Götz Schleser is a Berlin photographer and has been portraying politicians of the federal states and ministries for around 20 years, working for DER SPIEGEL, DIE ZEIT and also for Mercedes Benz and Sixt.
In addition to his work, he is involved in the board of the BFF, the professional association of freelance photographers and film designers. For 50 years, the association has championed the interests of the industry. In autumn 2021, the BFF was our guest with "Der Neue BFF Förderpreis", a prize that exhibits young talent and prepares them for the professional path through 1:1 mentoring over several months. In conversation with Götz, we looked at the industry and asked why promoting young talent is so important to him.
Isabel Neuendorf: You have been working as a freelance photographer since the end of the 90s. How do you look back on your career?
Götz Schleser: In the first years of my professional life, I didn't care much about what my colleagues were doing. That was good for me to develop my own style, that has changed a lot today, also because of the sponsorship award, I am open to all styles and can leave and respect photographic statements that I personally don't like. Before I became self-employed, I worked in a studio for advertising and architectural photography and experienced how analogue photography was replaced by digital photography. Parallel to my employment I attended the master school and after graduation I started my own business, working for daily newspapers and magazines and increasingly specialising in portraits. I love portraying people, I do that today for parties, companies, NGOs.... for all those who like my pictures and for me.
Has digitalisation been a major change for the industry?
The medium on which the photo is depicted has changed. The bottom line is that I have to digitise for my clients these days anyway, it wouldn't make sense to stick to film. And yes, a lot has changed, but the changes in digitisation affect all professions, not just photography. The customers want a digital file. The diversions via film and scanning is outdated.
The BFF has a strong network and as part of the board you have a good view of the industry. What are the current concerns of photographers?
Corona has upset the working situation. There are colleagues who continue to work normally. Then there are colleagues who have lost 100% for two years. You can't make a general definition of who has how many jobs and why. In my field, for example, I only work with people. The current Corona situation strongly determines whether the order takes place or not.
You direct the "The New BFF Promotion Award"which promotes and makes visible young talent through mentoring, workshops and an exhibition. What are the themes that you are dealing with in the current BFF Promotional Award?
Analogue photography was indeed a major theme. We have many participants who want to work in analogue. I appreciate it very much, no I love it, that the artistic view of photography is being sharpened at the universities. In the sponsorship award, we are very close to the current reality of commercial photography with the mentoring programme for the participants and can also convey this to the participants.
How do the young talents in "Der Neue BFF-Förderpreis" look to their professional future?
I think many do not yet have on their radar what lies ahead. Unfortunately, the students are not prepared enough by the universities or by their institutions where they are trained. In part, this is exactly where we come in with the Promotion Award. For example, through workshops where we talk about compulsory insurance or about the KSK. How high should my daily rate be? How do I calculate my fixed costs?
What is your advice to young photographers who are just starting their careers?
It's important to find your own thing and not ride the current waves. That works well for 2 to 3 years, but if you don't manage to do your own thing in that time, then the wave is gone and so are you. We had a number of applications for the sponsorship award that all looked the same. You are booked by clients for your pictures and your style and not for the pictures that everyone is making at the moment. Ultimately, it's also your job to stick to your style and communicate it to your creative partners who need to book you.
It is important to look for your own thing and not ride current waves.
Making arrangements with clients, travelling to assignments and post-processing images pack your working week full. How did you find the BFF and decide to get involved?
in 2017, the colleagues from Berlin and Hamburg photographed the exhibition From Dusk Till Down and showed it in a pop-up gallery. It was magically beautiful. I stood in the exhibition and thought: "I want to be a part of this". I started as a mentor in the funding award. The next year I was asked if I would like to be part of the leadership of the Förderpreis, now I am part of the board.
What motivates you to volunteer alongside your job?
The BFF sponsorship award is a project close to Sonja Hoffmann's, the initiators' and my hearts. In the current BFF Award, we have selected 12 great young people who are up for it and who are passionate about photography. This atmosphere is rewarding for all the work and clears my head. Rafael Heygster won the BFF Förderpreis in 2019 and said so beautifully: "All I had to do was stand next to my pictures and my career started." That's our motivation.
What keeps you busy at the BFF beyond the BFF Promotional Award?
We don't want to come across as an old-fashioned association, but we want to pass on the valuable knowledge that we and our many members have. Be it in the BFF Promotion Award or in the Academy for professionals and newcomers beyond the association. The BFF Academy is just taking off with many workshops and online seminars.
Young photographers, as well as freelance photographers and filmmakers, can always can always contact the BFF. On the website you can find contact persons and the board with contact information. If you want to join the BFF as a student, you can do so by becoming a junior member.
Portrait Götz Schleserself-portrait
Photos: Stephan Lemke, foerderpreis.bff.de