Interview with Marlena Wels from Germany

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Marlena Wels

Marlena Wels, a Fine Art Photographer and Self-Portrait Artist, developed her passion for photography in her early teens. Her dedication deepened at 15 during an internship at a local studio, leading her to purchase her first DSLR camera and discover surreal photography on Flickr, sparking her enthusiasm for crafting imaginative worlds.

Interview With The 2023 European Photography Awards Category Winner of the Year – Marlena Wels

1Can you introduce yourself and talk about how you got into photography?

Hi, I’m Marlena, a Fine Art Photography and Self-Portrait Artist living in the very north of Germany and to be honest, I don’t remember where my photography journey exactly started. I developed an interest in taking photos in my early teenage years, but it didn’t get any serious until I did an internship at a local photo studio when I was 15 years old.

This experience prompted me to purchase my first DSLR camera and explore Flickr, where I stumbled upon surreal photography styles that I had never known existed. Instantly, I was captivated by the idea of creating my own surreal worlds.

2Where did you study photography?
While I am a self-taught photographer, my academic background includes a degree in Multimedia Production from the University of Applied Sciences in Kiel. During my time there, I skilfully incorporated photography into various media projects, including the development of surreal 360° worlds.
3Do you remember your first shot? What was it?
Unfortunately, I don’t remember the very first shot but it probably was a first try in some fairy tale-related white dress princess vibe thing with terrible editing. It’s way too long ago!
4What equipment do you use?
I primarily work with a Nikon Z6. Most often I will use a 50mm 1.8 for my concept shoots, but I also own a 35mm 1.4 and 85mm 1.8.
5What do you hope to achieve?
I love dragging people into other worlds, out of reality. It’s some kind of escapism into beautiful, magical or haunted scenes. But under this surface, I like to implement elements and stories – most of the time, I will know exactly what I personally want to tell with this idea, as I use it often as some kind of diary. But it’s just my interpretation and I also hope that people will see their own story, the situation they’re in and feel kind of understood and cared for.
6What compliment inspired/touched you the most?

There are two that has deeply touched me:

Someone told me I was the one who inspired him to start with photography, which was a completely crazy feeling to hear that and another one told me to keep the work up, warrior of light!

7What inspires your unique storytelling?
Most of the time, it’s personal. Experiences, feelings, situations or thoughts I want to work through, to visualise them, process and accept them, so that they can be a part of myself in the future. But sometimes it’s also the beauty of nature - specific locations, plants or trees, which sparks an idea and the wish to capture the magic they inhere.
8What THREE (3) words describe your photography style?
Surreal, magical, painterly.
9Congratulations! As the winner of the European Photography Awards, what does it mean for you and your team to receive this distinction?
It’s a great honour, of course! Seeing my work between all the other well deserving winners is quite unreal. I always had that feeling, that my style of photography doesn’t fit in and isn’t that appreciated in the photography world. So it’s a really beautiful recognition, a bit like a “Cheer up, it’s worth the hard work!”
10Can you explain a bit about the winning work you entered into the 2023 European Photography Awards, and why you chose to enter this project?

The series ‘A Journey to the Self’ was created when I was part of a little collective with the aim of bringing a little exhibition together. We chose the old term ‘attitude’ to be the theme and I was drawn to the former meaning of it: It was a form of art back in the old days. Something between dancing, acting and pantomime, often visualising events in history, stories or important meaningful moments.

They were often compared to living pictures. Funnily, it was often performed by women which was perfect for my attempt to create my own living pictures as a self-portrait artist. I chose the journey of finding the self to be the meaningful moment and created a little travel back in time while travelling back to your roots.

I chose this series, as it’s currently my most recent series and because I like the simplicity of staying in one frame while telling the different stages of self-reflection and discovery.

11How has winning an award developed your career?
It is a big motivation boost, to keep going and to create new ideas and projects. It’s beautiful and reassuring to see others value your work!
12Name 1-3 photographers who have inspired you.
Brooke Shaden and Rosie Hardy were the ones, who I discovered on Flickr, when I was 15 years old. Their work showed me what is possible in photography and it opened up borders for me and inspired me to discover a creative way of self-portrait photography.
13What was the best piece of advice you were given starting out, by a mentor or your role model?

I didn't have a mentor when I started, and it stayed that way in the years that followed. But as I mentioned, Brooke Shaden had a key role in my photography journey. Her videos and little workshops helped me to develop my purpose in what I’m doing.

It helped me to shape my way and my messages and it made me realise how important constant self-reflection is. Not only for yourself but also to find sense in your work and strength in your story.

14What advice would you give someone who would like to become a photographer today?

Keep on going! How daunting it can be to have a vision in your head and thinking it’s not as good as I wanted it to be. Spoiler alert: This will never go away. And maybe that’s the point, to never stop growing.

Always try to outgrow your own work, try to not compare yourself to others and keep in mind that every tiny step is a step forward. And we don’t need to be in a rush, every good thing takes time.

15What is your key to success? Any parting words of wisdom?

Well, I have another question: How do you define success? I often struggle to see myself as ‘successful’, even if people are saying, “Wow, it’s working out pretty well for you at the moment”. But it’s just that moment and I don’t feel that different after such things as winning this category.

If success means having a booked job every week over the year, I’m not successful. If success means being able to afford a life on my own, I’m not successful. But if it means being happy with doing what you do, I’m pretty much successful. I may be a hopeless dreamer but I’m deeply convinced that following your heart and dreams will lead you to your own kind of success.

16How do you stay in that space of being receptive to new information and knowledge?
Honestly, I don't know if I'm good at this. When it comes to photography books, workshops, etc., I find myself getting bored a little too fast. It has to be something I really want to learn. But even then, I prefer to learn things by trying and discovering them on my own.

Winning Entry

A Journey to the Self | 2023


This little self-portrait series was created as part of an exhibition with the theme "attitude" - the former meaning ... (Read more at European Photography Awards)

Marlena Wels

Marlena Wels, a Fine Art Photographer and Self-Portrait Artist, developed her passion for photography in her early teens. Her dedication deepened at 15 during an internship at a local studio, leading her to purchase her first DSLR camera and discover surreal photography on Flickr, sparking her enthusiasm for crafting imaginative worlds.

Read more about this interview with Subhodeep Pal from India, the Gold Winner of the 2023 European Photography Awards.