It's easy to be an admirer in today's world -- you simply hit the follow button, maybe leave a comment or an emoji and you're part of the thousands before you. To be inspired by someone's work and be moved by their words is an entirely different story. That's what we felt after hearing what photographer, ardent traveler, and all-around passionate human being Nicola Odemann had to say. We've found a renewed understanding of her work and the world all around in this short but meaningful talk with her. We hope you do, too because sometimes there's a lot more to photos than likes and pats on the back.
Hello, Nicola! Welcome to the Lomography Magazine! We’re so glad to have you. Please, introduce yourself.
I grew up in a small town in southern Germany at the foot of the Alps. Growing up in such close proximity to the mountains, being outside has always been a big part of my life and runs like a common thread through my work. I just graduated from university and now work as a special needs school teacher for half a year before I’ll set out to Nepal and central Asia to hike and travel for a few months.
How did you start your journey with photography?
Since I’ve always spent a great deal of my time hiking around my hometown or traveling to some foreign places, I more and more felt the need to capture all my memories and the moments I encountered on film.
How would you define photography?
It is like a time machine that freezes certain moments in someone’s life and makes them infinite through the photograph’s ability to evoke certain emotions and its subsequent power to relive certain moments again and again.
What’s your favorite thing about it?
Its ability to capture feelings and the possibility to relive them even years after taking the photo.
In your opinion, what makes a good photograph?
For me, it is all about the feeling. I have to feel something when I look at the photo regardless of what it is it portrays. It might display the most incredible landscape or the most adventurous scene, but if it conveys no emotion and feels more like a shell I will probably forget about it pretty soon. In my opinion, a good photograph captures a certain emotion of the photographer by evoking a similar or maybe even different emotion in the spectator.
What’s your favorite subject?
People in nature.
What are the things that influence or inspire your style/images?
The earth itself, my mood at the moment I release the shutter, and music and books and the references to them that I find in nature.
Which artist (photographer or not) had the most significant effect on your style/work as a photographer?
Definitely Jocelyn Catterson and Jeff Luker. I’ve been following each of them for years and the way they photograph people in nature led me away from the typical landscape photos and introduced me to the importance of feelings in photos rather than just concentrating on the subject.
If you could have a dream collaboration with an artist/photographer/painter etc, who would it be?
A dream collaboration would probably include me shooting an album cover and inlay for Sigur Rós in Iceland, but as you said, that is a dream…
How do you stay creative?
As long as there are mountains to hike and lakes to swim in and places to travel to, staying creative is simple. For me, being creative goes hand in hand with making memories and as I never grow tired of going outside, the possibility of losing one’s creativity never occurs to me.
How do you come up with concepts for your photographs?
I don’t really have any concepts in mind when I take photos. It just happens and my photos are representations of what I see in certain moments. Of course, sometimes I look up photos of places before I actually go there, but it is impossible to plan what kind of photos I will take once I’m there as the clouds or the light might make the place look completely different than what I saw on the internet. That’s the beautiful thing about it, I think. My photos depend on the clouds and the sun and my feelings and the feelings and mood of the people I photograph and so the photo that I hold in my hands afterward is always a bit of a surprise.
We're in awe at the sight of your travel photos. What is it about landscape and travel photography that appealed to you?
I’m just so in awe of the beauty of this planet and all the beautiful mountains and oceans and lakes it consists of. What a crazy thing to live in such a diverse world while we are surrounded by the enormity of the universe. I feel like there is so much to see and so much to explore and I want to see it all and feel it all and capturing all of my encounters of film prolongs the endurance of the memories and makes them available to others as well. And being able to share the beauty of such places or, in return, sharing in on the adventures of others brings you closer to the world and, in the best case, installs some kind of a gratitude, love, and tolerance towards this earth and its people.
What would you like to get across with your work?
The simplicity of happiness that spending time in nature entails. I want people who look at my photos to feel inspired to go outside and off the beaten track to explore this beautiful planet of ours but to also evoke a feeling of gratitude towards nature and all that it provides.
What was your favorite trip to date? Any existing plans for future adventures?
My favorite trip was when I went to Nepal back in 2013 to do the Annapurna circuit. Physically, it was the most challenging trip that I have ever done but also the most rewarding. Back when we were there, there were no roads leading to the remote villages close to Manang. And although I know that the road makes life a lot of easier for the people living there (when we were there we met a Nepalese couple and their son with a dislocated hip that had to walk for three days to get to a doctor), there was something magical in hiking through the Himalayas and being out of civilization for weeks. I found a part of me in Nepal that I didn’t even know I had and left it there when it was time to go home. I plan to go to Nepal again in March for a few months to reconnect with that part and to explore this beautiful, beautiful country some more.
How would you describe the feeling of hitting that shutter after hours of trekking/traveling?
Sometimes it is happiness because of the sheer beauty of the landscapes I encounter. At other times, it is simple defiance when faced with harsh conditions that make the trekking very difficult. Then again, it is pure gratitude for the fact that I’m able to get to all of these places that I take photos in. So it is a mix of happiness, defiance, and gratitude that inspires me to take photos wherever I go.
What are your travel essentials? Any favorite camera setups/film combos in particular?
I always shoot with a Nikon 65 which I always take with me just as a bunch of Fuji Superia 400 and Kodak 200 films.
What would you say is your dream destination? Or dream subject?
Definitely Antarctica. I would do anything to go there one day!
How do you unwind when you're not traveling?
I’m very lucky to live in the mountains so to unwind I simply have to hike one of the mountains or swim in one of the lakes in the area of where I live.
What other areas of photography are you looking to explore?
I’ve met a lot of photojournalists this year and would really love to explore this area some more. I doubt that I’d be persistent enough to become one professionally but I would really like to at least try and shoot some projects on my travels next year.
For you, what is the most challenging thing about being a young photographer in this day and age?
I think the biggest challenge nowadays is the enormous mass of photos that we are presented with every day. I think we live in a very visual world in which people express themselves rather through photos than with words and sometimes I fear that people might take photos for granted. With apps like Instagram, I sometimes fear that people rarely take time to really look at a photo and allow it to sink instead of simply absorbing it and seeing the next without being really able to get lost in it. I’m not saying that I’m different, I think it’s just a consequence of the mass of photos that we are presented with every day. On one hand, such apps give you a platform to showcase your work but on the other, it can reduce your work to your subject and followers rather than whatever it is you’re trying to convey.
What would be your advice to budding creatives and aspiring photographers?
Try to find a style that makes you happy and not your followers because if you want your photos to mean something, they have to mean something to you.
How would you describe your style in five words?
Longing, nostalgia, happiness, nature, memories.
If you could replace photography with one thing, what would it be?
How does a perfect day look like for Nicola Odemann?
Anything that includes watching both the sunrise and the sunset from a high mountain, hiking for hours with family and friends, maybe also swimming in a mountain lake that we would pass by, and sitting together beneath a starry sky at night.
What song, movie, and book inspired you the most in your work?
Song: Eddie Vedder – Guaranteed
Movie: The Lord of the Rings
Book: Henry David Thoreau – Walden
Any photographer/artist that you follow religiously?
What would you be if you weren’t a photographer?
I cannot think of anything else that I would be if I weren’t a photographer because I believe that you can be multiple things at the same time. Being a photographer is a part of who I am but it is not all of me. I’m also a teacher, a seeker, a sister, a dreamer, a traveler, a writer, a hiker, a friend, and on and on. I don’t like the thought of doing or being one thing that defines who you are. Instead, I believe in one person consisting of many parts and the challenge is to keep a balance among all of these parts. If I stopped taking photos, I would still be me but I would be less.