Germany - 

"Traveling as a photographer, gives you strong education !"

By Michael Wagener - correction José Pietri (Paris) - March 25th 2015
Who is Ulla Lohmann ? She traveled to places like Papua New Guinea. And there, she can ask things like : "What do you eat , what you live for , what makes you sad and about, when was your last good laugh ?" Just a very curious person.

Photo ©ULLA LOHMANN/National Geographic Creative

Traveling the world, seeing amazing places, having adventures...for most people this is maybe only ever a dream... or a fear. But surely most persons will never have the chance to see many places on our beautiful planet Earth or be able to get in touch with different cultures. And the latter is going to be problem in our globalized world. The refugee-problem in Europe or the crisis in the Ukraine are problems of different views.  We are coming closer together, but in our modern world, are we maybe losing empathy for other cultures and views of life?

I am happy that there are a few people who have no fear to show us different sides of the world and try to connect people by telling stories about experiences and life.

Last year, in September, I had the pleasure of meeting Ulla, during a photographers‘ party at the photokina trade fair in Cologne. But who is Ulla?

Myself, as a teacher, safe in his job and with a secure life, I was thrown into the world of famous photographers for one night. People who travel the world and  are a part of history with their documentary works. For example, Nick Ut who is the photographer of the iconic picture of Kim Phuc.  And I drank a glass of wine with Gerd Ludwig, who received the Dr. Erich- Salomon prize for his amazing photography work in Russia. And, of course, I had the pleasure to meet the expedition photographer Ulla Lohmann. She is a well-known German photographer for National Geographic and also a very smart and tough woman.  After school she left Germany to see the world. She dived in the South Seas,  traveled in a car through Africa and on a motorcycle for BMW half-way around the world – and, initially, she took amazing pictures for National Geographic of mummies during a visit of a tribe in Papua.

We had a nice long talk about travelling and the passion for taking pictures and for sure, I never felt so impressed by a individual.

I decided spontaneously to do a photo workshop in the Alps with Ulla and her husband, Sebastian Hoffman. There was one evening , after a nice dinner when I and the other workshop members, Ulla, Basti and friends sat together and had a talk about traveling and meeting other cultures. And I reflected, that there are powerful opportunities for education in traveling as a photographer.

Ulla told me that she has discovered through her travels, above all, that she can learn something from every person she meets. But she has to go against her grain and let herself get close and ask people about their lives and thoughts. At the beginning for Ulla it seems easier to be with strangers ; because everything was new and exotic in such remote areas. She traveled to places like Papua, New Guinea. There, she asked questions like : What do you eat , what do you live for , what makes you sad and when was the last time you had a good laugh ? But Ulla has learned to take these issues back home to ask them in a familiar environment . “This has resulted in very unusual insights into what we think we know.“

“From my encounters with indigenous peoples , who often have no more than a large family, a roof over their heads and something to eat, I've learned how little it takes to be happy , not how much.“ This answer from Ulla seems typical of people how travel in remote areas. Maybe we get more in touch with what life really means in a remote area. Maybe it is not only the exotic place, but also the Experience that allows you to  feel the existential character of life again. I think a lot of people lose this feeling by living in a more and more digital world with unnecessary expectations on things like career, beauty and money.

The experience of life, is one of the reasons why Reinhold Messner pushed his own limits again and again. Climbing Evrest, walking through deserts of sand and ice. But also Messner met a lot of cultures on his famous trips. During his current show, the septuagenarian, told me in an interview, that traveling shows everybody the status of Earth. “You can imagine the personal fate of one of our seven billion humans. You can close your eyes and visualize the life of a young boy in Yemen, for example.“ Messner tries to face people eye-to-eye. “I never want to be educational, I just tell the story of my experiences“. And these stories can help to empathize with other cultures. That is one reason more for Messner to build his Messner Mountain Museums in the Alps.

The Alps is also the background for Ulla Lohmann‘s new book : The Dolomites. Back home living in Munich, Germany, she focus also on nearby places. The World Heritage Dolomites is one of the last wilderness areas in Europe. From Lake Garda to the Marmolada , the highest mountain of the Dolomites, Ulla Lohmann and Sebastian Hofmann travel beyond the beaten paths. In eight stages they have passed through the Dolomites in all seasons. They are particularly interested not only in the great panoramic views and the craggy peaks , but also in the small natural wonders at their feet : Every 400 meters they take one square meter of a different environment from , for example, prairie, forest , rock and snow before them and discover the beauty of the landscape in detail. It was a pleasure to meet Ulla Lohmann and Reinhold Messner.


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