Josef Bürgi’s Revealing Black and White Portraiture

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All images by Josef Bürgi. Used with permission.

Josef Bürgi is a Swiss based amateur photographer living near Berne. “Travelling and photographing is an important thing to me. If I can combine both, that is great.” Josef describes himself as a social photographer; but he shoots all sorts of genres. Like many others, he believes that black and white portraits can be very strong–especially if the images are from a foreign special.

 

On a recent trip to India, he took lots of black and white portraits that bring the scene down to the most simple elements.

 

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Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you got into photography.

Josef: Actually, I never planned to dig that deep into photography. It really started four years ago, when I saw a portfolio of a famous Magnum photographer. I always had a camera but only to take pictures of my travels. Nothing special. But that photographer inspired me a lot. And I got that virus. I bought a better camera, subscribed to tons of blogs and read every article I could find on the Internet and watched every YouTube video and bought masses of books. I practiced a lot and found myself as a black & white photographer. I still don’t know what I am–a street photographer, a landscape photographer or a portrait photographer. I’m trying to focus now on social photography, which means for me to capture people, moments and feelings.

On the other hand I’m trying also to improve my travel photography skills.

Photography is still a hobby for me. After a stressful day in the office I can dive into another world where I can forget almost everything. This gives me a lot. Photography is energetic for me and teaches me an new way of seeing.

Phoblographer: What attracts you to a specific portrait subject? Why them and what about a person usually makes you want to take their picture?

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Josef: What I like about people is the look and the impression of their faces. Or someone smokes, or wearing a strange hat or has funny glasses on. Some tell a story or show emotions. Older people are more interesting, especially in foreign countries. I like to show them as I saw them. Eye contact is always good, but not necessary. I avoid that people smile, if they look unhappy. Also I try not to photography if anyone has a disability or something else.

Phoblographer: What’s the conversation like when asking for a person’s portrait?

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Josef: First, it depends where I’m photographing. Asia and Africa for example is much easier to take portraits of people. Often a smile helps or a small „Bakschisch“. They don’t ask for what the photographs will be used. They are happy to see the result on the back screen of the camera.

In Europe it’s way different, also because of the law. If I ask someone I tell who I am and what I’m doing and where I going to publish that images. Sometimes a long conversation, which takes to „moment“ away. Often I do portraits without asking, if they don’t recognize me. A good place to take portraits are events with an accreditation badge around my neck. If I ask I say something like, “You look interesting to me“ or “I like your hat“ or something like that.

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