German photographer Karsten Thormaehlen has studied philosophy, art history and communication design before working as an art- and creative director in New York, Hamburg and Berlin. His commercial photography is specialized in architecture, portrait journalism, corporate and stillife-/product photography. “I’d like to encourage people in reviewing and evince that beauty can be found in almost everything” he says. In his artistic and sociological work he confronts with old age as in his project “Happy at Hundred”, which features beautiful portraits and quotes from centenarians. For more information check out the interview below and visit his websites www.karstenthormaehlen.com, www.happy-at-hundred.de and www.silver-heroes.com. Also find the respective quotes at the end of this blog entry.
How would you describe yourself in one sentence?
„We know what we are, but know not what we may be” (William Shakespeare)
Whom do you look up to?
There are many people from the creative industry, literature and filmmaking who I like and who inspired me many times. If you’re asking me for my all time favourite photographer’s I’d name Irving Penn, Nick Knight, August Sander, Taryn Simon and lately Ishiuchi Miyako.
Are there any personalities that have contributed to your successful career path?
Looking back I could name only a few people, my professors, my wife, good friends and some photographer collegues who pushed me in the right direction – and held me on track, because they believed in me or what I was doing. There are also many photographer personalities I was happy to meet during my time in New York. All were individualists who had their own way of thinking and working but were achieving always remarkable and surprising results. I think I’ve learned a lot of what or how a photographer should be.
How did your photographic career start?
When I started taking pictures quite late in life, I was eighteen, I loved it. And I enjoyed it even more when I learned how to process film and print b/w-photographs myself. In the beginning it encouraged me a lot that all my friends wanted to pose in front of my camera. And it was quite an experience to become awarded with a first prize for a photo reportage – only two years later.
What was your favourite project and why?
The centenarian’s portrait project! After almost ten years I’m still getting so much positive response and encouragement from all over the world to continue this project. I think it’s a true gift to meet all these amazing old people who share their wisdom and life experience of a complete century.
Quotes and Wisdoms
How do you define creativity?
It’s the ability to create something which reaches other people’s mind and – more important – their soul!
If you had one advice for someone seeking to live a creative life, what would you tell him?
Be curious, passionate, patient. Live your life and believe in your ideas!
Do you have a favourite quote that describes what you truly believe in?
„Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.“ (Albert Einstein)
What was the biggest challenge you’ve faced during your career as a photographer?
Quitting a well payed position as creative director and be a no name photographer for good.
What do you know now that you wish you knew at 21?
Overcome fear and follow your heart.
Is there anything for which you would be ready to give up your passion for photography?
A true passion can only be replaced by another passion, and I’m happy to have a few more which all need no replacement.
All images © Karsten Thormaehlen
Quotes by Centenarians
Erika, 101, Berlin 2011
„Behandle die Menschen stets so wie du auch behandelt sein möchtest.“
„Treat others the way you want to be treated.“
Erna, 103, Berlin 2011
„Ich lebe nun schon einige Jahre hier im Wohnstift, aber zuhause ist eben zuhause.“
„I have been living in this residential home for several years now, but home is just home.”
Erwin, 102, Berlin 2011
„Mit 100 spielte ich gegen meinen Sohn Bernd noch gute Schachpartien.“
„With 100 I still played good chess games against my son.”
Hildegard, 101, Berlin 2011
„Junger Mann, ich bin keine ‚Dame‘. Ich bin eine alleinerziehende Mutter und arbeitende Frau, die sich ihren Lebensunterhalt verdienen muss.“
„Young man, I am not a “lady”. I am a single mother and working woman, who has to earn her living.”
Käthchen, 102, Mannheim 2009
„Ich glaube nicht ans Jenseits. Da ist man tot und dann ist man halt nicht mehr da.”
„I don’t believe in a hereafter. You are dead then and just not there anymore.”
Paula, 100, Wels, Austria 2012
Mit den Nähen von “Guck-Kleidern” für die Damen aus dem leichten Gewerbe habe ich nach dem Krieg die Familie ernähren können.“
By sewing open dresses for women working as prostitutes, I was able to nourish my family.”
Fritz, 100, Berlin
„Im Sommer waren wir mit der Familie in Norwegen zum Angeln. Wir haben richtig dicke Dinger aus dem Wasser gezogen!“
„In summer we were fishing with the family in Norway. We have pulled really big things out of the water.”
Gerhard, 101, Jena 2014
„Den Apfel, den ich morgens zum Malunterricht in die Schule mitnahm, musste ich mir abends mit meinen sieben Geschwistern teilen.“
„I took an apple to school for drawing class in the morning and had to share it with my six sisters in the evening.”
Hilde, 101, Jena 2014
„Da ich gewohnt war, alles alleine zu machen, fällt es mir auch heute nicht schwer, meinen Alltag zu organisieren.“
„As I was used to do everything by myself, I don’t find it difficult to organise my life today.”
Lisabeth, 100, Camburg 2014
„Wir waren sieben Schwestern. Und hatten alle kein Geld. Wir fanden alle Männer – und kamen gut durch die Welt.“ (Reim der Grossmutter von Lisabeth).
„We were seven sisters. And we didn’t have money. We all found men – and lived a good life.” (It’s a rhyme by Lisabeth’s grandmother)