Oscar Wilde once said, “To define is to limit”.
I tried to define and understand Lukas Maeder, but the task was more complex than what I expected. It was hard to pinpoint exactly who Lukas was. Was he a photographer? An artist? A skateboarder? Or simply, a risk taker? Some people are like open maps, willing to offer you the universe in a matter of seconds while others are more mysterious than that. More complicated. They don’t reveal too much, but enough to stir up your curiosity. I wanted to write about Lukas Maeder, the photographer, because that’s who I’ve been following. But, I found myself sitting silent in my chair, listening to his timeless stories and thoughts that were bouncing around the room. That’s when I realized that he wasn’t just a photographer. His photographs weren’t defining who he was - his personality and experiences were the fundamentals of his photos. He was more complex than just a quick snap of a camera. He was himself - full of doubts, as any human beings are. That was the beauty of it - the normality we were used to hide, finally revealed.
“My camera was shaking so badly, my hands couldn’t stop. I was really hyped to see Snoop Dogg in front of me, waiting to shoot a portrait of him. He just looked at me and said with a relaxed tons to relax, that he will stay a couple of minutes and to tell him what I wanted him to do.”
Most people got to know Lukas because of his famous portrait of Snoop Dogg, shoot a while back already. If one thing Lukas can teach us is that persistence is the key in this industry. Festivals are always a hustle when it comes to photography as you need to show your portfolio to the managers of the artists while competing with tons of other photographers. But one night, Lukas installed his studio backstage with the hope of shooting Snoop Dogg, with the stress weighing him down because you have no clue if you’re going to come back with amazing photos or not. You sweat, you wait. You pray for the best while expecting the worst: no photos. But, trying never killed anyone so that’s what Lukas did that night. With the mindset that it was over already, that Snoop Dogg was leaving at this actual moment, he still asked his assistant to turn on the lights in the studio and wait. They did, and the man itself came straight to its studio: there he was, Snoop Dogg, ready to be immortalized by Lukas Maeder.
It is quite incredible to think that one specific moment can switch over your mindset and your career path. It wasn’t just a picture of Snoop Dogg, it was the chance to get your name out there. Slowly, you create your place in this new universe and your name is now known because of the moments you capture, the style you have and the energy you share.
It all started with a misadventure with skateboarding and a bad announcement from the doctor: no skateboarding for the next year. But, what could Lukas do if there was no skateboarding? Born and raised in Zürich, Switzerland, Lukas always been passionate about the skateboarding industry and was spending his days skateboarding around. After this mishap that involved a heavy surgery, Lukas didn't have any other choice than finding a new interest that would or would not involve his favorite sport. Of course, photography instantly appeared in his mind as he always liked the style of photos in skateboarding magazines. “Skateboarding photos aren’t just about skateboarding itself, but it's also about the atmosphere, the surrounding. That's what I really liked about it,” explained Lukas.
Being already in the heart of the sport in Switzerland, it didn’t take long until his photos got published in magazines. With practice and commitment, Lukas found his place in the skateboarding world, but the ideas that he could accomplish more was still on his mind. You could continue in this specific path and succeed at it, as you could go in another path and be as successful. But the real question wasn’t about success. It was about something we’re all questioning ourselves about - what do I want to do with my life? At this time, the confusion was still present in Lukas’s mind and focusing himself on skateboarding was helping him to stay grounded, but the idea of challenging himself and his skills wasn’t leaving his thoughts. He explained to us with pure modesty what was the turning point in his career, and it is quite clear that the idea of not evolving in his work was a scary thought for him. “I see all these skate photographers that are still at the same place than before. Doing the same composition, same lightning. I wanted to do more because I can't do like them anymore, I’ve been published everywhere already”. Naturally, it was just a matter of time until he realized his full potential and his strong desire to create more. As he mentioned so well, the portraits were just a progression.
Comes the real question now - how do you get inspired to create such powerful and unique portraits? The kind of portraits that makes you feel something, without any words. That makes you understand the feelings, the state of mind, the beauty of the human being. Surprisingly, there’s no magic answer to this question except being inspired by life, as stupid as it sounds. We both agreed about the cheesiness of this answer, but this is actually the truth - life happens. And, this may be crazy boring if you decide it to be, or you can keep yourself busy and creative like Lukas does. From taking a two-week break to do screen printing, to learn how to play piano, to ride vintage motorcycles or to create amazing skateboard decks, keeping himself busy never been a hard task for Lukas. “Photography is my life, my living, but I am interested in so many other things”, added Lukas while continuing his talk about filmmaking. The challenge of creating a movie or short video is definitely more present than in photography as you need a whole team, but the idea is constantly tempting him, and we’re almost convinced that it will come to life soon enough.
The tricky part about any creative career is definitely the choice of being a freelancer or not, and if yes, the complexity hidden behind it. Working for yourself definitely has its advantages, but the struggle can become unbearable. “When you’re this guy always looking for more, you’re always a bit unhappy”, Lukas explained to us while adding that he recently had to make a new portfolio and it was just not working at all. Sometimes you just look at your work and think it’s worth nothing, and that’s exactly what happened to him. “My life looks amazing, but sometimes, it’s a struggle,” he added. The most challenging aspect of being a freelance photographer for Lukas is probably the fact that you constantly need to present yourself in a new and fresh way. As he said, even if you did an amazing cover recently, people won’t remember it. You need to work more, find yourself deeper.
But with the inconvenient and stresses always come some good thing, like his upcoming project that we can expect to see (or hold) next March: his first book! After following Mighty Oaks, a music band, for almost three years, he is now ready to release a photography book of their life on tours, home and on the road. The thing that we are happy to hear is that most photos are on film, which would definitely offer a different look to Lukas’s photos. And no matter the success of it, he is amazed by the idea of showing this book to his kids one day, being a concrete piece of his work.
If there is a few things you need to remember from Lukas is this: don’t take no as an answer. To shoot Kendrick Lamar and fulfilled a long time dream of being published in Rolling Stone Magazine, Lukas went back at least three times to different concerts of Kendrick with the hope of capturing at least one portrait of him. It took a while, almost two months, and it took enough time to make the manager wonder what the hell was wrong with him, but at least, he succeeded. Then, you need to remember that you can stick to one style, but don’t forget to push your creativity further than your typical boundaries. Even though Lukas is often working with Redbull, which perfectly suits his style, Lukas is keeping himself creative through different art form such music, screen printing and skateboarding. Even in the photography aspect, he’s keeping himself inspired through different kind of photography, such vintage motorcycles. Being a recent passion of his, Lukas often goes out to shoot riders, but also to enjoy some alone time while riding one. Third rules and last, stay complex, stay yourself. Be complicated, let people wonder who you are and show them your art. And don’t forget, you aren’t your photographs, your photographs are a direct representation of yourself.
I admit, we haven’t totally understood who Lukas was.
Maybe he’s a photographer, a skateboarder, an artist and a risk taker.
Maybe he’s none of the above. But all we can say is that Lukas is an interesting person, and his photos are worth discovering. Plus, we’re quite excited to see where his other creative projects will lead him, so all we can say is to keep your eyes open and wait patiently!
Follow his work here: