As someone from the land of magical realism in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “100 Years of Solitude,” I am moved and connected to photos that tell a story. The ones that use composition, color, and mood to open our eyes to worlds beyond our conscious plane, especially inspire me. That’s why, when I met photographer Michael Ernst last summer, I was eager to learn about his creative processes for producing his own magical realism.
Michael, who is also a talented theater and voice actor, visited our showroom and fell in love with the Autumn backdrop, which he immediately purchased. I was curious to see what he would produce with the versatile, warm, and deeply toned backdrop that I love.
As days passed and I received his first photo, then more in the weeks to follow, a series of pictures of actor Jeremías Koschorz and a session with health scientist Bill Mo and others in the middle of a planting field with musical performer Benjamin Sommerfeld, I was thrilled to see the clean compositions in perfect harmony with the palette and the controlled looseness of his work.
Michael’s Autumn backdrop had a different reaction to natural and studio lights, appearing as though it were two different backdrops, yet still connected to Michael’s aesthetic vision, complementing and enhancing the subject and overall image in an organic way that draws you into the story. I loved it!
I look forward to seeing more of Michael’s fantastic work, and for now, I would like to share with you a short interview/questionnaire he graciously answered for this blog. I hope it provides a glimpse into the magical realism that I have found in his work. Enjoy!
Can you give us a little introduction about yourself?
M: My name is Michael Ernst. I was born in Bremen and moved to Hamburg to study singing, dancing and acting. I used to play a lot in several productions like West Side Story, Hairspray, Anything Goes, Singin’ In the Rain, all those good old musical shows where I could live my dream of performing. The love of my life somehow brought me to Berlin where I live now for almost 12 years. Back then I somehow shifted my work pretty much completely from stage to the studio where I work as a voice actor and a dialogue and musical director for several productions that you can watch on telly or stream on all those platforms out there. It’s a great joy and I manage to combine different projects in my life: theatre, studio work, I also have a band … life’s good. When I was a teenager I took pictures with my dad’s camera, a Canon A1, I enjoyed it very much and got really into this experimental vibe. I mean, it was the mid 90’s so all I had was some lamps and my bedroom but hey, I was 14 or so… Around 17/18 when I focused more on singing and acting, I somehow lost interest in photography which lead to a big gap for 20 years. Half a year ago, when I asked a good friend of mine, who’s a photographer, if she could sell me one of her cameras, I restarted my passion for this art form again. It somehow feels like I’m just diving back in again.
What inspires your work?
M: Marta Urbanelis, who’s not only a good friend of mine but also a super talented and creative photographer, is a huge inspiration for me. She is like my inner MacGyver and every time I’m shooting I’m like “What would Marta do?”. She is so passionate about her work and the way she works with lights, framing, texture, the way she leads through a shooting, the way she talks to her clients while shooting is my biggest inspiration so far. She gives me wonderful ideas about composition and storytelling and I somehow feel that I’m very connected to her work. Every time I see pictures of other photographers that match Martas or my pictures I’m like oooh yes!, for example Phil Sharp or Marc Sirisi. The inspiration also comes from a technical kind of view. I’m very new in this business and I might say I have a good eye for composition and a good sense for aesthetic, but I still have to learn even more about technical things. That would improve my work even more so that’s something that pulls my attention when I see super clean pictures (on a technical base) in someone’s photos.
Can you tell us about your experience using hand painted backdrops?
M: You know, I love the work of Annie Leibovitz and I immediately wanted to have a hand painted backdrop. I just googled it. Yes, I JUST GOOGLED IT and the first website that popped up was La Imitola Backdrops, Jackpot! And since this beauty is mine (thanks again!) I have it with me every time I’m shooting portraits. What would I do without it? It gives the person in front such a warm and magical surrounding which makes my pictures (I hope I may say that…) a very special look. I love this vibe of a very “classy and royal” backdrop and it’s just fantastic for a simple portrait but you can also combine it with something funky. I sometimes use flowers in front of the lens to give the photo some depth and it works so fantastic with the Autumn backdrop.
Have you worked with hand painted backdrops before?
Never. Shame on me. But honestly 6 months ago I haven’t even used a camera before. Well, for 20 years time that is.
What do you think are the advantages of using a hand painted backdrop for your photographic work?
M: The advantage is first of all the result. It’s just a stunning setting. And it frames the model, you know. I used the backdrop outdoor on a field. Just a couple of weeks ago. It felt like a random idea but when I set it up and positioned the model in front of it, he all of a sudden was in a frame that gave the picture a calm look. And it weighs nothing, it’s so light. I could even take it with me when I’m traveling by train.
The Autumn backdrop is my absolut favorite. It has this natural vignette on the outside and puts everyone who’s in front of it in focus. It’s very well made and just touching it is pure joy. When you gently stroke over it it’s like you have the Mona Lisa in your living room – or wherever. You can feel and SEE the love that you put in there.
– Michael Ernst