There is a fine line between reality and fantasy. Here Victor Hamke shows us how he achieves his surreal and conceptual work and how he turns his creative vision into something intriguingly beautiful. This post is a long one, but worth it so stick with us.
Tell us a bit about yourself:
Hi guys, my name is Victor and I was born in 1987 in Western Germany. Nowadays I'm located in the Eastern part – a city called Leipzig. My day job just recently became wedding photography despite the fact that the artworks you are going to see here are far apart from what one would expect from a wedding photographer. I like the diversity, I like calm, romantic, surreal, dark, moody pictures. That interest in deep feeling is the foundation of my whole body of work. It is of great importance to me that pictures aren't hollow but sensitive – they shall speak to your heart.
What inspires you:
I get heavily inspired by moods which tend to come from different directions. I love to listen to music while editing and maybe sometimes it has an impact on the outcome – I'm not entirely sure with that though :-). I love to listen to Opeth, Ryuichi Sakamoto or Olafur Arnalds. Well, of course anyone who works with visuals is in some way or another influenced by the visuals that we consume day by day. As this readership will be interested in photographers that they maybe not know of, I would say that Stephan Vanfleteren, Samm Blake and Hengki Koentjoro are some of my favorites. I always like to look at their pictures – each one for different reasons. I have a strong interest in immersive media, Cyberpunk (Neuromancer <3), Romanticism and lots of other stuff.
Do you have a vision in mind before going out and shooting or does the vision come to you in post production? Tell us about how your workflow works and how the vision comes to life in your work:
Depends. Sometimes I have that really concrete image in my head which I strive for in the making. Many times I will find myself deriving from that imagination while doing the processing. As the concept arts are not commissioned works but personal I have no real frame on what I'm supposed to do, what's allowed, etc. So I go with the flow... something like that. I always try to catch the viewer. Sometimes by an interesting subject, sometimes by narrative gaps or spectacular effect. But as I'm very quickly bored by most images I see I try to do something a little bit different – in the end I try to entertain and touch both me and everybody that follows me.
Photojournalistic wedding photography doesn't really require planning as things just happen. I LOVE that genre. Some time ago I felt far away from doing weddings but I've found my passion for the subject – not really speaking of religious feelings but it is a pleasure to capture intense, loving moments between two persons. Really something I don't want to miss in the future.
- You can see more of Victor Hamke's wedding photography in our daily updates and maybe a future feature!
I spotted this tree stub in the woods and immediately thought that it would make for a great rock or mountain – I didn't have the final picture in mind but just try to keep my eyes open for usable objects for my composings. You have to think out of the box, especially when creating surreal or conceptional work. I travelled long before I got every part of that picture. The pieces were photographed in several citis of Germany and in Lisbon, Portugal.
I imagined that the picture would lead to an 'epic' setting – a mountain breaking the clouds. I soon came to the conclusion that I'd like to lead the concept into a fairytale-theme. Something like that. A little darker than what you would expect from a fairytale, but with that implicit romantic feeling. If you are melting together things that seem unlikely to fit, you have to try to be a good oberserver. Think what makes the manipulation obvious and work against it. Scale, angle of light, character of light, shadows, details, perspective distortion. All those attributes should fit together in the end.
I wanted to not just create some random place but a world of its own and drag the viewer in. In the process I wasn't too sure if the mountain would be a place of isolation or just a peaceful place and after finishing the work and by now I'm still undecided. I added two buildings which I photographed in Lisbon - beautiful. I try to make my pieces connect with each other. That may happen in various ways – cast a shadow on each other, blend their textures into each other, etc. If done correctly that produces a more coherent composing. The devil is in the detail, so I try to never be lazy when doing subtle, slight, unobstrusive tweaks. They all add up in the end to make a picture homogenic and enjoyable. A little lighter here, a little darker there. Soften one edge, sharpen another. Look for matching image characteristics. The 'bridge' consists of steps on a little basin. I doubled them to extend their reach. You could also create such things digitally and occasionally I do, but I try to avoid that if possible – everything you do in camera adds to the realism of the final picture. Also I added clouds. Lots of them. I wanted to set everything into a foggy, windy atmosphere. A dry tree with a few crows should extend the impression of that rough, natural landscape.
I often times like a very pronounced vignette which I also applied for this one. A vignette is something that really separates the perception of the image from what people see with their own eyes in real life. So it differenciates itself from the real world. The second reason is more obvious: you create a spotlight on the center. As the bridge reaches from the viewer's position to the isle in the far, everything works together to create motion in the direction of the mountain. As a nice side effect the clouds didn't look so turbulent anymore. Colours were muted and I made them a little colder. If an image works in color – great! For artworks I always prefer black and white though, if both versions are on par from an aesthetic point of view.
What was missing? My story needed a protagonist. My other body of work focusses more on classic people photography so maybe that's the reason that (I think) each of my pictures has one or more protagonists. That way you have someone in that foreign world that you can relate to and the immersive character of the artwork grows. I also added the two pillars, to ground the bridge and to make the physics you see more tangible. I enlarged her dress to give it a more dynamic look – sometimes I even overdo that stuff ;)
Et voilá. That's where the journey ends... or begins. I did a heavy bw-conversion. I use all different tools that Photoshop offers me to do those. The bleached blacks we know from some our beloved VSCO sets do a very good job, but sometimes I also like to use crushed blacks. For this one I settled right in the middle. If I use VSCO presets to convert parts or whole images into bw it is almost always the beautiful T-Max 3200.
I only work with Fujifilm gear, so I work with a few X-T1 bodies and the Fujinon 23mm 1.4, 35mm 1.4, 56mm 1.2 and 90mm 2.0. For everything except a few wedding situations I completely rely on natural light, which I love and adore. Everything else is optional. Tripod... sometimes. Reflector... maybe. But all you really need is a good body and the right focal lengths to do what you want to. :)
More before and afters: