New: Sammy Hart

We are pleased to introduce Sammy Hart as a new laif photographer. He is a portrait photographer based in Berlin and looks back on a 20-year career. In recent years he has produced work for magazines, books, music labels and advertising agencies with worldwide campaigns.

You can also learn more about our new laif photographer on Instagram from Tuesday, the 21st of May 2024. He will take over the laif account for a few days and report on his work.


laif at Instagram


Katja Kemnitz conducted an interview with him:

Eine Frau streicht über den Kopf eines Mannes

Sammy, your focus is on portraits. What factors lead to a good portrait?

Of course, there are different requirements and tasks. When it comes to my artist portraits, it often starts with research or a conversation beforehand. Depending on whether the pictures are taken in the studio or on location, I either build backgrounds or try to find out where there might be personal references to the protagonists.

In any case, I try to set a process in motion right from the start. I never actually start with a desired result for my photo sessions, but rather allow myself to get involved in what develops from all of this. At the end of the chain, pictures are the result. I’m not that far removed from reportage photographers in that respect. I think you have to be receptive for this kind of work and, in a way, put yourself on the line – be an observer without hiding.


Speaking of artist portraits: Actors in particular can take on a role and pose. Is it therefore easier to portray them or perhaps even more challenging?

I have to work differently with actors, and I specialize in complicated characters. They are used to being in front of the camera, but in a completely different context. They have a text and a script and have to be able to breathe in their role; movement is usually an important part of filming.

Anything static can be a hindrance. In my sessions, movement is very important and my own speed with the technique. I want to get into the spaces between the movements. Only then is it authentic. In the end, I’m happy with pictures that are not perfect, but honest.

Zwei Frauen kuscheln
Mann auf einer Treppe
Mann im Mantel auf einem Bett sitzend

It sounds like a good portrait takes a lot of time. How do you convince people to take this time?

In fact, the sad thing is that we are getting less and less time for certain commissioned work. Ten years ago, I once canceled a requested session with Sofia Coppola because they only wanted to give us five minutes. Today, ten years later, I would accept such an offer with respect and a kiss. Another time, we organized a two-hour appointment including hair, make-up and styling with the great Julie Delpy with three different studio set-ups so that we could work quickly. To keep it affordable, we throw in all the equipment lying around in the studio and give away another working day to the editorial team for the set-up. There’s no other way to do it.

Times have become so compressed. You can like that or not. I definitely don’t like it, but on the other hand you have to make the best of what you can. Unfortunately, that often contradicts my own standards. I think I can see the loss of quality.

However – and I have to admit this honestly – real innovation nowadays takes place in reduction. Simply because production budgets no longer exist, young photographers are becoming amazingly inventive. I see a lot of beautiful things these days that are created with limited resources. I can only learn from that myself.

But then there are also sessions where I take my time. I then ask artists and produce them myself. But I end up paying for that in the end. Rare exceptions prove the rule. I really have to ask the editors whether they still want to promote innovation and independence at all, whether they don’t care and/or whether their own fight for survival is more important. This is the elephant in the room that is hardly ever talked about.

We, the self-employed, have started to compensate for the deteriorating facilities with our own initiative, sometimes crossing the line into self-exploitation.

Mann posiert angezogen auf einem Bett
Frau posiert für Portrait
lächelnde Frau lehnt sich auf ein Sofa

You've been working for over 20 years. How did you decide to look for an agency after all these years?

I let my collaboration with a photo agency come to an end some time ago. I had the feeling that I was furthering the escalating price decline with every single image I contributed. Today, you learn in passing that the artificial intelligence has been trained with images from the biggest picture agencies. Now there is a painstaking and patchy appeal for compensation at the highest level. Expectedly unlikely to lead to fair conditions. Could I have predicted this? No. Were there already signs of a decline due to a glut of images? Yes.

One question remained: How do you behave as an individual photographer without reducing your own existence to absurdity? You have to join forces with others. That’s not so easy because we tend to be loners. I had already been receiving the laif newsletter for a few years and sensed a good spirit there.


Given the challenges and changing landscape of the photography industry, how do you see the future of portrait photography and what role do agencies play in it?

I am sure of one thing: portrait photography will always remain relevant, just like reportage photography. These are topics that AI cannot replace. However, it must also remain financially attractive and allow those who do it to earn a decent income. Agencies and the merger of photographers in associations will become more important. I think that together it will be easier to enforce fair remuneration.


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