Victor Kuebart got his start in photography with a 100 Euro camera and a trip to Costa Rica.
Born in a village close to Cologne, Germany, Victor only really got into photography about four years ago. He went to Cost Rica for school exchange, and took with him a cheap digital camera that he had to “push to the very limit” to get a good photo. There’s only so long you can deal with a shitty camera though, and Victor’s camera of choice is now his Nikon DSLR with only one zoom lens, because as he says, “You don’t want to change lenses in heavy rain falls in the forest or in a sand storm in the desert.” Though once obsessed with creating the perfect landscape shot—like those worthy of a Microsoft desktop screensaver—he now focuses on surreal, mostly minimalistic shots of otherworldly scenes from nature and urban environments. Here’s what we found out about the Victor of our 2016 Travel category.
What are you going to do with the 5k?
I will finance my next trip! It’s going to be either Colombia, Nepal or Hong Kong. It depends on the time that I have available.
What do you like most about your winning photo?
I’m very much into aesthetics and I really love the pureness of this clean composition. Mainly grey tones, some blue ones and some super tiny people within this immense environment of ice, all of it creates a very unique atmosphere. I also love that the photo leaves quite a bit of room for interpretation.
What’s the one shot that got away?
Back in 2013 on our trip to Iceland we decided to hike to the Gylmur Foss, Iceland’s highest waterfall, without any hiking equipment and only a basic map of the area. At some point, the hiking trail split and we had to make a choice, either left or right. We chose left and after four hours of hiking, the track led us towards a 20m wide river with freezing water just above zero degrees, turning into a huge waterfall right next to us. It turned out we’d actually reached our destination but to be able to see it, we had to cross the river.
So we took off our shoes and pants and started crossing the river, regretting not having taken the right trail 4 hours before, and we wouldn’t fall and get caught by the icy streams leading 200m downwards. When we finally got to the other side, I carefully picked a spot for the shot, took my camera, made sure the composition was perfect and pushed the shutter. Nothing. No sound. No photo. I thought my camera was broken until I realised the battery had died. I forgot to charge it the night before. The disappointment made it hard to enjoy the fantastic view. I will never forget this moment and this photo.
Has taking a photo ever gotten you in trouble?
Fortunately not in real trouble, but there were some very risky moments. In the Atacama desert in northern Chile we rented a car to drive to Salar de Tara, a salt pan I’d wanted to shoot since I arrived in Santiago. Unfortunately we didn’t get the tiny 4×4 we were planning to rent, but a huge pick-up. After two hours of driving we found out that it only had rear-wheel drive and knew it could get us in trouble out in the sand, especially since there is no weight on the rear wheels. One of my friends got pretty nervous about the situation and we argued whether we should cancel the trip or not.
One hour later we found out that this gigantic vehicle did not even have a differential lock—which meant if a single wheel spun, we’d end up stuck in the desert in the night at -15°C, without any help, network or even something to eat. We decided to continue, but none of us felt comfortable driving on the sand and we got stuck several times. Luckily we always made it out of the sand, again and again. We ended up getting really close to our destination, but whne we had it in sight, one of my friends got a panic attack and we decided to turn around. It was hard, but we decided not to risk our lives.
If you could be on a shoot with any photographer, who would they be and why?
I think one of the photographers that inspires me the most is Jimmy Nelson. He shoots remote tribes all around the world and has produced an enormous amount of work in the past years. He combines ethnography with high gloss fashion and presents at TED Talk events. Shooting people is not easy, especially when you don’t speak their language and can’t communicate with them. It’s just incredible how he makes these people pose in perfect compositions in their natural environment.
Dream subject/location to shoot?
I’m fascinated by otherworldly places, places that remind you of other planets that look surreal or dreamlike. The Danakil Desert in north-east Ethiopia is one of these and I would truly love to go there. Besides bizarre formations of synthetic looking minerals, you can find a volcano with an actual lava lake and camel caravans that carry salt bricks, mined by local workers. The extreme temperatures of up to 70°C are obviously hard to deal with, but it is exactly these extraordinary environments that appeal to me so much.