Just a few questions to: KATHARINA HESSE

© Katharina Hesse
Hello Hamburg! Hello Newyork!(HHHNY) hatte die Chance uns mit der deutschen Fotografin Katharina Hesse, die in China lebt, über ihre Situation als Fotografin dort und ihr neuestes Projekt zu unterhalten. Zusammen mit der Autorin Lara Day hat sie während der letzten drei Jahre ein Buchprojekt über Sexworkerinnen in Bangkog realisiert:"Human Negotiations". Um das Buch dann auch finanziell realisieren zu können, entschlossen sich die beiden 8.000 Dollar über die Crowdfounding Plattform "Kickstarter" zu organisieren. Es hat geklappt und wurde vom "Three Shadows Photography Art Center" publiziert. In Deutschland ist es über www.schaden.com zu beziehen.

"Human Negotiations is not a journalistic account of the sex trade, but instead a personal interpretation of a line of work that is frequently misunderstood. Leaving aside stereotypes of exploited, downtrodden Third World females coerced into a profession in which they are passive victims, the project reveals a more nuanced, open-ended world where women take center stage, and where reality's complexities leave room for wider interpretations." (from the book-preview)
© Katharina Hesse

HHHNY: You are now based in China. What was the reason for you to leave Germany in this direction?

Katharina Hesse: My background actually is Sinology (Chinese studies). The original plan was to spend one year doing research for a graduate degree at Beijing university in the early nineties. Without this background, I doubt I ‘d stayed on for such a long time.

HHHNY: You just finished your project "Human Negotiations" about sex workers in Bangkok together with writer Lara Day. To get the money to publish this project as a book you decided to do a crowd founding with "kickstarter". What is your experience with Kickstarter ? How much (social net-) work (-ing) was involved to make the project happen ?

Katharina Hesse: There was a lot of additional work necessary. Just posting a project on KS is not enough as we realized pretty quickly. If there’s no action from backers, you drop down the list on kickstarter. We became aware of this when for one week, Lara and I both happened to be traveling on assignment and had no time to think much about the campaign.
Towards the end of the campaign we spent almost every night on the phone discussing content for UPDATES to catch up. In addition we sent out  mass e-mails to colleagues, friends and whoever we thought could be interested in the project. It felt uncomfortable to be so public on the internet, but it had to be done. 

Here the explanation-video from the kickstarter homepage.

HHHNY: Would it not have been easier to earn the money with other photo assignment and invest into this book project?

Katharina Hesse: The entire project except for the printing is self-funded with our personal savings ( travels over a period of more than 3 years to Bangkok, hotels, fixer etc).
The printing costs are shared between the publisher and us . So the money Lara and I raised on KS is partial funding. We also raised additional funds through private print sales.

HHHNY: You work on photo assignments in Asia besides your personal projects. Do you have also Asian clients?

Katharina Hesse: I have few Asian clients which actually is a pity. But apart from Japanese publications, there's simply no budget for magazines to pay acceptable fees to editorial photographers ( as far as I know) . This may be a reason why in China for example, you 'll find many talented ( Chinese) photographers  who rather work in advertising to make a living. 
© Katharina Hesse
On the few occasions I have been out with Chinese writers on assignments though , it's been a good experience. There's a natural acceptance/ closeness between subject and media that you usually don't experience when being on assignment for Western publications. It's also nice to actually meet the photo editor you work with:)

HHHNY: Is it difficult to financially survive in China (a question from New York, ha), do you fully live from your photography ?

Katharina Hesse: In the nineties when I first started out, you could survive on 400-500 US$/ month. Those days a long gone. Nowadays, we live in the post- financial crisis days (and more specific to China : post-Olympic days with inflation). As a Westerner in China working for mostly Western media, it's become definitely more difficult and you need to adapt. Corporate clients fill the gaps now left behind by editorial. Yes, I live fully on my photography.

HHHNY: What is the situation for female photographers in China?

Katharina Hesse:Given the size of the country, it’s a bit difficult to make a general assessment. You see women names’ in all kind of “genres”, incl. entertainment photography, art and documentary. When you take a look at the annual exhibition for photography graduates of the Academy of Fine Arts for example  (hosted by the Three Shadows Art Photography Centre), you 'll notice quite a few women’s names.  Where all these people end up years later ? Maybe in the same positions as women in Western countries ? As photo editors, some become professional photographers (in the old sense that you make a living on it), some choose other professions. In fact, why should China be different ?

HHHNY: Whats your next project ? Any plans ?

Katharina Hesse: Yes ! But since I even haven't started, better don't talk about it :)
A question I would find really interesting is: why do so few German photographers base themselves overseas ?

Dear Katharina, thank you very much for this conversation !

- for further information please click: www.katharinahesse.com

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