Street photography workshop with Siegfried Hansen

Siegfried Hansen is known for his quite unique visual language in street photography. He makes heavy use of graphical elements and geometric shapes and in general has an almost mathematical approach to photography. I had the pleasure of joining one of his workshops where he kindly elaborated on his way of working and on how he developed his own visual style. I also had a short time with him on the streets where he demonstrated his way of working although I didn’t attend the full practical part of the workshop.

Siegfried Hansen is a meticulous person. He is hyperfocused and has a very admireable intuitive fascination for (color)patterns, shapes and unusual circumstances. Seeing a girl with a panther-motive coat immediately triggers him to look around for matching motives that can be put in one shot. And in the light through the multicolored windows of a subwaystation, he looks for matching patterns in the clothes people wear with the colors of the incoming light.

He has an engineering background which might explain his analytical mindset. He is not a street photographer that looks for human emotions, for atmosphere and tonal pleasure. In that sense he is a rationalist, although his way of working seems quite intuitive. When asked, his joy comes from nailing the perfect shot. The emotion comes from the excitement of the raised beat of his heart when he knows he's captured it, not so much from the emotion within the scene itself.

Image from the workshop

Image from the workshop

The following are some things I learned from the workshop that I am now trying to incorporate in my own workflow:

Hansen is a collector. His meticulousness seems to be triggered by his urge to collect. His collections range from the giant cones you see at icecream-shops to very specific human behaviour as the way a father carries his child around his neck. This has the advantage that he never has to look for inspiration, that he is often out on the streets and that it brings discipline into his workflow. 

He often starts with a locationscene, with purely graphical aesthetical pleasure as a starting point. Then waits for the right person to step in and add a human element to complete the scene. With often just a part of a body, a hand, a foot. He never waits more than a couple of minutes and otherwise will just return at a later point. It means he must have an impressive mindmap of the city of Hamburg, of locations, light-circumstances and potential quirky situations he is looking for.

Accordingly, if a scene is not working out immediately but he thinks it has potential, he will return to it until he achieves his ‘topshot’, a shot that gets the maximum result out of a specific scene and is an addition to his portfolio. In general his routine consists of doing the same routes over and over again until he got his topshot from a scene.

Image from the workshop

Image from the workshop


He makes use of more advanced composition-techniques that seem to be based on the Gestalt-principles, very mathematics-orientated and with heavy use of triangular shapes. He tries to add complexity into his compositions by creating triangles of connected elements. The result of these composition-technique is that subconsciously a picture is instantly aesthetic to look at but it also brings a second layer to it. A second layer that causes an ‘Aha-erlebnis’ at second glance, gives the picture a deeper meaning and makes the picture stand-out and thus rememberable.

Apart from geometric patterns he also looks for deviants in human behaviour and perception, just like fellow members of the 'In Public'-collective as Matt Stuart. He seems to have a strong aversion against everything that is what he calls mainstream and will always look for new angles and different views.

He gets a lot of his inspiration from paintings. He trained his skills by looking at existing photography and paintings and mimicking them in a new context. His inpiration comes from the likes as Andre Kertesz, Piet Mondriaan and the Bauhaus-movement. His current signature work derives from a 20 year-long quest, with different stages of development into the work his currently makes and is known for.

All in all his way of working is quite remarkable and inspirational. I learned a lot from his methodological workflow and his meticulousness. Also I really admire his openness about his learning path and his modesty about his fame, saying that he was just lucky enough to find a clearly distinctive niche.

More about Siegfried Hansen on his website