Back in the days, it was usual procedure for a craftsmen of different types to master their skill to a higher level. As a result, they reached the status of taking on one or more apprentices, to expand their influence, equip and pass on their knowledge to the next generation. In Germany we still use these words to describe and differentiate the levels of skill and know-how.
Its now almost 10 years since Jan Schlegel reached out to me and offered me a chance to join the journey of photography and missions. Not knowing what that actually meant, yet convinced that this is it, he became my Jedi Master and I became his Padawan.
Oh boy, what a ride it has been so far. I latched onto Jan like a leech, curiously sucking all the knowledge out of him - yummy. When he went on outreach, I went with him. When he exhibited, I went with him. When he went into the dark room, I went with him. Did I mention being a leech? If I got stuck in my photography, Jan helped me get unstuck. If I didn’t know how to do something, he made sure to teach me. He was my 911 photo phone call and my No.1 speed dial on my “Friends“ app (thats the creepy stalker app on the iPhone that shows you where your friends are right now- see, I ALWAYS knew where The schlegel was muahahah).
Being his assistant on the photo sets, taught me how to place the light. How to position the reflector. How to interact with models, tribal elders and warriors. And how to respect the process of taking someones portrait. Through that experience I first learned by copying what he did. I learned and understood the essentials of photography until I got to the point, where the essentials became muscle memory and the capacity of my mind and actions expanded to the next level. When I realized I was ready to stop copying, and start creating I asked myself these questions:
Who is Uli? What is Uli? And what does Uli want to take pictures of?
Because Uli is a different guy than Jan and Uli has the ability to invite people into a different world, I dared to dream about what that world might look like. So I took what I had learned and applied it to the next chapter of my walk with photography. And by doing this, I discovered new techniques and tricks. Once I realized that because he got me to a certain level, I was now able to learn new things on my own. And through this-
The story that my master started, continues to be written by me, his apprentice.
When you really begin to “be an artist” the path is filled with all kinds of emotions. You rarely see break through and along the way the challenges and obstacles feel always a bit to big, don’t they?! The progress is slow, results are slim, money is little to none and the tools and the equipment are - well, I like to use the term "ghetto“. Yet you make it work and you keep doing your art, because not doing it, seems to be even worse.
As I pushed through I found out more about who I am as a photographer. I love characters. I grew up in a small german village living vicariously through stories and comic books. The nostalgic and make believe superheroes of the world and the real life ones are what fascinate me. I love make believe and I love living in a world you can dream up. And more then anything I love bringing out the true, real personalities and identities of God’s people. So I applied that to my photography.
From the tribes of Africa to the Cosplay scenes of China, I started finding and exposing these characters. In the deep bush of india I found super heros disguised as orphans and villains disguised as punks in the music scenes of Germany. I found my characters, and because I had the knowledge and skills, I now was able to use my photography as a tool to bring these characters to life. I was able to finally execute those images in my head properly through the film. That made all my years of being an apprentice, all the copying, all the hard work, worth it!
Through my work I’m unbelievably shocked by what has happened so far. I’ve been blessed to travel around the world with my medium and large formate cameras which I have been blessed with. I’ve exhibited in 5 countries, supported financially through the proceeds of my work over 4 projects in developing countries to help people get out of extreme poverty, and used art as a tool for missions in ways I never thought would actually work. Because I sharped my iron, God was able to use it for powerful things.
Through learning as an apprentice and getting to a higher level, I was even able to learn another technic called " b/w photographs hand colored with oil paints" on my own. I hand paint my own darkroom developed photos with oil paints. This is a technic I am now diving into and making my own.
Over the last years I have had the opportunity to share my experiences with many fellow photographers and artists in pursuit of becoming great in their skills. Even right now, I am writing this from Lyonn, France where I am currently teaching in a photo school and passing on my knowledge. In the schools that I am involved with, I get the opportunity to work constantly with young people at the start of their journey to find out what they want to achieve in life and photography. And what always seems to become the topic of conversation is that
The lack of quick results and fast progression eventually leads to quitting completely.
We are so used to getting quick results - fast food, immediate online response, 24/7 customer service, world wide communication and popcorn in 3 mins. We are the microwave generation. But unfortunately, I’ve learned the much needed hard way, that there is no short cut to becoming great at your art. No magical formula. No cutting corners. No wishing. Like photography, it’s black and white: you either put in the work and get good, or you don’t. But over the years there is maybe one formula I have learned and that always rings true: "iron sharpens iron" (Prov. 27:17).
I believe we all need a "Master“, a hero, a Gandalf on our side, in every area of life. Someone who is already further down the road, who is willing to take care of us, invest in us, walk along side us, open doors for us, encourage us, keep us accountable, remind us of our dreams, passion and value and ultimately help us become the best version of ourselves, both creatively and in character. Because without that, our pursuit of greatness is in peril. When reality strikes, naivety gets schooled, situations escalate quickly, $*** gets real, and ain’t no body got time for dat.
With all that being said, this why I've decided to start two things to evolve my photography and influence to the next level.
No.1 - PATREON.
I started a Patreon. It’s an online platform that creates community around the subject of photography. It allows me to share my experience and knowledge, in order to invest in a new generation of photographers, or, like I like to think of them, my new apprentices. This is a place where fellow photography enthusiasts can join me on my travels to photo shoots, dark room sessions, photo outreaches, exhibitions, and more. I will share how I process film and explain the craftsmanship of my photography. It will be like going backstage at a rock concert with me. You can learn from me everything that I too have been taught. Patreon also offers me financial backing in order for me to invest more time into the field of photography and missions. When you become a Patreon, you are investing financially into my photography and into my missional work, but you are also investing into your photography and your work because I will be pouring everything I have back into you as well.
Which brings me to the next thing I’m going to be part of….
No.2- HOUSE OF PHOTOGRAPHY.
I am one of the founding members of the "House of Photography“ in Nürnberg, Germany. A home for photographers, who want to live in community and harvest all the benefits of pursuing their dreams with like minded people. Imagine the Hobbit. Frodo alone would not have cut it, he needed the fellowship. The first school, “The School of Photography Masterclass“, will start this September. We already have 8 students accepted and a very exciting schedule and lesson plan. Which you should check out and find more info on my Patreon. If you want to become a Master… Jede Master that is, this is an amazing school for you to be part of... guess what... Jan Schlegel is leading it!
I can’t tell you how excited I am to get these two projects started!
Getting to the place where I can not only reach my own photography goals but also help others do the same is a huge dream of mine. But I can’t do it alone, and I don’t wanna! I need a team. If you are interested in joining my photography team, become a Patreon. And what would be SUPER COOL is if you would help me build this community by getting the word out there.
You know the drill: LIKE IT, LOVE IT, SHARE IT, HUG IT
But if anything, let me leave you with this. Please Keep pursuing your dreams. Keep hustling with your skills. If you need a Master, come be mine. And if you have one already, give your side kicks and cheer leaders a big hug, because they are the ones sharpening your iron.
And you don’t wait to strike till the iron is hot because you make it hot by striking.
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