An interview with photographer, Karsten Thormaehlen Interviews

Karsten Thormaehlen is a photographer, editor and artist based in Frankfurt. His exhibition ‘Happy at Hundred’ celebrating men and women over the age of 100 has travelled across Europe. As a trained Graphic Designer, Karsten has worked as an art and creative director in New York, Paris, Berlin and Hamburg. Through photography Karsten tells stories of individuals, communities and places that have inspired and resonated with people across the globe. He spoke to us about his work and shared with us the best piece of advice that he has been given.

What are you passionate about? What motivates and inspires you?

The miracle of life itself, I think, is the most inspiring source.

What advice would you have for students wanting to make change with their photography?

Take a closer look at the people, your family and friends, and the things that surround you. Everywhere there are ‘stories’ that are worth visualising. You don’t need ‘state of the art’ equipment or an army of models, stylists, hair and make-up artists to be a good photographer.

What is your greatest professional (and/or personal) accomplishment?

Receiving Gold at the Cannes Lions 2015 for a shot from my series ‘Happy at Hundred’, being exhibited twice at the National Portrait Gallery, publishing my first book Rome (teNeues, 2004), and also being awarded for my very first report about Iceland back in 1985, right after I started photographing.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given and who gave it?

An artist friend once told me that if you want to be an artist, believe in yourself, in your abilities. Do not listen to anybody who’s trying to give you advice on how to do or become better. Just listen to your heart!

What kind of feedback have you had about your work – specifically your work ‘Ageing gracefully’?

Normally I get very positive responses. Some people criticise, that I’m fading out reality, i.e. the situation of many older people living in nursing homes, suffering from dementia, depression or other age related diseases. But this is not my subject, it’s not on my agenda, yet. Maybe this is something I’ll treat in the future.

Tell me more about working with these older people – what does a photoshoot and your images mean to them?

I’m not sure. Maybe the whole event, the process of enjoying the attention or being a role model for their generation might delight them. It’s also curiosity I think…to be photographed and wondering what comes out.

In your opinion, what is wrong with how older people are represented, treated and designed for? How do you think people can fix this?

We, as middle aged people or designer’s, should ask our parents – or grandparents – what they like and how do they liked to be treated. We often make the mistake of comparing this target group with children, who also are not aware of their alleged needs, so they are basically just design for. Older people have been around longer than us, so they all know what they DON’T want, but life taught them to be polite and not blame us for our, at times, naive marketing ideas. For example, the mobile phone with extra large keys.