Photographer Alina Asmus on the Grounding Step of Her Work
Fashion photographer Alina Asmus, tells Advance Copy how an early interest in travelling helped her build a career with renowned international magazines including Vogue, WSJ and Interview Germany. Based in Berlin but dividing her time between London and Paris, Alina forged a unique career trajectory which she attributes to trusting her intuition and valuing tranquil contemplation in helping to create quality visual storytelling for authentic brands. A special compilation of the photographer’s work illustrates our conversation and provides a glimpse into Alina’s aesthetic.
Advance Copy: Hi Alina, thank you for joining us today. Could you tell us about some memorable early steps that led to your career in photography?
Alina Asmus: I grew up in Hamburg and went abroad when I was 16 years old for an exchange year to learn English in Canada, so this was a big turning point in my life. I made friends from all over the world and started travelling to places where they were from like Korea, Columbia and London. Before starting my BA studies I went back to London to look for work experience in fashion and secured an internship position at Peter Pilotto. While doing this internship I was sent to shoots and seeing this really intrigued me, I heard and saw what the job of a photographer could be like. That time was really important for me, I was introduced to the world of fashion photography through the people I met then.
AC: Did you begin to see photography as a possible career option?
Alina: The idea of working in fashion developed from a young age, but I never thought I would become a photographer. I was always passionate about it, even when I was young I was always taking pictures with my friends. I remember thinking about whether I should study photography or fashion design, it was hard for me to imagine learning photography with a teacher, so I went with fashion design.
“There was something else that I wanted to explore, something wider.”
AC: Having already experienced working in fashion did studying it as a profession live up to your expectations?
Alina: I would say I never felt like that’s what I wanted to do, I enjoyed it, but I was also struggling a lot. I had this dream of going to study in London, but financially it wasn’t possible so I studied in Hamburg instead and always felt like there was something else that I wanted to explore, something wider. Luckily, a university representative told me about Shenkar College in Tel Aviv, where Alber Elbaz also studied, the idea never crossed my mind but it suddenly felt very interesting, plus I wanted to live in a city where I wouldn’t be known. I applied to do an exchange, received a scholarship and went for it.
AC: How would you compare studying fashion design in Tel Aviv to studying the same course in Hamburg?
Alina: Shenkar College was like a boot camp which made students ready for the industry. It showed me a different side of what a school can be like and I took a lot out of this experience. I was also impressed to see how students in Israel organised a lot of exhibitions and events to share their work with the public. On the other hand, I think art schools in Germany are quite open and give students a lot of freedom, which I appreciated when I returned.
“I did everything with my intuition.”
AC: When did you decide to change direction from fashion design to photography? Could you tell us about this pivotal moment in your life?
Alina: I was always passionate about photography, even when I was young it was something I did for fun but didn’t imagine it to be a career. I was new to Tel Aviv and photography helped me discover the city by myself, it gave me something to do alone. Moving to Israel I suddenly found everything to look different – the architecture, the aesthetic of the city and at this point I became interested in light. Then, I met new friends who had a unique type of Israeli beauty that I liked so I began taking photos of them and treating these as small styled projects. When I went back to Hamburg to finish my BA in fashion design I already knew that what I wanted to do was photography.
AC: How do you feel about those initial photos that you took in Tel Aviv now?
Alina: I still love them. This was the beginning, a place where I found my aesthetic, the grounding step of my work at a time when I had nothing on my mind. Every time I go back to Israel I feel like I want to take more photos, it’s my place of creativity.
AC: Your career in photography wasn’t premeditated, how did you forge your path in the industry?
Alina: I did everything with my intuition, I think living abroad and doing my own thing also gave me the confidence to go out there and not be scared to reach out to people. This was the time when Instagram started, I also had a website and a Tumblr and people began finding my photography. After university, a few friends from Israel moved to Paris so I decided to do the same. I already had a few connections there and started meeting them in person, getting different projects and magazine editorials to shoot. I still had a side job in Paris, working at a photography rental store and in a restaurant at some point, so there was a less glamorous side as well.
“You should accept the times when you are doing nothing, don’t be afraid.”
AC: How would you describe the visual aesthetic that you’ve developed throughout the years? Are there particular elements that continue to inspire your exploration of photography?
Alina: It’s a mixture of things, I would say my aesthetic is generally clean and strong, I focus on colours or a model’s posture, a movement. In Israel, I regularly photographed dancers from Batsheva Dance Company and Sharon Eyal who recently choreographed Dior’s Spring Summer 2019 catwalk show. I connected with this sense of aesthetic and movement. I have a lot of interest in the body: what can it show, how can it work, what does it tell you? There’s a fascination there. Generally, I think it’s more about a feeling than a narrative, and for me, a good result is when I’m able to portray women in a strong way.
AC: You often refer to intuition and feelings as guides of your creative work, could you explain how you look after your instincts?
Alina: I would say by learning to say no, being selective and taking time off to rethink. There are months when you are constantly travelling, doing job after job, and you can get to a point when you don’t know where you are at anymore. You should accept the times when you are doing nothing, don’t be afraid. Sometimes I like to look at my old work to review what I did and what my photography is about.
“I would like to see more brands tell their side of the story.”
AC: I’d like to delve into your experience in fashion photography. Are there ways in which you’d like to see commercial fashion imagery develop?
Alina: I would like to see more brands tell their side of the story. I think nowadays creating your world as a brand is what brings loyalty and sales. Someone doesn’t just buy a dress, they buy it because it represents a world that a brand or a designer has created – they want to be part of it. I would like to see more of this individuality, not just from young brands but also from heritage companies.
AC: I think many brands lean towards safety over individuality. There are boundless creative opportunities in questioning what makes our work special to others, elements that are inherent and could be nurtured into an intrinsic, a clear brand voice.
Alina: Yes definitely, there are so many brands that produce products with no story behind them. I think the key to success is to tell your story and this often starts with imagery. Unfortunately, [imagery] is not valued as highly as it should be, people produce a lot of content with smaller budgets to share as often as possible, bringing down the quality of their work. I think everyone is suffering from this. Sometimes I think it’s better to post less or to have a limit because it makes your work more special. This is the hardest thing in our time, you see everyone constantly creating and begin to think that you need to be doing more too. This is the social media machine and it’s difficult to step out of it.
“Brands should take care when choosing someone to tell their story.”
AC: What suggestion would you give to brands who are looking to improve their approach to visual storytelling?
Alina: Photography shapes the brand voice and brands should take care when choosing someone to tell their story. It’s the same with choosing the right model to represent your brand identity.
AC: Finally, have you noticed fashion brands incorporate sustainability or nature within their visual narratives?
Alina: Sustainability has been a big topic for a long time, it’s growing and becoming stronger. Brands who go in this direction advertise their choice and customers are also becoming more aware, automatically pressuring companies to look into this subject. I haven’t seen this at the forefront of a project brief but there is an overall strong desire to portray nature in fashion campaigns.
AC: Thank you, Alina.