Interview with Robert Thuringa

by diarmuidmcdonald

Robert Dyhringer is a young photographer currently based in Stuttgart, Germany. A full time mechanical engineering student, Robert pursues photography in his spare time, documenting his progress and displaying his work on his Blog. I was immediately struck by the bold and surreal vision of the streets portrayed through Robert’s portfolio, experimenting with flash and long exposures the Gilden influence is immediately apparent. When I realised that Rob was a fellow M6 and SF20 (flash) user, I knew that I had to not only interview him, but get back out on the streets myself to keep up! I caught up with Rob to talk about his influences, his experience utilising flash on the street, and how a mysterious Bentley led to a complete change in his photographic vision. 

All photos are property of Robert Thuringa

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How did your interest in photography develop? 

Hey Diarmuid, thank you for having me here on the blog! I came into photography about 3 years ago. I got some money for Christmas and just bought myself a DSLR. Before then I was not interested in photography, but since that point my interest has grown day by day. A year later (2 years ago from now) I started shooting the streets. First I did it just in digital black and white. The pictures…well they didn’t really interest me. They just looked the same as all other street photography. A year ago I discovered Bruce Gilden, I saw his pictures by accident and just felt in love with them. That was the moment I started shooting on film and with flash.

Tell me about your journey in film, I understand that you have recently moved to colour. What prompted this change? 

The moment I moved from digital to film was a big step. Not only as it is a totally different technique, it also gave me a lot freedom. As you know street photography is hard: only 5-10% of all images are useable or can be called ‘good’. This always frustrated me while shooting digitally, because you notice the bad pictures on the display while shooting. Now, with film I do not notice it that much, due to the fact that I can‘t see what I got while shooting. It is simply more fun to shoot unaware. I recently moved from B/W film to colour. I shot B/W (mostly Ilford FP4 and Fomapan 200) for over a year and it has been great fun. I love to play with the effect you can achieve with these two colors. It can be totally mundane as well as totally strange looking.

Then one day there was this baby blue painted Bentley sitting at one side of the street. It just looked that crazy and nice. The only problem: There was a B/W Film in my camera. The solution: I went to the next camera store and bought myself a roll of AGFA Vista 200 and loaded it in my camera. I went back to the place where the car has been, but it left already! Since that day I have shot color (mostly AGFA Vista 200) and now walk the streets totally differently. Now there are not only strange or interesting looking people there are strange and interesting colors everywhere. It’s great!

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How has your photographic approach changed since your switch from Black and White to Colour?

My approach changed has dramatically. Initially it was all about people. I walked the streets looking for people who looked strange or interesting. By shooting B/W I was able to exaggerate this by shooting with a long exposure and w/flash. Now with colour it is more about, you might guess it, colour. Actually I did not notice all these colours that much until the Blue Bentley stepped into my life. Now I see colors everywhere. At the moment I can‘t imagine changing to B/W in near future.

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Your Black and White work has a very Gilden aesthetic, you mentioned that he is a big influence on your work? 

Oh yes! He was extremely inspiring. He was the one that made me try using flash in the streets. First I did it just like him and used the flash off camera. The ‘Smoke’ picture from my B/W gallery was one of my first pictures shot with off camera flash. Off-camera flash quickly became a problem. People in Germany are very aware of their privacy, and of course it would be obvious that I had photographed them when I pointed the flash on their faces. This made me use the flash on-camera. People would be less likely to ask me whether I took a photo of them or tell me to delete the photo. This way I am able to shoot here in Germany without any problems.

Who else has influenced you?

After using the flash for a while I looked through the internet to find more flash-street-photographers’  and found (of course) Eric Kim, who is an awesome guy. I hope to meet him someday here in Germany. His blog is very inspiring and brought me further in street photography.

These two guys (Bruce and Eric) are definitely my biggest influence.

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What is your favourite photography book?

One?! Well that is a problem. I have a lot of favourites. But if I am just allowed to tell you one it would be Mark Cohen‘s Grim Street. It is not that popular as he is not that famous, but it’s still a great work. He is also a ‘flash-street-photographer’, maybe one of the first. What is so special about his work for me is the closeness to his subject. Often he is just about 30cm away from his counterpart. There is a nice video on YouTube where he gets filmed while photographing, a must to check out! 

Clearly you are not afraid of using flash in the streets, what do you make of the online backlash against this style? Ridiculous youtube comments aside, what do you make of the claims that this approach is gong to be the ruin of street photography by creating hostility to photographers? 

I know flashlight in the streets is a big discussion point for other photographers, I always have to argue when I tell people how I achieved my pictures. I can understand people who think this is awful. The first thing I tell people is that the way they think people react when they got flashed is totally different to the reality. My experience is that when I photograph a stranger on the streets with flash and without permission, often they don‘t realise that they have been photographed. Most people just turn around thinking I have photographed something behind them. I would say 5% of the people whom I’ve ‘shot’ ask me about the picture. I explain them who I am and what it is for. For the rest of them it seems to doesn‘t matter.

What I have noticed when this discussion comes up is that the people who argue against flashlight in the streets themselves often shoot with a long tele lens. For me these people just don‘t have the nuts to get close to people and shoot with 35mm lenses.

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The new colour work shows a lot of promise, you seem to have an eye for flashes of colour in an otherwise grey and mundane urban environment, is the way forward for the foreseeable future? Do you have plans for any colour based projects or do you plan on returning to black and white?

I will definitely stick to color film for some time. I am really looking foreword to the summertime when everything is colourful and happy. The greyness is really something I noticed this winter, 90% of all people are wearing black clothes at the moment, it’s awful…. I think this will change with spring and I am excited what I will be able to do then with my camera.

Sometimes I think about changing to B/W again. I just love the process of developing and printing my own pictures. Actually some of my pictures, again my picture ‘Smoke’ is an example, are real prints from my darkroom which I just scanned with my flatbed scanner.

You never know what the future brings! I am looking every day for that bentley to get a shot of it with my Leica.

  Thanks Robert, keep chasing the Blue Bentley!   Robert Dyhringer 7   Its always good to hear from a photographer willing to stand up for their methods, I can’t imagine the ‘flash in street photography’ debate will subside anytime soon, but Rob certainly stands as an example of how this technique can be used to produce visually striking images. It is also nice to see another young photographer sticking to film, I look forward to seeing Rob’s work in future.  You can check out his work, both Black / White and Colour, along with his blog on his creatively designed website.    See more of Robert’s photography and follow his progress here: