’s really the core essence of my business development work, which is all about matching people and companies. I can quickly relate to people on a more personal level. Conversations tend to be a bit more profound than just the weather.
Didn’t you work at Google as well?
Yes, in 2005, I applied for a senior position with Google and after an 8 months long recruitment process I got the job. I didn’t stay for very long, as I just don’t fit within an organisation like that — in the end, they’re all about numbers, not about people. I preferred to continue my consulting business instead.
What about your photography during those days?
Over the years, I did neglect photography more and more, but it all came back around 2004 when proper digital reflex cameras suddenly became affordable. Ever since then, I’ve been taking photos where I can, always with people in my focus.
If it’s not technology that makes your photos good, what is it?
I have no real interest in the technology. I can’t explain to you in detail how a camera works, but I know how to use it in order to take a good portrait. It’s about the people, it’s about interacting with the person on the other side of the camera. This intense moment when you’re with that other person focusing on mirroring their expression. Ideally in a secluded room where there’s nobody else, no distractions. That’s why I love being in my studio taking portraits in front of a black background, reducing it to the max.
What is it that you love so much about photography?
I’m quite a voyeur and I love to observe. I can spend hours just sitting anywhere watching people, it never gets dull. When I have my camera in my hand, I crawl inside the person that is facing me, engaging in an emotional dialogue. It’s very intense kind of engagement, but I never get tired. It’s exhausting, but positively exhausting.
You now have a proper studio, how does that feel?
I do! I’ve had my studio in a former chocolate factory in Wandsbek for seven years now. It’s a wonderful room with two huge windows and a four meter high ceiling. I started to invest in proper studio gear, and spent an incredible amount of time on teaching myself how to set light. Business portraits pretty soon became a relevant source of income which convinced the fiscal authorities to accept my photo-related expenses. All of this running parallel to my business development consulting.
What about the future: is it time to become a full-time photographer?
I wish! No, I’ll stay active in business development some years to come. In photography, prices are going down, down, down while competition is high and as my younger daughter and I are living together on our own, I don’t have the full organisational freedom that is vital to a full-time photographer. My most important job has always been being a father to my daughters Tess and Joy, that includes ensuring a good income as best as I can. There’s a wonderful Jewish proverb: if you save one life, you save the world. For someone who once wanted to serve society, I’ve now reduced it to focusing on my two daughters. By making sure they develop into strong, wonderful human beings, they will then also be able to do their part for a better world.
Beautiful. I hope you get to photograph many more people! Thanks for your time, Raimar.