On February 15, the WhiteWall photo lab in Frechen, Germany received its one-millionth order! The customer who placed it, freelance photographer Peter Frank, won a trip to the lab to witness the production of an image of his choice. We had a chance to talk to him about his tour of the lab, his connection to cultures throughout Africa, and his photographic process. Hi Peter! Let’s start with the basics: how did you get interested in photography, and what excites you the most about it? While I was studying Design at FH Bielefeld, I decided to pursue photography because there were a lot of exciting projects there, and I like having the opportunity to transmit emotions through photography, or to create art and document things.
© Peter Frank/ Sangoma „Gumede“
We followed the production of one of your Sangoma images as an HD Metal Print. How did you decide on this picture, and how happy are you with the result? The picture of Sangoma “Gumede” brings back memories of my encounter with the healer, how he received me in his healing hut Ndumba with all his supplies, herbs and medicines. When I look at that picture, I feel the power and spirituality of that proud Sangoma. I captured – and emphasized – the mood in the dark hut through a special lighting technique. The brilliant HD Metal Print reproduces this light and the perception exactly! Lots of black, lots of color, and a nearly spatial sense.
What were your impressions of the WhiteWall photo lab, and how did you like the tour? I was amazed that this one lab takes on the production for all of the orders worldwide. It is only possible through motivated workers and the machines there. Every step of production went like clockwork. I enjoyed the technical aspects of production and learned quite a bit about it!
Your photo series “Sangomas” and “Superheroes” both originated in South Africa and have been exhibited in Cape Town. What’s your connection to this country and these projects? Throughout my numerous photoadventures in South Africa, I’ve come to know and love the country and its people. It’s a photographer’s dream: great light and tons of subjects for photos. I pursued a free theme, that wouldn’t just play with typical images, but would really show the soul of South Africa. With my pictures, I want to transport some of the mystical atmosphere and power surrounding the Sangomas. The pictures in the “Superheroes” series all came about in the moment, without “casting” the kids in avdvance or making any kind of arrangements. It’s meant to show the power and spontaneity of even the littlest superheroes.
On the subject of “Superheroes” – what inspired it, and what’s with all the masks? The idea came to me in a toy store, where I was buying some set decoration for a shoot. A little boy was fascinated by a Star Wars mask. And I thought about the original meaning of masks in Africa – compared to masks from contemporary kids’ shows like Spider-man, Power Rangers, and Star Wars. While shooting the pictures, the kids recognized their characters immediately, selected a mask and started role playing. Depending on their age and disposition, they would do power poses for the camera, take up fighting stances, leap around or simply stand there, leaning on their siblings and playmates looking at me. All the “Superheroes” pictures were taken spontaneously without any coaching or preparation. They show power, imagination, and a healthy dose of exuberance, if I do say so myself.
Your Sangoma pictures are especially rich in color and incredibly lit. How did you take these photos and what kind of equipment did you use? Selecting the equipment was a very important decision for me! I needed a light source that was as small and lightweight as possible, since I also had to trek through the bush with it, but it still had to be capable of selectively lighting darker rooms. After a few trials at home, I settled on a powerful LED flashlight. I made the right decision. The pictures don’t look too “flashy” or artificial, but you still wonder what technique was used to create them. Using a Hasselblad camera on a tri-pod and a remote shutter release and the flashlight, I went through the huts illuminating everything I wanted in the picture!
Who or what inspires you, or where do you get ideas for your work? Ideas come when you’re very “close” to a person. As a photographer, I mostly have commercial assignments and always have contact to the locals. The ideas come about in conversation. “What is a Sangoma, anyway? We could go visit one…” South Africa could inspire any photographer!
In your opinion, what’s necessary for success as a photographer? In addition to passion, you should also be on the lookout for something new, and also be able to offer customers a lot of experience and technique. Self-promotion on the internet is becoming more and more important and takes up a lot of time and requires a lot of work for your portfolio and business development.
© Leon Oosthuizen/ Youngblood Gallery, Kapstadt
Any plans for future projects? The Sangoma project has developed more than I originally thought. There have already been two exhibitions in museums in Switzerland and Austria. To delve even deeper into the theme, I plan to do another photo trip through South Africa. Up to now, I’ve met and photographed 24 healers. For a photo book, I’d now like to systematically visit the 11 largest ethnic groups in South Africa and document at least 100 healers. This would create an artistic representation of the tradition of the healer in South Africa, as told and carried forward by these impressive people still living the traditions.
© Sebastian Drolshagen, www.eure.photos, WhiteWall.com
Peter Frank is a freenlance photographer from Düsseldorf, Germany. His discovered his talent for imagery and composition while studying painting at the FH in Cologne. He honed these skills studying photography at the University of Bielefeld. He has run his own photo studio in Düsseldorf since 1988.