Interview for The Leica Blog with Robert Mertens

Olaf Willoughby interview for the Leica Blog

 This month’s Olaf Willoughby interview is with Robert Mertens, a photo artist who teaches Leica Akademie Masterclasses in Wetzlar. Robert’s exciting explorations into abstract and surreal imagery take us down a ‘road less travelled’ by many Leica owners.


To start can you give me an overview of your project, its title & what is its main theme?

For many years the key topics for my works have been „TRANSFORMATION and MOTION“. In doing so I see my pictures as personal insights. Sometimes surreal and crazy, sometimes playful and associative or also conceptual and artistic – but always combined with great, playful delight in creative experiment, new visual concepts and exciting compositions. My current work – which often has abstract elements – becomes apparent to the observer at various levels and keeps revealing new elements through intense observation and interaction.


And how does that theme develop as a story throughout the project?

Constant change mean to me to tread new paths in photography and art, to keep moving and to engage in different perspectives in creative thinking and photography. Especially the study of CREATIVITY and FANTASY is an important element in my pictures and it influences, besides my artistic activities, also the thinking behind my workshops at the Leica Academy MasterClasses in Wetzlar, Germany.


Is the project purely for yourself or do you have a commercial or cause related end in mind?

All the pictures shown here are original works. My goal is to work without any outside interference as much as possible. Only then I am able to convey my personal thoughts and ideas through photography. As for my work I feel I’m more of a photo artist than a typical photographer. Most of the images in this gallery are for sale in limited editions.


What photographic choices have you made; colour palette, composition, use of flash.etc.

Quite a lot of my pictures finally come together in Adobe Photoshop. Because only Photoshop gives me the opportunity to realize my vision. Nevertheless, when taking photographs, I am always careful to get an ideal starting point. Think of the data from my Leica as modelling clay, from which my images are created in Photoshop.


What particular aspects of workflow would you like to highlight?

My working method best resembles a classical collage, where you compose, layer by layer. In Photoshop this process is done with layers and masks. A crucial issue is always to find the right combination of pictures. Typically I have a good idea of the final result but I also like to be inspired by the photographs and their potential. Then I work step by step towards the final picture. Usually this iterative process takes several hours, but can also continue for a couple of days.


Whats your vision for the project and how will you judge if you’ve been successful?

It is especially important to me to inspire the viewer of my pictures, to touch them emtionally. Ideally, they use their own fantasy to interpret their individual approach to an image. I know I’m successful when I feel other people interact and get involved with my pictures. One definition of art is that it leaves space for the viewer and I try to create that space in my work.

Did any particular person or body of work influence or inspire you?

Although I see myself as a photo artist / photographer and admire, for example, the works of Man Ray or the sequences of Duane Michals, I would say that the creative and innovative ideas of modern art have influenced me most. In this context I want to mention artists like Marcel Duchamp, Jackson Pollock, Marc Rothko or Robert Rauschenberg.


Dealing with the topic of creativity had a very important impact on my work. To be aware of the possibilities of creative techniques and then to embed them actively into the development process, has influenced me in a significant way. Many of my thoughts and ideas are included in my book „Kreative Fotopraxis“ and are also part of my workshops for the Leica Academy MasterClass.


What Leica equipment do you use and how is it particularly suited to the needs of this project?

At the moment I work quite a lot with the Leica M (240) and I am especially fond of the Summilux 50 mm. I shot many of the close up structures with a Leica D-Lux. I am a great fan of lightweight equipment. Especially the feeling of having only one lens to hand, which forces us to see differently and strengthens our perception.



Where can we see more of your work?



And finally please tell us a little more about yourself?

 Photo artist, author and trainer in photography and visual creativity After a traditional education as a photographer, then working in advertising agencies and studios for commercial photography, I became a freelance photographer in 1989. My knowledge of analogue technology and photo processing, as well as my interest in the possibilities offered by the new technology Desktop Publishing, were the starting point for my shift towards individual art based projects.

My passion for combining creativity and photography is reflected in the book „Kreative Fotopraxis“ (Galileo Verlag), which was nominated for the „German Fotobuchpreis“, a German award for books on photography, in 2013. In this book I describe a methodology leading to new visual ideas and creative concepts. Currently I am working on another book, to be published in 2015 which deals with visual language and composition. In my workshops (e.g for the Leica Academy MasterClass) I offer inspiration for photographers who want to think and perceive differently plus advice on creative photography and design. To all this I add my own ‘special sauce’ of individual ideas and artistic processes.

 Thank you Robert!


Olaf Willoughby is a photographer, writer and researcher. He is co-founder of The Leica Meet, a Facebook page and website growing at warp speed to over 8,000 members. In June 2015, Olaf will be co-teaching ‘Visual Conversations’, a creative photography workshop with Eileen McCarney Muldoon at Maine Media College in Rockport. If you have an intriguing project or body of work, completed or in progress, that we might feature contact Olaf at:   or


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