Interview with Photographer Ronnie Böhm

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Pleasure to present my special interview with Ronnie Böhm, a photographer based in Vienna/Austria specialized in dance photography. We had an in-depth talk on his work, photography,dance, favorite spots in Vienna and more. Enjoy!

Can you please tell readers a bit about yourself?

My name is Ronnie Böhm. I am a 32 years old photographer living in Vienna/Austria. 

My focus lies on dance photography, mainly ballet. I have a fantastic girlfriend (who works as a ballet teacher) and we usually work as a team. Right now I am in the progress of becoming a certified photographer which should be done by September. 

I know you are self-taught photographer,how was the learning experience and how have you grown now artistically compared to when you first started.

Well, I went from being a nervous wreck crashing construction lights by tripping over them to feeling at home in a huge professional studio working with a team of several people. When I started, I was more into editing, and less into photography. Photography was simply a way to get pictures. I did a lot of beauty retouching, that kind of stuff. 
I liked it because it was very "digital" work. There is good retouching, and there is bad retouching, with little room for artistic interpretation. Then I started doing more dancers, and my focus shifted towards photography. Nowadays, I try to visit workshops every now and then to reassure myself that even the big names are only cooking with water. 
Also, assisting is pretty important to me, I try to do it as much as I can. Even if sometimes it is just learning how not to do it, I learn something. 

Just recently I began shooting analog and developing film myself. It is the exact opposite of shooting digital. It is a slow, thoughtful process that takes dedication and knowledge. The results from shooting film are so honest and raw. Right now I am really into that. It is also a good way to force myself to become a better photographer instead of a Photoshop rescue artist.

Next to photography, studying is probably my favorite thing to do so that certainly helps. My place looks like a library and I read a lot. Just recently, Daniil Simkin wrote a pretty long article about how reading Dragonball Z inspired him to become a better dancer. For me, playing role-playing games in my teens had a similar impact. When I look at myself now, I see a list of skills and values and then decide what I want to spend my time on to raise certain values. 
I admit, it might sound a little odd. Still,if one of my favorite dancers can admit he is where he is at because of comic books, so can I! 

What do you think is unique about dance photography that sets it apart from other aspects of photography.

What sets dance photography apart for me from other aspects of people photography are the people I get to work with. Most I met are dedicated, hard working athletes and very inspiring to work with. I am a horrible dancer myself, but I can feel myself into it when someone dances. To me, it can be very intimate and emotional to just watch someone dance in front of a white seamless. I find it to be very honest and deep and it tells me a lot about the person. I enjoy such a working environment. If it wasn't for this, I would not be in photography.

In your opinion what is the most important factor in making the perfect picture?

I think it is a mistake to chase the perfect picture, because perfection is an illusion. Chasing perfection leads away from who you are and makes your stuff look like everyone else on the same trip. I just began realizing this recently and it helped me a lot. What I do consider to be the most important part of a picture is soul. A picture should wow me, it should make me look twice. It does not need to be technically perfect if it connects with me. 

This is also why I find it really important that the person I shoot is at peace with him/herself. I prefer to shoot someone who might have technical flaws but enjoys what  he/she does over someone who has perfect technique but lacks charisma. I am doing my best to try earn the trust and make the person feel welcome. If someone wants to check the display after every shot, chances are the pictures will suck because his/her focus is off and he/she isn't enjoying him/herself anyway. 

What do you think is the unique connection between dance and photography.

Now I probably should say something like how I appreciate to freeze motion and time and such Honestly though, I really don't think there is any special connection.  They are just the two things I enjoy the most and they tend to work together well. Going to the opera and watching videos of dancers helps my photography, and photography helps me appreciate technique and charisma more when going to the opera. 

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, what message/ information do your pictures say?

There are simple "wow" pictures with leaps and such, and there are picture with more to them. My goal is to capture the spirit of the person in front of the camera. I want them to see themselves in it, not someone anonymous. I want my pictures to speak to dancers, they should enjoy them.

Right now it seems there are more photographers working for other photographers than there are doing actual photography jobs. I don't think that is bad, it is an obvious solution to a "problem" many photographers see with digital. Everyone has a dslr now so there is a huge pyramid with few famous names on the small top and a very wide base of clueless people. Finding out where you stand in that ranking and then try to appeal to the ones below in order to fill workshops makes perfect sense from a business stance. 

For me, it was an active decision to work for dancers and not for other photographers. I don't really want to hold workshops or feel a need to impress other photographers. I don't participate in photography forums anymore or pay much attention to other photographers. I found it to be very dog eat dog, with the smallest dogs barking the loudest. I don't care for that. If dancers like my pictures and they recommend me, then the pictures speak the right language and I am happy.

What is the creation process like working with the dancers.

I do as many test shoots as I can in order to build a pool of people I enjoy working with. For bigger stuff I write concepts, then check who would fit best out of my pool and we get to work. Personally I prefer to have two or three dancers at a shoot to add variety to a series. My girlfriend is usually with me to assist and to do little corrections that I might miss. We try different things, then tinker on the ones that work best. It is usually very straightforward but requires a lot of fine-tuning details. 

What is the most challenging aspect of your work.

Right now I would say the "not photography" part. There is a lot to study to be allowed to work as a photographer in Austria and it eats up a lot of time and money. To me, finding that time and money is the biggest challenge right now, especially since I am not allowed to accept commercial jobs until I have those certificates. Nice catch 22 there. I am allowed to sell prints though, so that is what I am doing now to help get me through education. You can get them through, check it out!

Getting the right people to work with is challenging as well. Not to give up knocking on doors can be challenging. Once in a bar, asked for "girl advice", a very drunk teacher from university told a colleague of mine to simply hit on every girl there is and one will eventually say yes. Bad girl advice, good job advice. It took a while but I am fairly confident in my skills and my portfolio now so I contact people that make me nervous. Soloists, big names in ballet, the bigger the better. I am getting used to no's, but just one yes and it won't be just a step but a leap.

Aside from photography what else are you passionate about?

Even though I suck terribly at it, surfing! It is like the worst sport to be passionate about when living in Austria. No sea, no waves, just lots of mountains. I am still dreaming of living by the sea some day. For a while I did some mountain bike downhill racing and some MMA but I tend to get hurt in sports so I am more a spectator now. 

Other than that, spending time with my girlfriend, movies (I love Life Aquatic, Royal Tennenbaums, Amelie), music (could not live without) and studying. Old people stuff!

In your opinion how will you define creativity.

Creativity to me is something that comes through creating. Sitting around at home thinking about what to do rarely helps. Actively working on something on the other hand usually triggers ideas for other projects all the time. Alternatively, I don't see a problem with stealing ideas. If someone wants to copy my pictures, go ahead. If you need lighting info, feel free to contact me. Copying is a good way to practice and eventually own ideas will grow out of it. The important part really is to get to work. Stealing actual content, be it pictures, music or videos is an entirely different story. Simply put, don't do it.  

Personally, I find more inspiration in music or in watching someone dance than in pictures. I always wonder how I can amplify what I see or hear in a picture, no matter if I shoot or not.

In your opinion where is the heart of Vienna and where is your favorite spot?

I really like Vienna and picking just one spot is hard. The Naschmarkt ranks pretty high up. It is a market that also has lots of restaurants, bars and is a great place to go eat in summer or to just hang out. 

Alternatively, the Kunsthalle at MQ is great for breakfast. Or the Rathausplatz in summer. Or Summerstage.

If you come to Vienna, come in summer, there is a lot more going on than in winter unless you are into christmas markets. Drop me a line, I will drag you around!

What do you like most about what you do?

Working with interesting people, studying stuff I enjoy and making people happy with pictures. I would not want to do anything else.

Find Ronnie Böhm here :