When we interviewed EyeEm Photographer of the Year David Uzochukwu, we asked him about his source of inspiration. His answer: Laura Zalenga. At only 25-years-old, the photographer from Southern Germany has been teaching workshops, travelled to photography meetups around the world and has an immensely popular Facebook page with more than 330,000 followers.

No wonder we wanted to know more about this extraordinary talent. In this interview, Laura reveals how she got started, where her sheerly endless creativity comes from, how taking self-portraits taught her to love herself and what’s next in her career.

Read on to find out!

Laura Zalenga

Hi Laura! First things first. What do you shoot with?

My iPhone4s is always with me – not only to be contactable, but so often I am also happy to have the small camera with me when I see something beautiful on the streets of my life. It’s perfect for snapping landscapes passing by on the train or simply to document scenes from everyday life.

My analog cameras (Nikon F65 & RolleiCord) are with me for smaller and bigger travels. I use them to capture memories of moments that are important to me but not for a client. I don’t take them with me for any other intention than remembering the most precious moments.

Finally, my partner in crime – my Nikon D600. It’s the one that accompanies me on every planned photoshoot and on all travels. No matter if it is for a client or a conceptual self-portrait. I adore the possibilities of post-production, which makes it win over the analog cameras, and I love the incredible quality of the DSLR RAW files, which makes it win over my phone-camera.

When did you start taking self-portraits?

Right at the beginning after a few weeks of taking photos of flowers and cats I found Kalie Garrett on Flickr and completely fell in love with how much she made me feel with her self-portraits. Then I found more young self-portrait artists like Rosie Hardy and Lara Jade, tried it myself and it made me happy. Sometime during these days a fire was sparked off inside me.

I take self-portraits because it makes me happy. I can tell stories and handle emotions. I am completely independent and I can slip into roles. You know how people go get a massage or go for a run to take some time for themselves? I take self-portraits instead.

Through my self-portraits I learn to understand, to accept and sometimes even to love myself. And I learned how important that is. I feel like we live in a time when we get taught curve sketching and how to write essays in three languages, but no one ever tells you how important it is to love yourself in order to give love and to become happy.

What are you afraid of?

1. Losing my passion. It’s the burning flame inside me that pushes me and keeps me alive.
2. Realizing the day I die that my photos were nothing but beautiful pictures. I really want to use my photography to be a small part of making this world a better place.

Laura Zalenga

Laura Zalenga

Laura Zalenga

Let’s imagine today is the last day you take photos, forever. What do you shoot?

I thought about it for quite a while but no concept seemed important enough to be the final one. So I came to the realization that instead of shooting a photo I would shoot a video telling what I love about photography and how much it helped me and how much it changed my life, in order for others to get inspired to start taking photos and maybe finding therapy in it too.

Tell us about your friend David Uzochukwu. How did you get to know each other and when did you meet in real life?

Very early in 2013 I found David’s work on Flickr and it took my breath away. Long story short: “Hi David, I love your work” – “Hi Laura, I love your work. – “We are planning a meetup in Austria soon, wanna come?” – “Sure, that would be great!” (Add a ton of excitement on both sides to make it more realistic.)

We wrote messages, hung out on Google+ and finally met in August 2013. Ever since we talk a lot, meet several times a year and even spent a month traveling Canada and the US last year. David inspires me so much and has become a very important person in my life, not only photography-wise.

Who else have you met through sharing photos?

Probably half of the people I call friends are photographers. I met them online first and only step by step got to meet them in “real life”. It’s a great experience to finally hug them after knowing their photos for years. Photo meetups are always the highlights of the year. I mean, traveling with people you love while being able to take photos in the most beautiful places – is there something better?

flickr island by Zach Souliere
By Zach Souliere

You’ve studied architecture but consider making a living as a photographer. What’s on your wish list for the first year of your “professional” career?

It’s time for daydreaming, I guess. I would love to make a living from teaching workshops/giving talks in different places. And I would love these talks to be known for being about passion and inspiration and finding happiness instead of technical things. As we are talking utopian right now, of course it would be a dream come true to make a living from simply taking the photos I want to take and selling them afterwards. I guess so far, I haven’t given up hope to be an artist rather than a service provider.

How does one learn to be a photographer today?

As I consider creativity, an eye for composition/color and the desire to create the most important qualities of a photographer, I’d say you can teach yourself the biggest part of it. Also there are so many resources online.

You might learn faster in a school but knowledge you develop on your own will always beat knowledge that someone hands you on a silver platter. That’s why I love workshops: you can convey your spirit and your fire and the way you learned it to inspire others to find their own way.

Being your own teacher means if something doesn’t work out, you can’t blame the teacher without searching for the mistake within yourself at the same time.

Laura Zalenga

Laura Zalenga

How important are likes, photo views and comments to you?

Often I’m surprised by how many people are so impressed by a number on a website. Don’t get me wrong: I am so incredibly thankful for the support and love I receive as an artist online (and offline). But a single thoughtful comment means so much more than a very big number of likes or the 10th “Nice click” written under a photo.

Still, I can’t deny that these numbers bring great opportunities with them. And that it influences. Sometimes I ask myself if a photo with less likes is worse than one that gets more likes. There are moments when I try to imagine which photo will get more likes in order to decide which one to show online instead of simply choosing the one I like better. That’s when I have to remind myself of who I am doing this for—for myself and the people who really feel something when they look at my photos. Not for the numbers. I guess in a world that is partly ruled by clicks and likes, it’s hard to resist and to stay true to yourself.

Are there photographs that are not meant to be shared?

Of course I shoot more than I show. Some photos just don’t turn out in my eyes.
I never really think about these unseen photos that rot in the deep of my hard-drive until I get to look through the hard-drives of friends and find many photos that look so incredible to me but they never considered them good enough to show. Who knows how many masterpieces will never be seen?

Maybe sometimes a photo turns out to be so personal and so honest that it is really only meant to be your very own diary page. But most often photos leave room for imagination and interpretation, which allows you to show a lot without revealing bare facts as you would when showing a real, written diary page.

Laura Zalenga

Name 3 sources of inspiration that you consider important in your life.

The Brother Grimm’s fairy-tales
Light in all it’s forms
My own feelings

Name 3 photographers we should follow.

Marwane Pallas.
Ben Zank.
(They both take my breath away with their creativity and with how they are thinking out of the box. I especially look up to Marwane for including social criticism.)
As a third maybe Evelyn Bencicova (simply because I love the aesthetic of her photographs.)

Somebody who just got started with photography asks for your advice. What do you tell them?

Make your camera your third eye. See through it, feel through it, explore through it. Make your photos your diary pages that allow you to keep memories, tell stories and let things come true that were only possible in your mind before. In a world of clicks and likes seeming to show you how good you are as an artist, keep focusing on the voice within you instead of the numbers in the world surrounding you.

Thank you so much for answering our questions, Laura! To find out more about Laura, say hi on her EyeEm profile and check out her website.

Also read:
* Going Pro at 16. An Interview with David Uzochukwu
* Behind the Scenes of the New York City Ballet with Craig Hall
* 10 Steps to Becoming a Professional Photographer