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Monday, November 26, 2007

Axel Heimken - The Art Of Selective Focus

Using a lens modifier, sports photographer Axel Heimken gets a look that allows him to isolate his subjects for creative effect

Heimken entered the world of photojournalism by covering spot news, local politics and feature stories for a small newspaper in Munster. On one assignment, executives with the German Soccer Federation liked his candid photos of players in training and hired him for an ongoing series that has continued to this day.

As Heimken evolved his photography, he began capturing unique photos he knew he owed as much to the traditions of classic portraiture as he did to traditional sports journalism. Given the niche Heimken has created for his approach, it's interesting to look back on his affinity for the work of Richard Avedon. The great photographic portraitists—not just Avedon, but Arnold Newman, Annie Leibovitz, Sally Mann and Herb Ritts—have been known to manipulate composition, chromaticism and the intangibles of mood in ways that reveal not only their subjects' expressions, but the essence underlying them. A world-class portraitist conveys editorial emphasis that extends beyond the literality of focal length, ƒ-stop, lighting and angle, which Heimken does.

Editors aren't the only people who have responded to his vision. When the athletes themselves have seen the proofs from his images, Heimken says, “A lot of them have said to me, ‘I like how it shows me a little rough around the edges! Can you burn me a CD so I can blow it up and put it in my house?'” Among the sports stars who have requested Lensbaby photos are Zaza Pachulia of the NBA's Atlanta Hawks and Nadine Krause, 2006 World Handball Player of the Year.

Why are athletes so comfortable in front of Heimken's lens? Perhaps it has something to do with the unobtrusiveness of the equipment itself. He calls the Lensbaby “my little helper” and likens it to the fabled Leica M cameras of a past era.

“The Leica M didn't look like a big weapon the way wide-angle lenses make a camera look today,” says Heimken. “There was a level of comfort and intimacy it communicated, and that's how I feel about the Lensbaby. It's small enough that athletes see me not so much as a photographer, but as part of the scene.”

What are Heimken and his “little helper” up to next? He's covering track and field, volleyball and handball for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing and then the 2009 World Championships in Athletics in Germany. Even as he continues photographing the international events that excite him, Heimken has slowly begun moving toward an entirely different kind of content: underwater photography.

An avid scuba diver, Heimken has photographed marine life during dives in the Red Sea and off the coast of North Africa. In a planned dive to a seldom explored coral reef off Saudi Arabia, Heimken says he hopes to find a way “to express a different kind of creativity. It's another world down there—none of the rules apply that apply up above!”

Always the innovator, Heimken intends to take a customized Lensbaby 3G into the deep in order to capture varieties of marine life never before committed to film or digital camera.

“I have a very specific look I want to achieve,” Heimken says with anticipation. “I know it will probably take 10 or 15 dives to get it just right, but I know I can make it work and can't wait to figure out how!”

See more of Axel Heimken's photography at www.axelheimken.de. Learn more about the Lensbaby at www.lensbabies.com.



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