You can tell that photographer Esther Haase was once a figure skater. She emits a unique energy and a creative restlessness that feed off of her immeasurable amount of curiosity.
“I’ve always thought of the moments I capture as short films,” she says. She thinks the same of her clients, the fashion collections she’s capturing, the topics her latest photography publication covers – her photography sticks in your mind because it is so much more than its pretence. The atmosphere and the homogenous density of her style sticks, bringing everything else into a musical context – one that is bursting with emotion.
I shot my first photo when I was eight. My parents were graphic designers and my sister and I shot with a pocket camera. Then I stopped and focused on figure skating.
We paid her a visit in her loft in Shoreditch, East London’s former working-class neighbourhood with a brash accent, where no one cares if you understand it or not. Today, Shoreditch is filled with young professionals desperately searching for anything that is considered authentic and halfway affordable.
We’ve been in this flat for about ten years. It was once a neighbourhood where taxi drivers wouldn’t come at night, where there were few shops to buy anything in…look at it now!
The tempo here is just what Esther needs. Change in big and small ways. Always looking forward. She doesn’t believe in following trends. “London is inspiring. I love that I commute between Hamburg and London because I love both the classic and the unconventional.”
There’s plenty of the latter here. People like to put their unconventionality on display, they don’t hide it. Even the smallest detail can make the difference. It’s that special something – the noise, the individuality, the rejection of norms – that makes it a great place to live. You get a better feel for yourself.
Esther wants to show us her neighbourhood. The new – the old. She wants to share her enthusiasm with us. We ask her about her first commissioned work. “It was for a jewellery catalogue in Venice,” she says. She took care of everything herself. She had to learn how to do make-up. Her father, who then owned an advertising agency, sent her there with no real training. And everyone turned out happy. She was just 20 years old.
I think of a scene – the model has to perform, be fully present in the staged set.
Esther Haase has found her style. She looks for models not based on their appearance, but on their screen presence. Can they speak, move, what are their gestures like? She creates a stage, arranges the lighting to maximise the space for movement. Then the improvisation starts, the work, and she starts to shoot.
“It’s about getting shots of the people whilst they’re in motion,” she explains, calling it reportage style. But that sounds too much like chance, it’s too casual. That’s certainly not the case with Esther Haase’s work. She curates, arranges, prepares for every possibility for her shoots. Once everything is ready, she gives everything space to breathe, stimulates it, moves it and takes what she needs from her camera. But she lets chance take its course every now and again, and sometimes it’s just what culminates her work – that makes it special.
Of course you have to compromise for brands. You have to dig deep into the world of the brand. What did they do before? Where are they from? Where do they want to go? All of these things are important and inspiring.
And she succeeds. Her portfolio is like flipping through pages and pages of old and new film posters. Her photo series are like snippets from films. You’ve seen some of them. You’d like to see others. She has this in common with some of the top in her profession. She evokes different feelings with her work – different epochs and styles that can be traced back to all different genres of film. From Nouvelle Vague to Film Noir and German auteur films from the ’70s. Glamour shots of the Upper East Side in black and white or dirty like from a bad American television crime show. Overexposed Polaroids or careless snaps of the bitter reality of an East Berliner zeitgeist documentarian. She races through genres, impartial and without respect, following her gut and creating worlds that have a pulling effect on the viewer, one that is indescribable and holds you tightly.
Today is tomorrow
Her inspiration comes from some of the greats – Helmut Newton, Peter Lindbergh…but her admiration is more like a thankful retrospect. That’s all past now. Today is tomorrow – new job, new task: “Where are we headed today?”
Life is her inspiration. Her parents took her to exhibitions from a very young age. Her subconscious absorption of art and reality, of dreams and the physical world, the artful deformation and mobility of all the elements in the cosmos from which she creates her work. She blazes fiercely and her energy is contagious. But there is an exception. Her dog. He wanders around her loft lazily, getting impatient whilst his mistress is being interviews.
Time to go outside. “Just a quick walk,” she says. “Why don’t you join? I’ll show you around my neighbourhood.” Of course we join. And that quick walk becomes more. Why wouldn’t it? Two hours later and we’ve arrived at a massive common – a park in the new heart of the city. The East is the new West – green and plush grass with dozens of dogs chasing the kites the children are flying. Her dog likes it here. “Do you have some more time?” she asks.
When I ask if there is something she could imagine doing other than photography? “Of course!” Her answer fires out like it were coming from a loaded gun. “Figure skating!” she exclaims with a smile. She’s probably had it since her eighth birthday…