Well-known personalities regularly stand in front of her camera: Moses Pelham, Fler, Celo & Abdi, Fahri Yardım, 50 Cent are just a few names of many that Katja Kuhl has seen through her lens. In addition to her profession as a photographer, Katja also works as a director and for the advertising industry. We caught up with Katja for the podcast to talk about her beginnings as a photographer, the challenges of her work, and her understanding of individuality, among other things.
"I want to take the cool photos of the cool people".
... Katja says to all those who were not very enthusiastic about her decision to become a photographer back then. "Katja you'll end up in a passport photo studio", "photographer, what kind of profession is that?" are the phrases she hears when she shares her decision. Today it can be said that she has made it. For over 20 years Katja has been a successful photographer and rappers like Fler, 50 Cent, Celo & Abdi are just as much a part of her portfolio as actors like Fahri Yardim, Edin Hasanovic or Richy Müller. Yet Katja doesn't see herself as the classic celebrity photographer: "I photograph people," she says. "I don't care whether someone is famous or not, I give them the same attention and the photo the same seriousness."
From the pharmacy to the photo studio
Initially, her life plan actually looks quite different. After graduating from high school, Katja began an apprenticeship in a pharmacy in order to study pharmacy. Katja got in the way when she bought her first camera shortly before graduating from high school. The hobby quickly developed into a passion and her previous plans were thrown out the window. "When I started my apprenticeship, I realized that I was so reluctant to do this and that it was so boring, it wasn't what I had in mind." Just six weeks after starting her apprenticeship, Katja dropped out. "I only thought about taking pictures and went home in the evening and was in a bad mood," Katja tells us, who then decides to look around for an apprenticeship as a photographer. "I made the decision and went out to the photographers during my lunch break and asked. One of the last ones I asked said yes." Katja sees the step to train as a photographer as a manifestation of her decision. "I didn't expect my boss to teach me anything. I had my vision and got on everyone's nerves with my overconfidence and told everyone that I wanted to be rich and famous, but I wasn't concerned with fame or money, it was simply synonymous with my seriousness," Katja recounts. Even at vocational school, Katja does not only encounter positive feedback - but one teacher believes in her. "People like Frank Freihofer (the teacher who encouraged her) are important, but I also understand the other two. I did portraits with the wide angle, I wasn't interested in the technical stuff and the teaching, I was permanently late. I probably would have hated myself as a lecturer," Katja says of her school days.
From the photo studio to the university
After her apprenticeship, Katja then moved to Berlin - where she still lives today - to begin her studies at the Hochschule der Künste. By the beginning of 2020, Katja will even be standing in front of students herself, teaching videography at the University of the Popular Arts. She describes the difference from her time in college like this. "What totally irritated me was that they have so little of what I think is right - the own drive and taking responsibility. That frustrated me a little bit," says the ambitious photographer, who is also landing her first well-paying jobs during her time in college.
From university into the world
Today, according to Katja, she works "a lot and every day". The work and the preparation for the different people goes differently. "It's a process where I'm still learning what I need to do to get what I've seen. It sometimes feels like a battle that I always win, but it's sometimes very exhausting, but I also often try new things to get what I want," Katja says about her work with a wide variety of characters.
She is a kind of one-man show most of the time. But this becomes a team mission when it comes to another field of work: directing. The urge for more than just photography came to Katja in the 90s. "I felt the need to want to tell more and I didn't know how to put that into my photos," Katja talks about her thoughts at the time, which she also sees differently nowadays. "I think today I can also say a lot about a photo, but I think that's part of the development," Katja tells. Her CV shows that she is also successful in this area: Napalm by Azad, Bilder im Kopf by Sido, Backstein by Moses Pelham are just a few of many examples.
Azad - Napalm/blog.katjakuhl.de
When asked about her most exciting project so far, Katja elaborates a bit. "I have many projects I'm proud of, but one I'm proud of for many reasons: the campaign for the Netflix series Dogs of Berlin," says Katja, who then explains the reasons "in the 2000s I photographed many rappers and at the end of the 2000s I photographed rappers for seventyseven (streetwear store). For these photos I was ridiculed and I realized that I was not taken first, which I thought was a pity. Then when a few years ago I got the message from Netflix because I photographed these rappers and shaped this visual language and they wanted exactly this visual language, it felt like a "late-payout", says Katja visibly proud of her biggest project.
Dogs of Berlin/blog.katjakuhl.de
If you talk to Katja about her work, you can't avoid the topic of individuality. "I look for the individuality in the person and want to recognize, show and present the beauty of each individual and that lives from the individuality of the person, but also my individual view on the matter is crucial," Katja concludes.
You can find the entire conversation with Katja Kuhl as a podcast on all popular platforms.