Freelance photographer Michael Belhadi started out in gastronomy and ran several cafés and restaurants before finding his true vocation. Born in 1963 in Algeria he grew up in Paderborn, Germany and lived in Bavaria for many years before moving to Berlin, where he now works and lives. We spoke to him about what it’s like taking pictures in surgery, self-employment and his favourite spots in the capital.
You used to work in a clinic taking pictures of surgery. How did you get that job? What was it like? Do you still have these pictures and did they influence your work at all?
Between 1983 and 1986 I worked in an orthopaedic clinic as a part of my alternative civil service. The chief physician found out that I took photos, made films and also knew how to develop analogue images. He appointed me his photographer and I took images of all manner of things, which he used for his medical publications. I don’t have the photos anymore as they weren’t mine. Taking photographs of surgery strongly influenced me, as I had to learn to focus on key things in a neutral and objective manner.
How significant is Berlin for your work? Did the city inspire you to dedicate all your time to photography?
Absolutely. Everything started in Berlin: when I moved here taking photos was my way of discovering and getting to know the city. I would hop on my bike and explore the city with my tripod and my camera. Berlin, especially eastern Berlin, formed my penchant for urban landscapes and spaces.
What techniques and equipment do you use?
I use my tripod and whatever light is available. A lot of my images are later retouched on my computer. My camera is a Canon EOS 5D Mark 3.
What artists or musicians influence(d) you?
Oh, there are a lot – too many to list here. But I should definitely mention Bernd and Hilla Becher and their students, whom I admire. I am also a big fan of Martin Parr and Steve McCurry.
How do you conduct your research?
That depends. In Berlin desirable subjects/motifs will pop up sooner or later without research. If I am travelling to other (large) cities, I will do some research on the internet and ask friends that live there and know my fables. Of course there are a few things that I’ve always wanted to take shots of, like the Battersea Power Station and the Thames Barrier in London.
What inspires you?
That is a difficult question. Almost everything, really.
What type of work do you like doing the most?
I enjoy the privilege of working as a freelance artist and not having a boss. That’s also why the work that I do at the computer brings me as much joy as taking the pictures themselves. A successful vernissage is, of course, always a highlight.
Apart from taking photographs, what else do you like doing in Berlin? Which part of the city do you frequent/like the most? Can you give us some tips for galleries, cafés, bars, scenic spots?
I love coasting through the city on my bike and I am always positively surprised about where I end up. In summer I love the lakes and surrounding areas and I enjoy going to the Müggelsee lake. As a photographer I love visiting the C/O gallery in the Amerika Haus. My favourite beer garden is the “Bierhof Rüdersdorf am Berghain”. I highly recommend it in summer as you get a beautiful and unusual view of the city – including the bell tower at the Olympic stadium. In the evening I’ll enjoy a G&T in the bar “Lass Uns Freunde Bleiben” on Choriner Strasse.
Which city would you like to explore in as much detail as Berlin and why?
It would have to be London. I’ve visited this wonderful city many times. Last year I started a series of photographs there, which I will continue in August. To me, London is the most exciting city in Europe and keeps drawing me in.
Describe your dream project.
My dream project would be to spend several weeks in Pyongyang just after the fall of the Kim dictatorship. I would spend all my time just taking pictures of this mysterious city with its Stalinist architecture...