Photojournalist Thomas Hoeffgen has traveled the world in search of inspiring stories and memorable pictures. Whether shooting for editorial clients, major media or personal projects, Hoeffgen displays an enduring ability to record fleeting moments in a reduced, minimalistic, and cinematic style. Learn more about how this talented image-maker got his start—
BtF: How did you begin your work in photography? Was there a "decisive moment" when you knew it was a special medium for you, when you felt truly committed to it?
TH: I started out shooting portraits of my friends while hanging out. I worked mainly in black-and-white. I had a little darkroom at home. It was fun but truly just a hobby.
After college and civil service in Germany, I did an internship in Spain with an art photographer. She taught me a lot. That was a turning point for me: after working with her, I was hooked. I became obsessed with photography after that experience. The more you shoot, the better you get and so it continued on from there...
BtF: When you were beginning photography, were there any people, artists, books, films that served as essential inspirations? How about now—any sources of creativity you discovered recently that give you that jolt of "beginner's" passion?
TH: I have drawn a lot of inspiration over the years from movies. One of my all-time favorite movies is “Down by Law” by Jim Jarmusch.
As for recent sources of inspiration, I took a trip to Shanghai last year and while there, I saw originals prints by the artist Fan Ho. He worked in Hong Kong in the 50s and produced fantastic work in black-and-white. In addition, living in New York City is very inspiring for me, too. Not only the daily life in this city but also the ability to see so many great exhibitions and shows.
In terms of finding creative energy in new projects—I’m always nervous before undertaking my next photography series. There are so many variables that are beyond your control. As a writer, you can go back and rewrite things, but as a photographer you can’t do it again, you often have one shot. I like the immediacy of that challenge and then the way the challenge is repeated every time. This sense of urgency provides me with a spark of inspiration with every new project.
BtF: Cartier-Bresson famously said, "Your first 10,000 shots are your worst." Can you share a humbling moment that happened to you recently with regards to your photography? A moment when you realized, like all of us, that there's always much more to learn?
TH: I agree with Cartier-Bresson one hundred percent. Even today, humbling moments take place all the time. I am constantly looking at the pictures I’ve made, thinking of what I could have done differently. Other times, I have a specific picture in mind as I go to shoot but after an hour or two—or even longer—I realize it’s not going to work the way I had envisioned. I embrace the need to be flexible, improvise and make the best out of a fluid situation.
For all the (often unexpected) challenges, it’s very exciting when you manage to capture one of those perfect images—a frame like a time capsule, representing a moment when everything went just right.
—Thomas Hoeffgen, interviewed by behindthefra.me