In his more than 20 years of experience as a portrait and editorial photographer, Munich-based Robert Brembeck has worked for nearly all the leading magazines in the German market. Many of those assignments have been for Stern magazine, an illustrated weekly magazine focusing on current affairs from a liberal perspective.
On a recent project for Stern, Robert photographed Cardinal Reinhard Marx, a leading figure in Germany’s Roman Catholic Church and a member of Pope Francis’s advisory council. Marx held a service for LGBTQ parishioners at Munich’s St. Paul’s Church – a powerful gesture, given that they have been historically rejected by the Church.
Marx is well-known for addressing issues head-on and pushing boundaries. We went to the service the day before the interview, where I was able to take some photos. The interview and actual portrait shoot was scheduled for the next day at the Cardinal’s residence in downtown Munich.
Given that editorial photography usually doesn’t allow for much scouting in advance of the shoot, Robert was unaware of the location when he photographed Marx. Finding and preparing the locations on a short time frame was a challenge, along with meeting the subject for the first time and deciding what lighting and framing correspond with his character.
I always try to show up as early as possible but most of the time an hour and a half in advance. Usually I bring my assistant and some lighting equipment, and expect the unexpected. As we arrived at the residence, we were fifteen minutes early as it was raining. I tried to get invited in, but some clerk refused us. And we had to wait for our time to come.
When Robert was assigned a specific spot for portraits, he realized that this location had probably been used by many photographers in the past and he wanted a more unique location. As a result, he had to fight for the right to photograph Marx at the entrance between the columns, balancing being polite and courteous with his creative vision.
I prepared two sets, the one with the staircase and the columns, lit by two Profoto B1 and shot with a LEICA SL2-S with a LEICA APO-Summicron 50mm Lens, and the other was a close up/headshot lit with Godox LEDs and shot with the same camera but a 75mm Leica Apo lens. The Kardinal himself was very nice and polite and was willing to make the photoshoot a success. I heard afterwards that he mentioned to the editorial staff at Stern that he was very pleased with the portraits.
There is always a chance for the unexpected to happen during a photo shoot. Although the project itself went smoothly, mother nature played a role in making things interesting.
We have in southern Europe a weather phenomenon that occurs from time to time called Sahara Dust. This yellow dust is stirred up over Northern Africa and blown over the Alps to southern Germany darkening the sky yellow! At the time we started the shoot, the effect was at its peak and kind of strong, dimming down the available light and everything went quite yellow. Kardinal Marx asked if this was the Last Judgment! It may have increased my awareness that I can shoot good portraits under any circumstances, even when the Last Judgment stands in front of the door!
See more of Robert’s images on Instagram.