Q&A: Konaction

James Fancourt chats to popular Berlin Instagrammer Konrad Langer…

With its 300 million (and climbing) users, Instagram has greatly facilitated mobile photography’s rise as a major force in global visual culture.

As you might expect from such a creative city, Berlin’s Instagrammer scene is fairly large – and one of the most popular posters is Konrad Langer, aka Konaction, who has – at the time of writing – around 55,000 followers from around the world.

Known for his vibrant use of symmetry and patterns, his largely architectural shots also often feature people to give them a human dimension.

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What first got you interested in photography?

It was when I bought my smartphone in 2013. For me that was the start of the photography that I’m doing now. Then I started to use Instagram and I came across a lot of accounts. I was always exploring the city, so even when I didn’t take any pictures I was always out in abandoned spots and everything, with friends or alone. So that was just my way to document my explorer style. After a while I gained a certain perspective that I often used and then tried to establish a style.

Have you always been based in Berlin?

No I came here in 2011. I was studying in Leipzig for six years and also lived in Dresden. Then I went to Australia and after that I moved to Berlin. My hometown is Cottbus. It’s not very far from here, about one hour south.

There’s a lot of old mines and stuff around there, right?

Yeh that’s true, they have lots of coal mines. It’s insane, every five years there’s a village just gone, dug away. It’s a crazy landscape, kind of like Mars or something.

Last year I did a kind of mini-interview with you for an article on Instagram users, where you said you wouldn’t describe yourself as a photographer. Is that still the case?

Yes, because from an educational and technical viewpoint I’m not a professional. So if you give it a very narrow definition I’m not actually a photographer. But I take pictures and I care about my photos so in an idealistic way I would be a photographer.

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It’s maybe then just how you interpret it…?

Definitely. On the other hand photography is a process. So if you take the broader definition, the point at which you call yourself a photographer doesn’t have to be when you start taking pictures, it can just be a certain mindset.

All of your Instagram pictures are from your phone. Have you ever thought of taking it a bit further, like picking up a DSLR or something – or do you think you’ll just carry on with mobile photography?

At the moment, alongside my work and as something I just do in my leisure time, I think a mobile phone is fine. It’s the best thing really because you can carry it everywhere and I’m pretty used to just taking the picture, editing it, see if I like it or whether I should just delete it. You have everything on the spot, it’s pretty perfect. I don’t know, I guess I’m lazy as well [laughs].

Do you think the limitations of only using a phone is in some ways a positive thing. For example you can’t zoom in or out, you have to think about where you stand etc.

I really like the style of mobile photography because it has little distortion. For this type of photography I do, really straight and orientated on angles, I think it’s perfect. You can only adjust your perspective by stepping forwards or backwards, going up or down. There’s no trick like zooming in or anything.

I think the limitation is also positive as you don’t have to think about a lot of technique when you take pictures. If I had a DSLR I would have to think of all the technique and things like that, and if I’m not fully into it or used to it, I kind of lose my flow in the situation. You don’t have to think about anything when you use a mobile phone camera.

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Could you speak a bit more about your process?

When I take a picture I always use the default camera app because it’s really useful to access it from the lock screen. You can just take it out of your pocket and it’s on. I take pictures in square format because I always want to see how the frame of my picture is, without guessing or trying to imagine how it will look after cropping it for Instagram.

After that I always use the VSCO Cam filters, I have three or four favourite ones. I really like the A series, A1-A6. It’s more minimalistic, more clean, not too much contrast, not too bright. There is also one app I use a lot recently called Darkroom. It’s a bit like Photoshop, you can really fine-tune your picture – the middle tones, black tones, white tones etc, it’s really nice. Then sometimes I use SKRWT, an app which helps with lines and symmetry.

Would you say you put a lot of planning into your photos or are they more spontaneous?

During the week, like today, it’s normally when I’m going to work. I like to change my route or just go one hour earlier and then look for new spots. Sometimes you see one or two good spots, sometimes you don’t and you just walk around for an hour when you could’ve slept [laughs]. Then on weekends I’m always doing a bit of research for particular spots that I’m interested in due to the style, or sometimes the abandoned places.

There’s a lot of those in Berlin…

I have to say the abandoned spots don’t have my favourite motifs because they’re often not very colourful or clean. This is more like documentary stuff because I want to go there and see them and the history and everything.

Talking about all the lines, geometry and colours you have in your shots, would you say this is the kind of thing you look for most when you’re looking for a new picture?

For me, I will always use these geometric shapes, I always want to see a pattern or some shapes and repetitions, these three things are the things that I really like.

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You often break these elements up by introducing a person. I’m curious about who these people are – your friends, other photographers, strangers…?

That’s the tricky part. I go out a lot at weekends and I have two or three friends that will often come with me for the whole day; they’re the only models I have. When you’re out on these instameets then you always meet some people, but it’s a bit tricky I think when you’re in big groups.

It sounds really useful to have two or three friends that you can always put into a picture. Often just one person really takes a shot to the next level.

I often use symmetry a lot, but 100% symmetry isn’t that interesting really. It’s harmonic but it’s boring and I try to break it up – sometimes with people but sometimes also with light and shadow. I don’t have any completely mirrored shots, there’s always one little detail or two details that can make it look a bit more real, not like it was designed on a computer or something.

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You mentioned “instameets” – would you say you feel like you’re part of a community in Berlin of other Instagram users?

I think Berlin is probably the biggest Instagram community in Germany but not necessarily the most active. There are certain accounts like the igersberlin account that do Instagram meetings every two months, but I think that most of the really active people are staying away from the big meetings. I think there are always certain communities and it’s the same with music actually. When you have music scenes they’re normally stronger in the smaller cities, and in the big cities it’s more scattered.

Would you say you’ve met a lot of people through Instagram?

Yeh definitely, not only in Berlin but everywhere. Around Easter I’m going to Hong Kong and Macau, I’ll visit a few friends including some people from Instagram. I’ve always wanted to go to Hong Kong. The density is crazy – I think it’s actually the city with the highest population of people per square meter in the world.

There’s this hashtag that I really like to browse, it’s called residensity. You always have these facade shots that look amazing. Crazy patterns and gigantic monumental buildings. I was in Singapore and Kuala Lumpa last year and they had similar things but not to the same scale.

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A shot from Konrad’s recent visit to Hong Kong

What would you say you most love about Berlin in terms of taking photos? 

I think it’s not a secret but the most interesting thing is its diversity, because it’s easy for you to just have different surroundings within just a few minutes. It can be totally different culturally, architecturally, the light, whatever. It’s always changing, and it’s big which makes it easier to find new spots. I’ve lived in a smaller city and I think it’s harder to produce the same output of street/architecture photography like a lot of instagrammers or photographers do in Berlin.

I think there are cities in the world that would fit my photo style even more though. All the Scandinavian cities, like Copenhagen for example, are really nice. They have so much new, modern architecture. They really care about how everything looks, so on the streets you can always find new things. Actually when I was in Italy, in Tuscany and Florence, I didn’t feel like taking a lot of pictures. It’s very romantic and the colours are nice but it’s definitely not my style. I think the city that you live in really has a lot of influence on your photography. At the same time, I’m really glad to live in Berlin.

Are there maybe some photographers that inspire you?

That’s quite a hard question. I think my favourite photographer is Andreas Gursky. I really like his work, he does a lot of monumental shots, big military parades in North Korea and China for example, and also these great facade shots – very clean and minimalistic architecture stuff.

There’s also a hashtag on Instagram you can browse, it’s called gurskygram, where people try to copy his style. One picture he did was a photo of a 99 cents store, which became the most expensive photograph ever sold at the time. It’s quite ironic, such a cheap place becoming quite an expensive picture.

What about hashtags – are there any you’d recommend people to check out?

There are quite a lot. I would say architectureandpeople, strideby, bepartofstreetart, standcommunity and whenpeoplematchplaces. I would also recommend the Huntgram app when you’re looking for inspiration on Instagram. It’s free and has curated sections for different countries and different types of photography.

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You can see more of Konrad’s photos on his Instagram page.

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