Just a few questions to: CLAUDIUS SCHULZE

Claudius Schulze, who lives in Brussels and Istanbul, was originally trained in Conflict Resolution. Choosing to become a photographer he has since traveled to over 40 countries, working on various photographic projects. His latest was SOCOTRA, a visual journey to the Yemeni island of Socotra in the Indian Ocean. He spent about 7 weeks shooting in this remote place that most people wouldn't find on a map and produced a self published book with wonderful photographs and texts that are spread over 130 pages. He presented SOCOTRA in Perpignan, London,
Brussels and Hamburg and has now a new exhibition in Berlin opening this Friday 27th, 2012, at the Aff-Atelier freier Fotografen.

HHHNY:Congratulations on your book SOCOTRA.
Photographers often seek out far and unknown places. The island
Socotra in the is in the middle of nowhere and totally unheard of.
And dangerous to get to. How did you get interested in it ?

Claudius Schulze: I was working on a project – it was ok, but never really hooked on, as it were. Out of frustration, I cancelled it one day – and, as we say in German, “I was ready for an island”. Years ago, I read about Socotra and out of a clear blue sky I decided to go there!

HHHNY: Was it a book project from the beginning or was it a story idea for a magazine ? How was it funded ?

Claudius Schulze: Not at all. First it was just an idea for an travel story. Nothing more than that. Through the impression of the first trip and the research I did after it, I got interested in the concept “Island”, exploration and adventure. The following trips, I worked towards that idea – to not only document the very island of Socotra but also the imagined adventure island we all have in our heads.

HHHNY: We both (Andreas and Stefan) know how much work it is to produce a book, especially after the photography (the fun part) is done. What kept you going ? What problems did you encounter producing the book ? How much time went into the production of the book besides taking the pictures ?

Claudius Schulze: Oh yes, it is heck a lot of work. Yet, I enjoyed doing it very much. I designed the book myself. I learned book binding to produce dummies and the special edition. I wrote many pages. I took me a year to produce the book – a year of hard work. But not a single moment, I felt regret. I enjoyed every single part of it. I was (and am) deeply convinced by the concept of the book and really wanted to hold the final volume in my hands. Since the project is about a topic (islands) that traditionally found their medium in books – think of Robinson Crusoe, the first modern novel! – the book felt to be the perfect medium.

HHHNY: How many books did you print and what is your experience with self publishing ? Is it worth it financially ?

Claudius Schulze: The book was printed in an edition of 500. That’s not a lot – I was just too scared that if the book wouldn’t sell I would have to look every morning at the hundreds of books standing unsold in my apartment. Yet, it turned out to be a too small edition as the book is basically sold out – after just four months! Nobody makes money with publishing great photo books. Yet, I always applied a calculation that limited the risk. Actually, the risk with self-publishing was lower than if I would have went with a publisher
(I had offers) as was the amount of money I had to touch. I decided to make a special edition of the book. I pre-sold the first 100 books to a lightly higher price to ‘supporters’ of the project.
That way, I financed a big part of the printing costs. In return,
those supporters received a print with their book and are named in the book.

HHHNY: You put a lot of energy into advertising ‘Socotra’on social networks like Facebook and Twitter besides writing about it on your your website and blog. Could you imagine producing a book today without online marketing ? Is it part of the fun of self publishing ?

Claudius Schulze: It would be impossible for me to self-publish without these new channels. On the one hand, I try to cut out ‘traditional’ sales channels as much as possible. Book shops take up to 50% commission – plus shipment. I loose 75ct with each book sold through main stream book shops (the picture is different with art and photography bookshops). I tried to include the audience as much as possible in the making of the book. Also, I love the bi-directionality of marketing in social networks, getting feedback was very important for me. Working alone and for oneself on one project for so long made me feel like being in a vacuum. I tried to compensate the feedback of a team by the feedback I got through my blog and through facebook. It was important to me to keep the supporters and funders of the book as close to the project as possible. It was not only the money these people gave me – it is also my audience!

HHHNY: Prior to the new show in Berlin (starting Friday, January 28.) you had book signings and/or shows in Perpignan, London, Hamburg, Brussels. How did you get all these places (galleries etc?) involved ? What was your experience especially with Perpignan during the photo festival ?

Claudius Schulze: Not having any marketing budget as big publishers have, I had to find ways to get the book out that don’t cost a lot of money. I chose to have a couple of book launches in different cities. The best example is probably Perpignan during the photojournalism festival Visa pour l’image. I used the toilets of the most frequented bar – Café de la Poste – as a pop up exhibition and had a book launch on the stairs of a church. I bought wine for 60 Euro, that’s all expense I had. All other presentations happened at ‘regular’ venues: bookshops, museums, galleries. On the one hand, I tried to plug into their networks, on the other, it gave me the chance to build a direct connection with the buyers of the book. A very worthwhile experience. On all events, I sold all books I brought – I would call it a success.

HHHNY: What are the benefits for you as a photographer having published this book ? For instance, do you get more assignments ?

Claudius Schulze: A book is definitely a nice business card. Yet, it is probably not worth making a book only for the marketing effect. One should love the project!

HHHNY: The photo book market is booming. Do you have an explanation ?

Claudius Schulze: Over the last 20 years, the process of book making got revolutionised. Back then, highly trained specialist where necessary for each step of thr production of a book. Today, I can design the book myself on my laptop and print a book straight out of a pdf. That’s incredible! The technology got just so much easier to handle – which made it also cheaper. I think it would have been barely possible to selfpublish a book a couple of decades ago.

HHHNY: Can you talk about your images, like how did you decide to include reportage elements to mostly landscape photography ?

Claudius Schulze: The Socotra project was the first time that I documented an imagined place rather than a really exisiting one. That was a very new experience for me. I realized that it is very important to capture the mood to create the right impression in the head of the spectator. In the case of adventure island, landscapes were very important for that. The process of realizing this was very important for the (slow) transformation of my work from straight-forward photojournalism to a more artistic documentary photography.

HHHNY: Have you been back to Socotra with the book ? If, what was the reaction ?

Claudius Schulze: No.
HHHNY: Last not least: What is your next project ?

Claudius Schulze: After all the golden hour photography of Socotra, I long for the dark side of things. Apoclypse is my new project. Today, we are the edge of a new beginning, that is – apocalypse in the literal sense of the meaning of the word a new beginning rather than a disastrous end. Scrupulous exploitation of the earth’s resources, a dramatic overpopulation far beyond sustainability, and the dooming of a climate change that will alter the face of earth drastically, coincidence in what is probably the worst systematic economic crisis in our civilization’s history. It is clear that human life has to change dramatically - or it will be changed as drastically by force. We have the choice of protecting the self-sustaining ecosystem of the earth or starting to geo-engineer our own – this is descriptive rather than normative; an examination of the apocalypse we are at the beginning of. The project is about the future, mankind’s fear of chaos and uncertainty and the struggles we all fight to keep control. It’s a universal story, really. For if we don’t quest for the future, what do we really quest for? It is a multi-faceted project, looking at dooming nature catastrophes as the earth quake that might hit Istanbul in the very near future, traditional leadership models that can withstand drastic social changes such as tribal leaders, village elders, sheikhs, and the like, or architecture that is designed to last for centuries. Examining what will be lost and what can remain is my story. I intend to reach past the comfort zone, asking questions about consequences, destiny, and the possibilities of a new beginning.

We thank you for the interview.

Claudius Schulze at http://claudiusschulze.com/

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