I´m Holger Mischke, ask me anything

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I am Holger Mischke. I’m a photographer, a writer and musician. My friend and fellow photographer Toni Lovejoy called me “a natural poet”. I like that, so that is (among other things) what I am for all means and purposes.

I live and I breathe, I listen, I see, I read, I feel and I think, often way too much. And I along with the majority of our population, suffer from depression and anxiety. Sometimes less, sometimes more.

I was a hiking and cycling tour guide, when I started photographing. I didn’t have anyone in my family pass on a camera to my or inspire me in any other way to use photography as a means to express myself. Even when my best friend and roommate at the time but a makeshift darkroom in our apartment’s bathroom, I couldn’t be bothered. It had to go digital before it interested me.
Pretty quickly I found my heroes and they were all long gone. And although it had to be digital photography to get me going, those heroes are Alfred Stieglitz, Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Josef Sudek, Ernst Haas and more. One was alive though and I was lucky enough to have Harold Davis as a mentor and eventually be able to call him a friend.

So my work is exclusively black and white, I use older cameras and oder technology because that is all I need and I don’t feel an image is finished before it is printed, which I do myself. I often combine text and photographs and am trying to do so with music as well.

I believe that life and creativity, be it in photography, literature, music or any other way to express yourself are connected and that you can apply principles and thoughts from one to the other. And this is what I try to show people in my workshops.

This is also what I like talking about and I have a hard time to not always go into overtime in my presentations. I believe that dealing with the philosophy behind photography and awareness can do something more fundamental and personal for your photography than any new gear or technique can.

So I do prefer questions about what and who we are, what we do and why and how we do it. But of course this wouldn’t be an AMA if you couldn’t ask me anything. So you do that, ask me about photography, about thoughts, about life, about mental health, anything really.

Website: https://holgermischke.com/

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Hello and thank you for your sharing your work and thoughts with us.
Can you please speak to your ideas around naming your photographs?

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Thanks for being here Holger. I like your style of “being” and your photography. For me, photography is an outflow of my need for solitude. Very few things in this life are more meaningful than even just a few minutes in a wild place. Photography became an outflow of this love of nature. It’s almost the language I use to express my feelings about it, although I do love to write about the experience as well. Your photography speaks the language of solitude well, thank you for that! Like many photographers, I feel the tension between the peace and solitude of these moments, and the desire to quit my day job and just be a photographer! I’m not sure how you make a living, but do you have any advice in how to keep my photography pure, while seeking ways to bring in some income?

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thank you for the first question of today. When I started photography, it was clear to me that I wanted my photographs to be titled. And I wanted them titled more than “Tree With Birds”. I wanted titles like song titles, movie titles, book titles. I think a title for a photograph is another possibility to set a mood for the viewer.
Don’t get me wrong, the title should not be there to explain anything. Your image should not need explaining., it should stand for itself. But combining a photograph and words can amplify the impact so very much.
So at some point I thought I could do even more than just titling the picture. So I would start writing a short text to go with the photograph. At some point between capture and print I would find a few lines (or they would actually find me). Again not to explain anything. Far from that. Sometimes these words would seem as they would have not the slightest to do with what you saw.
I consider this to be an emotional reaction of myself to what I was creating. And an invitation to the viewer to find and be conscious about their own emotional reaction to my work and try and express it in one way or another.
I will give you what I find to be a perfect example for what I consider a great title. There is a song by Pat Metheny called “Tell her you saw me”. That’s an entire novel right there. Everybody knows the situation when you break up, and you should stay away from each other to make it easier, but we still want to know how the other one feels. And you want a friend you meet to remind her of you. This is something we can relate to.
But find your own title. Let it come to the surface of your mind when you are working on your photograph and don’t you dare feel you have to justify anything about it :slight_smile:
Thanks again Robena for a great question. I hope you can find something to work with in my answer.


what a great question and thank you for your kind words about my work. They are much appreciated.
The question you are asking I also asked my mentor and friend Harold Davis some time ago. When I asked how I can become a full-time photographer, he just answered “Don’t.” He was talking about how it can be quite hard to keep producing and maintaining a certain quality. And even if you manage to do that, you will have to find customers who will buy your prints.
What I actually do is that I work 20 hours a week taking care of mentally handicapped people. This not only pays the bills, but I do something that makes me feel good about myself. I could also work in a warehouse or a steel mill, but then I would more or less hate these 20 hours.
I also make sure that I always remember that you are a photographer 24/7, even without a camera. So when I am in the car or at lunch, I can still think about it, work on ideas, get inspired by the world around me.
Of course I try to put out work regularly that is hopefully increasing in quality and meaning and hope that I can find customers for those pieces. This means I need to be present not only on social media, but regularly locally at art fairs, have exhibitions and such.
But my photographic work must never be forced into being something I don’t want it to be just to be a success commercially. The latest phones produce files of amazing quality and it becomes harder to sell your work, because a lot of people seem to not really appreciate the time and effort you put into what you do. I have had enough discussions with potential customers about why what I do is so much more expensive than the prints they could have done of their iPhone images.
I transition more and more to teaching and speaking. It is very rewarding to teach workshops and I love to speak about the philosophic aspects of photography and what it can do for you, be it in life as well as photography. Doing this (in person or online) is good money, feels great, also inspires myself and I get to keep my integrity intact and meet a bunch of likeminded people. As I heard somebody say “The market for landscape photography prints is very small, but the market for the experience of landscape photography is massive.”
You mentioned you like to write about your experience in photography. NPN is always on the lookout for articles to be published in the Nature Vision Magazine and the blog. There are of course other publications, online or offline, always looking for content. Start writing and sending out articles.
Find a balanced life which you can live happily and stay true to yourself. To photograph and find out about life and yourself while doing that and thereby inspiring your photography every single day is the way I think it should be done.
I hope this helps, Paul. Thanks for being a part of the community and your question.


There is a poetic balance to your compositions. You’ve talked elsewhere that you don’t spend hours working through different compositions. Can you discuss what moves you to make a photo and how you find your way to your compositions?

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Oh, and hello and thanks for doing this.

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Hi Jim and thank you for your interesting question and of course for your appreciation of my work.
It is often said that you need to sharpen your skills to an extend that in the moment of capture you don’t waste time thinking so you can concentrate on the creative moment. I think in general what is being talked about are technicalities like handling the camera, but of course also composition.
Now I don’t think that only means you read the manual and all those instructional books and join a few workshops.
What I think will even more influence the way you create photographs is living your daily life mindful and consciously. To think about what you are doing, how you are doing it and why you are doing it. To be aware of why you like this music, hate that book or can’t stop staring at that tree.
You will build a network of your experiences like this and I imagine there to be connections in this knowledge like synapses in the brain.
When I go out then I don’t have an idea of what I would like to photograph. The images are there. All I can do is bring with me of course the camera, but also an openness so I can actually see these photos as they present themselves to me. It is a strange feeling when the question “Was there something there?” forms in your brain and I always turn and go back, because there must have been something there or that question wouldn’t have popped up.
So these images exist. They exist for all of us, but because of the network of your experiences, some will not occur to you or the outcome will look differently than what the person next to you produces.
And that ties in with why I don’t really work a scene.
There is a composition there for me, a photograph and if I start running around, I start actively looking for something else and as I said before, I don’t want to do that. I’m not sorry or am afraid I would miss something. I trust that I see what I am supposed to see.
When I started photography, I was working as a hike and bike guide. So when I was wandering through the streets of Oia on the greek island of Santorin for instance, there was no time for working the scene as the tourist group would want to move on. Photographing that way has worked for me and maybe somehow has implanted itself in my brain.
Trust yourself, live with awareness and let life happen. The photographs will find you when more than just your eyes are open.
I hope this answers your question.
Thank you for making me reflect on this.

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Holger, your journey in photography is both unique and inspiring. Considering your affinity for black and white photography and the influence of figures like Alfred Stieglitz and Ansel Adams, how do you think the choice of black and white over color influences the emotional and philosophical narratives in your work? Additionally, in your workshops, how do you guide your students to find a balance between technical proficiency and the deeper, more introspective aspects of photography that go beyond the camera and the image?

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thanks for taking the time to be here and asking these questions.
First let me say that I don’t think monochrome is in general superior to color images. It is just my personal choice. A very personal choice.
There is of course an aesthetic you can fall for or not. I very much fell in love with black and white. I think it is subtle, elegant and most important of all timeless. But there is so much more to this.
In my generation, I grew up with black and white TV and the pictures in the newspapers were also without color. So my idea of reality was different than what it is today. Or it made me think differently about what reality is.
I think what also influenced me is my 40 year history of anxiety, depressions and panic attacks. What I felt like was often dramatic and gradations of gray, anything between almost painful white and a black void would feel appropriate to illustrate my story, to compliment what filled my head.
It is better now, but it will never go away and so I still feel more at home with luminosity instead of hue, with the shadows in which the real stories happen. The notes that are not played, the words not said, the light never seen.
I often end my workshop with the idea to try and photograph not what it looks like, but what it felt like.
I would want students to take to the heart that as much as there is a need for understanding your tools and being able to use them, do not waste your time trying to perfect that before you go out and start to express what has been dying to get out for so very long. Go and find creative opportunities and learn what it is you really need to know. Don’t burden yourself with all there is to know and a ton of gear.
What you feel the need to articulate could be done so with a pencil and being honest with yourself. But you chose this medium.
Being honest with yourself still applies.

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Holger, you say you are looking for ways to combine photographs and music. This sounds fascinating, and I wonder could you tell us a bit more about your thoughts on this.


Thank you for your question about something that is very dear to me, Mike and for stopping by.
This is connected to the question Robena was asking about titling photographs, which is nothing else than combining photography and words. As I said in the answer to that question I have been doing that for a while with even more words than just the title and I elaborated a bit about why I think this can be good for you and your photography.
I called this “Two Sides Now”, referring to a song by Joni Mitchell, the two sides being photography and prose/poetry. At some point it was only logical to expand this to “Three Sides Now” including music.
Music of course can set a mood and amplify an atmosphere. Only think of when you sit down with a book by the fireplace, a glass of your favorite (maybe even alcoholic) beverage. You could just read the book, but you are adding some components to enhance the experience. Music being one of the most powerful ones.
I remember an episode of QI on British TV. Host Stephen Fry showed a clip with a great white shark attacking. Once with music that suggested threat and once with lovely classical music. The second was a lot less scary. This had been a scientific experiment to prove how music can change the mood of a situation as we have experienced for instance in movies all the time. Think about the famous muder scene in Hitchcock’s “Psycho”.
The easiest way to try this is to post on Instagram and add music. Getting further into this it would be best to create your own music to avoid copyright issues and of course it is more enjoyable to work with your own music. But you can also buy music files online if you find something appropriate.
I have experimented with single images, which needs a little more work as just showing the single image static would not be interesting enough with the music being dynamic. So I tried adding footage by for instance “flying” over a print of the image with a phone or a GoPro, which gave me more interesting video to combine with the music. Which also adds video to photography and text.
You could of course also just add more photographs, using a series of photographs as part of a project.
My favorite idea is to create a folio of prints (Brooks Jensen has a great workshop about creating folios in lovely handmade boxes), which would come with a booklet of the text printed and a usb stick with the text read and recorded and the music. This way the viewer could combine the media in whichever combination they like, which will encourage them to repeat the experience again and again. They could hold the prints and look at them while listening to the spoken word, they could read the text while listening to the music, you get my point.
It is very rewarding to use whatever talent you might have other than photography in combination with our visual expressions. They inspire each other and I think that this also helps the process happening inside us which I was talking about in the answer to Jim Bracher’s question.
One day I feel more like a writer, some other day all I want to do is play jazz or sing Springsteen songs. But whatever it is I do, I will become a better and more creative person by doing that. The writing and playing music does things for me I maybe could not experience doing “just” photography, but I am positive it will make me a better photographer nonetheless.
Take it all in, everything you can find in yourself and the world around you and whatever is inside you will find a way and form.
I hope this inspires and helps you in combining your talents to create something only Mike Friel can do.


Thank you for your thoughtful answer. I knew a poet was the right person to ask!

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