Simone Naumann-The Face Behind The Camera

Arriving at Trappentreustraße 20 on Munich’s west side, is an underwhelming experience. The modern warehouse construction is simplistic and bland in colour, and gives no clue to onlookers what takes place inside. But within this building, professional photographer Simone Naumann, lets her creativity be unleashed.

Naumann, originally from Dresden in Germany, came to Munich 10 years ago and before this, lived in Amsterdam as a student at the Fotoacadamie. Her many ventures include being the creator behind Munich’s very own Humans of Munich. More recently she is also the owner of Germany’s first photo school for smartphone photography.

The school which is known as SMARTphotoschule, first opened in 2009. The mission of the school is to offer “entrepreneurs training, consulting and process support for their visual storytelling and workshops for smartphone photography.”

Simone Naumann in her studio

“I was interested in what the smartphone can do. I wondered if the little camera could do the same as the big camera,” explains Naumann.

“Most people cannot take good photos with their smartphone and I try to teach them  what they want their general message of their pictures to be.”

“I give lessons for picture concepts. Usually people take a lot of time on the text and not a lot of time on the pictures. Generally, it’s self-employed, freelancers and small companies who approach me,” she continues.

I visit her studio on an evening Naumann is holding one of her first talks. A student of hers from the school, Angela Schult, a food blogger, is demonstrating how she improved her picture taking skills using her smartphone. A modest group has formed in Naumann’s studio, ranging from individuals looking to improve their hobby, to others learning from a professional point of view. Wearing her signature red glasses, Naumann has a warm presence that is easy to feel comfortable around. Both Naumann and her partner, welcome everyone who shows up for the talk like old friends.

The talk lasts for 40 minutes and afterwards everyone is treated to a spread of drinks and food, including homemade pesto that Schult made herself, accompanied with fresh bread. Attendees of the talk try out what they  have just learnt and start taking pictures of the food. Naumann gathers around and offers tips on how to improve the lighting and angles of their photos.

Though Trappentreustraße 20 was initially unimpressive from the outside, the story behind the complex itself reveals a lot about Munich and its relationship with the creative side of the city.

Naumann assisting a student with a photograph

“The building is owned by the city of Munich. It is a strategy put in place by the city to enable smaller companies or single employees to rent space that they need a relatively moderate price. It doesn’t take much money to run but it generates a lot of jobs and taxes and so on. There are a few around Munich and this is the most central one,” says Naumann.

“Different people rent out the space in this building. It’s an interesting building, there’s a lot of different professions. There’s two or three people repairing or building instruments, a publishing company is housed here and the building also holds electricians and joiners.”

“The city also supports creative people with projects. Overall within Germany, if you look at creative people and the money they generate it’s more than a billion euros. It’s twice of what the automobile industry generates each year, some cities, including Munich try and support it because they know it has a spin of effect and know it generates more money than it actually costs.”

One of Naumann’s many projects have included the photo series, Humans of Munich. After being inspired by the work of Brandon Stanton, the face behind the hugely popular Facebook page Humans of New York, Simone decided to do Munich’s own version.

“One of my first projects in the Amsterdam photo school was to do street photography. In Amsterdam the life is on the street and everyone does what they want,” recalls Naumann.

After moving to Munich, she decided to take on the project of Humans of… because in her opinion everyone in the city “seemed the same.”

“My initial impression was that Munich was boring and that the city wasn’t as interesting as Amsterdam and I wanted to challenge this view and get to know the people. I went on the street with my camera and I wanted to get to know people that stick out a little bit from the crowd.”

“In the beginning it was difficult for me to take pictures of people. Humans of Munich was another step for me in photography and to build a relationship with a person and then ask them questions,” she reveals.

Unlike Humans of New York though, Naumann never intended to evoke great emotion out of people. Instead she just saw where the conversation took her.

Selection of photos from the project Humans of Munich (photo credit: Simone Naumann)

One fond memory, Naumann holds of the project, is of one summer when the Munich city council placed pianos in public squares and people could play. She says it was always interesting to approach these piano players and discover their stories.

The project, which ran from 2012 to 2014, eventually took a back seat when Naumann’s father became ill. But now she is ready to start it again.

“I was thinking about doing it again and then you got in touch asking to interview me about the project and it felt like a sign,” she confides.

This time though, she wants to concentrate on a different angle for the project.

“In Munich there is a lot of people who live here that are from different countries. The city has the most people in a city with a background of a foreign country. Yet compared to Utrecht, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, people with a different background or country are more present in the streets, in jobs. In Munich they seem to be nearly invisible, hidden in the background. And my question I want to answer, is, where are they?”

One example she gives is the boulevard Schwanthalerstraße. The stretch of road which takes around ten minutes to walk, has a feeling of stepping outside of Munich. The street is crowded with people with Turkish and Arabic origins and on either side of the paths are restaurants and food markets, all selling cuisine from their home country. You get the feeling that you’ve left Munich, yet once you step off the street you instantly leave it all behind.

Streets like these, full of expats and locals, are the places on which Naumann wants to focus. She wants to know the people’s stories, how they ended up in Munich and where they find their community.

Simone is the author of three books on the subject of smartphone photography. She also writes for photography magazines. You can check out her website here, as well as the page Humans of Munich