THE GERMAN PHOTOGRAPHER CAPTURES HIS GLOBAL TRAVELS
The photographer from Freiamt in the Black Forest, Sebastian Wehrle, started his professional life as a Kachelofenbaumeister (a skilled stove fitting master). As a boy, he caught the bug for taking images when his aunt gave him a great present – a film camera. However, it was travelling that made Wehrle chase a dream capturing the world’s most wonderful places and its inhabitants as a profession. He travelled by bicycle from Los Angeles to Peru, he discovered food and architectural wonders of Southeast Asia, and he was shocked by the rhythm and sound of India. Today he’s one of the world’s most famous photographers from the Black Forest. He’s well-known for captivating images of national costume, where these impressive works of art literally bring tradition and modernity together. One of his personal and professional goals as a photographer is to capture the planet’s beauty and inspire people to take better care of “home”, better known as the Earth and our world.
Q. Being a world-famous photographer now, do you remember your first camera and your first photo?
A. It all started when I was 9 years old. My first camera was a gift from my aunt. It was back in the days of analogue photography, so I learnt how to use film. The very first photo that I took with that camera was a self-portrait, which is very unusual for me – I almost never take selfies now. Films were expensive but things changed with digital. I started with a camera on my mobile phone, progressing to my very first Nikon. Taking photos became something very natural to me; I love having a camera in hand and being able to capture life’s special moments. Our world is full of beauty, you just need to keep your eyes open.
Q. Do you remember your first few trips as a photographer?
A. Yes, I went to New York and Sri Lanka. I was blown away by both locations. Sri Lanka had amazing beaches and temples. I remember them like it all happened just yesterday.
Q. Would you say you have a certain style as a photographer?
A. Yes, I like my images to be very clean, full of air and space, with only a few elements. I prefer landscapes to be moody and calm, maybe with a bit of fog. However, when it comes to cities, it’s all about rich colours and geometry.
Q. It’s a bit of a cliché question, but what inspires you on a daily basis to keep taking photos?
A. People, shapes and colours are my biggest inspirations. Snapping portraits of people on the streets is something I like to do a lot. Sometimes I ask for their permission, but often I do it guerrilla-style.
Q. You’ve been all over there world; are there any places left on your bucket list?
A. I’m looking forward to my next trips to Singapore and Bali, where I hope to shoot a lot. After that I’ll head to Galapagos island; I want to capture its rich natural environment and share images with people. I hope my work inspires others to preserve our planet and keep it clean. Bangkok is no longer on my bucket list, but it is the best city in the world for me. I love its motorbike taxis, its sky trains and how modern and traditional it is, at the same time.
Q. You are from the Black Forest – an area in southern Germany that borders with French Alsace. You did a photo project called “Facing Tradition” that featured portraits of locals dressed in incredible national costumes. What prompted you to do it?
A. These clothes – so unusual and colourful, show us our roots. In this modern fast-paced world, we often don’t know where we come from, especially when we live in cities. These costumes were original garments – some worn today, some taken out of storage, especially for our photoshoot. I wanted to highlight Bollenhut – a traditional hat worn since 1750 by Protestant women as part of their folk costume. They were normally worn on Sundays when people went to church, or for weddings and other special occasions. All these clothes look bold, colourful and complex. In the past you often needed the help of two or three people to get dressed – no surprise we moved towards more practical cuts.
Q. What does it mean for you to be from the Black Forest?
A. We live in a very privileged place, where we have everything – beautiful seasons, great nature, incredible food. I think Schwartzwald, that’s what we call the Black Forest in German, is very unique due to its geography and flora. Schwarzwald for me is greenery – old trees, vast forests; I love autumns here, so full of colour.
Q. This area is abundant with Michelin starred restaurants. Do you take advantage of it? Are you a foodie?
A. I love food! Luckily, you don’t need to go to a Michelin-starred restaurant to find good food in Schwartzwald. It can be anything from sushi to Indian curries via German sausages and bacon. I love Schwarzwald breakfasts with artisan bread and sausages. Traditionally, local people are farmers, so we love heavy breakfasts.
Q. What tips would you give tourists who want to visit the Black Forest?
A. Go hiking and animal watching – we have many natural reserves and eco-parks around the region. Don’t forget to take photos! If you like city-life, stay in a nice grand hotel, like Brenners Hotel-Park Spa, visit the casino, enjoy restaurants and bars. Otherwise book a place up in the mountains, where the air is so crisp, then visit local vineyards. Originally Baden-Baden became famous as a spa town, so I’d recommend paying a visit to thermal springs.
Q. Do you have any tips for other keen travellers?
A. Keep your eyes and ears open, try not to look lost, wherever you go. Always look confident and as if you know everything, because if you look strong, nothing bad can happen to you.
Q. What do you consider is a good holiday for you?
A. I love the whole world from hidden villages to big cities that make your heart beat faster. I always mix my journeys, going from cities to beaches or mountains.
Q. Is there a place in the world that captured your heart?
A. My favourite place in the world is Myanmar. Life moves slowly there and that gives photographers endless opportunities to capture stunning scenes. I love local food, which is fragrant and exotic, and local people, who are friendly and calm. With its moody landscapes and warm colour palette, Myanmar is a photographer’s dream.
Q. If anyone wanted to travel to Myanmar, for the first time, what tips can you give?
A. Visit Bagan – an ancient city famous for its temples; if you go there once, you are going to keep it in your heart forever. Enjoy local food – I always buy from small street vendors because their food is the best. If you have a lot of time, start at Yangon, explore the Golden Land, go to Inle Lake for maybe two or three days; it’s good to travel north, too. I spent some time in Mandalay, famous for local craftsmen. Myanmar is such a rich country that I’m drawn to it over and over again. I have to go again and again. I was very inspired by it.
Q. What are your biggest career achievements?
A. The biggest and the best thing I’ve done is quitting my day job as a stove fitter. I had the guts to follow my heart, to do photography and to create exhibitions. It wasn’t easy, but through perseverance and hard work, great things followed. Now I am enjoying doing what I truly love.
Q. What can’t you travel without these days?
A. I rarely leave my house without a camera. Other than that, I only need a pair of trousers, socks and shoes, and I’m good to go. What’s truly important is being open-minded when you travel, only then the world can open itself up to you.