The magical voyages of discovery of the German Roamers
BY ANJA FAHS
(Published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue 3 2018)
The fog lifts silently, allowing the first sunbeams to shine through the forest. The hazy outline of a castle gradually becomes increasingly clear. Eltz castle in the Eifel region seems to have leaped off the pages of a romantic fairy tale, and you could picture Sleeping Beauty resting here. The castle is just one of the breathtaking subjects that demonstrates the beauty of Germany. Be it the Eifel region, the Elbe Sandstone Mountains, the dark Black Forest or the Alps – Germany is full of wild landscapes that are being impressively highlighted by a collective of young photographers. The 14 photographers who have combined the skills of the best German outdoor photographers on Instagram since 2015 call themselves German Roamers. They want to draw attention to Germany’s wonderful nature while creating a space for inspiration, exchange and community.
The quality of the photography plays a major role, of course. Each member represents their own new type of visual language seldom found in classic landscape photography. The German Roamers want to convey passion and authenticity through their pictures, and they do so very successfully. With a total of over 4 million followers on Instagram, the German Roamers quickly became Europe’s largest outdoor community on social media and have now turned into of the most influential community platforms.
It’s no wonder that they have since caught the attention of several major brands who use the talented young artists for visual storytelling, shooting advertisements and content creation. Clients who have contacted them so far include tourism, outdoor and automotive companies who have sent the German Roamers on a photographic journey through all of Europe. We asked Johannes Höhn, one of the founders of the collective, about how they reinvented landscape photography and why they are becoming increasingly interesting to the marketing departments of various brands.
Johannes, how did the German Roamers meet?
We met through the Instagram app in early 2015. At the time we wanted to unite German photographers on Instagram into a collective that portrays the world of outdoor photography in a modern light.
What are your aspirations in terms of the subjects and the photography, and how do your photographs differ from conventional landscape photos?
It’s not all that easy to describe the style of our photographers in one homogenous term, as each one of them fortunately has their own artistic handwriting. What we all have in common however is an authentic, honest view of nature and the events experienced. We don’t retouch, add or subtract. Everything is represented the way it was experienced. Furthermore, we consider what are generally seen to be uncomfortable weather situations to be a stylistic highlight: we love the mystical, the fog, the dramatic cloud formations. We also like to integrate subjects into our world of motives: people, houses, boats… there are many things that liven up a
Does each one of the 14 members of the collective have their own strengths and techniques when it comes to photography?
Everyone has their own style. At first glance that may not seem to be the case, but when you take a closer look at every individual member of the Roamers you will quickly see that there are significant differences. Be it in the choice of subject, the technique or the editing.
Are all of the German Roamers professional photographers who can make a living from their work, or is it still a hobby to some extent?
A lot has happened in the course of time: to begin with, only two of us were full-time photographers – now there are seven of us. So you could say that for one half it’s an ambitious hobby alongside their job or course of studies, and for the other half it’s a full-time job.
Instagram has surely contributed to publicising the German Roamers and their work. How important have social networks become for young creatives?
I think it always depends entirely on which aims you are pursuing with your work or your creativity. You can reach a large number of people through the internet, and so you can make your creations directly accessible to a wide audience. Success stories are being written on a daily basis, musicians no longer need a major label, photographers don’t need a photo agency. Everyone can immediately receive feedback on their work, which is of course a blessing and a curse at the same time. Ultimately, I would say that social networks allow young creatives to receive feedback in the quickest way possible, and at the end of the day this could also be the fastest way to get their first paid commissions.
Instagram and its wonderful pictures has already led to floods of people travelling to certain sites in order to take photographs. Conservationists in particular have therefore called upon photographers to no longer provide the geotags for their images. What do you think of this?
This hype about certain locations and destinations is of course a worrisome aspect of all the Instagram hysteria. We have since tried to convey the idea of “roaming” to our community, meaning finding new places for yourself through your own urge to discover and portraying things that may seem inconspicuous at first glance in a new light through your own creativity. The fact that people are travelling now more than ever won’t change in future – we can only try to show the various possibilities and encourage ourselves to look beyond the horizon of what currently gets you a lot of likes.
Large companies have now also begun using the German Roamers’ talents for shooting their marketing campaigns and product images. What was the first major brand to approach you?
One of the first companies which we carried out a larger assignment for as a collective was Samsung. It was for a smart watch and other products we use for our image production. We produced a broad range of campaign materials in the rough, Icelandic late autumn that were used on many of the brand’s channels.
What other brands do members of the collective work for?
There’s a really broad spectrum as each one of use has their own customers and we travel a lot. So far, we have worked for Adidas, The North Face, Mercedes-Benz, Mont Blanc, Google and Huawei, to name a few.
What is the process behind a company commissioning a photo shoot, for example? Is there a clear briefing on what images the company wants, or are you given free rein to implement things yourselves?
Storytelling is the priority when we’re involved as a collective: we want to be thought of as a group that interacts creatively. Photography is not a means to an end for us, as it tends to be with classic action sports, for example, instead we do the opposite: the photography itself becomes the focus of our activities.
In order to be able to convey this we place a lot of emphasis on developing substantial collaborations with our partners. More specifically we develop a story that is tailored to us together with the brand, which we then realise in close cooperation. The material to be produced can be highly diverse. Everything that is published on our channels must of course correspond to our style and our vision. Nevertheless, we are professional photographers and we produce plenty of other image material that the customer has requested on these trips.
Why do these companies work with young photographers who are semi-professional in part, in contrast to the past, when the biggest names in advertising photography were themselves part of a campaign?
I think that this is simply to do with the development of our society and the associated shift in the channels relevant to advertising. Digitalisation has created a whole new prerequisite for brands to position their messages through social media. Several years ago, it was clear to everyone that an advertisement on TV during primetime would be the most expensive advertising tool by far that would reach the most people at once. Nowadays it’s completely different. Younger people and very young people in particular are almost exclusively online and consume their entertainment “on demand” according to their own personal wishes. The originators of these relevant contents have also become increasingly important as people through social networks – so during advertising collaborations it is extremely important to use authentic language, ideally the language of the creatives or influencers themselves. The brands we work with have identified this development and they give us the greatest possible freedom so that we can keep our own language.
Digitalisation now determines our lives in almost every area and has of course drastically changed photography. Yet there are still some photographers who swear by film photography. Could there be a “back to basics” trend with film?
I consider it to be a similar development as we have seen with music and vinyl records. Vinyl was experiencing a severe crisis several years ago but has had an incredible revival and is now firmly established in the world of sound carriers once more. Similar things can currently be observed in analogue photography. Digitalisation is all well and good, but the more digital an art form becomes, the more soulless it becomes – or it at least faces becoming soulless and replaceable. I myself discovered my passion for film photography about a year ago, simply out of love for the matter. It tremendously slows down the process of creation and involves a certain aspect of unpredictability which I just find incredibly exciting. There are countless cameras, films and techniques that provide an endless range of possibilities to achieve what everyone wants: to create an individual photograph that cannot simply be copied by a computer.
What would you like to photograph with the German Roamers and where? Do you have a common dream, a particular destination that appeals to you?
There would certainly be a substantial list of places to name if you would ask each one of our 14 photographers. That isn’t possible unfortunately, so I’ll simply list my own personal dream destinations which I’m sure a large majority of the Roamers would agree with: there’s Greenland with its endless ice landscape and surreal iceberg formations for a start. Alaska is also high up on the list. Although we were there for a few days last summer, there is still so much more to discover so I desperately want to go back there for a longer period of time. I would very much like to take a picture of the Kodiak bears in particular someday. Beyond that I am still drawn to Canada, in particular to Newfoundland, where whales, fjords and icebergs can be photographed. I could continue with this wish list forever, but at this point that’s probably sufficient.
Johannes Höhn is one of the founders who started the German Roamers in 2015. He works as a landscape and lifestyle photographer and videographer with his Cologne-based company Pangea Productions.
Picture credit © Lennart/@Lennart