Travelling Light - Mehrdad Samak-Abedi explains his love of travel photography in this exclusive Billingham blog interview
Posted on December 18 2019
Now living in Germany, Mehrdad Samak-Abedi (Qimago.de) is the son of Persian immigrants. He attributes his passion for distant lands to his interesting upbringing, and today travels all over the world to shoot landscapes, street scenes and urban life. His photography has taken him from Europe to America, Africa and Asia. With a keen eye for quality, Mehrdad has been a Billingham owner for several years. We got in touch to ask him some questions about his photography, his career and his kit.
Mehrdad Samak-Abedi with his Leica M Camera
Tell us a little bit more about yourself – your background, lifestyle and career.
As a son of Persian immigrants, I was born and grew up in West Berlin during the cold war. Surrounded by the Berlin wall and with only an Iranian passport, travelling to far-off places spontaneously was always very special for me. I studied civil engineering in Berlin after the Lette-Verein in Berlin did not accept me as a photography student. As I have always spent my money on photography, there was never much money left for travelling, so I decided to work for an airline after my studies, giving me the opportunity to travel the world first.
I only planned to do that for a year, but here I am 15 years later! I decided to stay with the airline business: exploring the world and pursuing my photography.
Photo from the runway © Mehrdad Samak-Abedi
We read that you held your first camera at the age of 12. How did this come about? Who gave you the camera and what make was it?
My father used to own a Canon F1. I fell in love with all the knobs and dials. I was attracted by the mechanics at first, in fact more than its use as a camera. I had long discussions with my dad about lending me his camera, so eventually I bought a Canon AE-1 with my pocket money – although it took me quite a while to get the funds together.
You have a love of analogue photography. Tell us more about that.
I learned photography the analogue way. I also produced my own prints at home. It was quite an effort to darken my flat, so I used to work all night until sunrise. The analogue process is very time-consuming, the chemicals are annoying sometimes, and one can get frustrated – it’s also expensive. In spite of all this, it is a pleasure to look at a print that has been created using this procedure. Analogue photography is a hand-made process, which I really enjoy.
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Mehrdad's developing lab! © Mehrdad Samak-Abedi
Who or what inspired you to become a photographer?
First and foremost, my dad! He was a really passionate photographer. But maaaaan, it tooks years for him to take a family picture on our holidays, so I accepted the challenge of getting that job done more quickly. Hehe.
My interest began with the technical elements, but I soon realised that I could express myself with photography, too. My parents wouldn’t allow me to learn the drums or saxophone. I guess they were afraid I would be bad musician, and they’d have to deal with my attempts at home.
So I thought: photography is not that bad!
The New York Skyline including the Chrysler Building. © Mehrdad Samak-Abedi
Did you study photography or have formal training, or was it something that developed over time?
When I first reached the age where I needed to think about earning a living, the first thing that came into my mind was becoming a photographer. So I applied to Lette-Verein, a famous school for photographers based in Berlin. I failed at my first attempt – but for good reasons!
So I changed my tactics and started an internship with a photographer here in Berlin. After I had completed that role, she told me that perhaps I should wait, as ‘this business is hard’. She said something that made a lot of sense to me: “Mehrdad, if you love photography as much as I think you do, stay with it as a hobby! As soon as you have to earn your income through photography, you might lose that passion!”
I guess my skills were so bad that she hoped I would give it up…
South Styria in Austria © Mehrdad Samak-Abedi
You describe photography as ‘an unconditional interaction of craftsmanship and creativity’. Please explain more.
I think there are very few photographers out there who have so much creativity inside them that they don’t have to think about the technical aspects. They just know how to frame and expose by instinct. But even these photographers will come to a point where they need to gain a deeper technical understanding, so that they can take their photography to the next level. One needs to appreciate the workings of their equipment to know how to get their idea on the film or sensor. Although the camera and the technical detail should never get in the way of the photographer and the subject, a photographer should be able to understand their tool.
Big Sur in California, USA © Mehrdad Samak-Abedi
Tell us more about Qimago.de
Qimago.de is a blog run by me, and my two friends Elmar Egner and Christian Leipner. We share a great love of photography and we are also technical geeks! We share the same ‘virus’. We call it G.ear A.cquisition S.yndrome (or G.A.S.!). So, as therapy, we got together to write about the gear we love to use or that we are curious about. But there are not just reviews on our site. We also share thoughts about photography in general and we publish travelogues with lots of photos, of course.
All in all, Qimago.de is a blog written by photo enthusiasts for all types of photographers.
Unfortunately, it’s currently only in the German language, but our photos are multilingual.
The Big Sur in California © Mehrdad Samak-Abedi
Why did you choose to follow a career in travel photography?
In Germany there is a saying: Reisen bildet! This means ‘while travelling, you learn’ and I think this is so true. Seeing the world with its beautiful landscapes, and understanding other cultures and people, are so enriching. This is all particularly interesting for a photographer. Beauty is everywhere. Whether stepping outside your house in your home town or travelling abroad… you’re surrounded by new impressions. Working for an airline, I travel a great deal, and this has always been special to me. Becoming a travel photographer was a natural progression for me.
My travel photography is a way of capturing and retaining memories, too. I look at a photo and remember the day, the scene, the mood I was in while taking that picture. This is another very special aspect of photography for me.
A photo from Seoul, South Korea © Mehrdad Samak-Abedi
You regularly carry out in-depth reviews of photographic equipment for your web site. How did that start?
Most of our photographers love new gear. Cameras, lenses, camera bags, and so on. The more the better. I suffered from ‘G.A.S.’ but buying all this kit costs a lot of money and quite often I’m doing it just out of curiosity! It’s not exactly essential to purchase a 5th 50mm lens! So I started to contact various manufacturers and offered to write about their products. They lend me kit so that I can gain experience and after that I return the products and write about my findings. That has definitely helped with the G.A.S. issue!
Most photographers have a personal favourite photograph. What would you consider to be the most notable or outstanding picture you’ve ever taken and why?
I particularly like a shot I that I took out of the window of an Airbus A320 while flying over the Alps - on our way back from Naples towards Munich. It was 7am and the sun was rising. Almost everybody on the aircraft was asleep. The sunlight and the mountain peaks created a beautiful play of shadow and light. I don’t know how many miles above the mountains we were flying, and although the aircraft was noisy, the atmosphere reflected the tranquillity of the situation inside and outside the aircraft. For me, this photo is the quintessence of photography. It throws me back to a mood I had when I captured the scene.
What’s in your kitbag currently?
These days I use my Leica M10 a lot. Actually, I am a 100% M shooter. When I shoot in analogue, I use a Leica M3 and sometimes a Canonet QL17. My favourite lens is the Leica Apo-Summicron-M 50mm. For wider shots, I prefer the Voigtländer Ultron 21mm VM and the Voigtländer Nokton 40mm VM.
Billingham Hadley Pro 2020 camera bag with Leica M3 (and 50mm lens), Leica M10 (and 28mm lens), LEICA Summilux-M 24mm f/1.4 ASPH and Voigtländer 75mm Color-Heliar F/2.5 and accessories. © Mehrdad Samak-Abedi
What’s your favourite / most cherished piece of equipment? Tell us more.
I love my Leica M10 and especially the 50mm Apo-Summicron-M attached to it. I’ve had a lot of gear in my hands through the years, being a reviewer for both cameras and lenses, but the 50mm Apo-Summicron-M is a really special lens. Hard to explain, but I love the output this camera and lens combination delivers.
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Mehrdad's Leica M10 with 50mm Apo-Summicron-M attached. © Mehrdad Samak-Abedi
Which is your favourite Billingham product and why?
That’s a hard question. I own six Billingham bags, and each of them is good at a particular moment. Okay, maybe two would be enough, but to be honest, my ‘G.A.S.’ with Billingham bags has not subsided yet! I love them all, but if I was only allowed to keep one, I would keep the Billingham Hadley Pro 2020. It’s the perfect size for my equipment, with room to spare for extra items, too. It doesn’t look like a boring photography bag. In fact, my non-photography friends always comment that it’s a beautiful bag. However, the main reason I love it is that I can rely on it to keep my equipment safe in rainy or dusty conditions, without having to put those ugly covers on my bag. Practical and stylish at the same time!
Mehrdad's Billingham Hadley Pro 2020 camera bag with Leica M3 and Canon Canonet G-III QL17 © Mehrdad Samak-Abedi
You are currently using a Billingham Hadley Pro 2020. What are your thoughts on the bag? How do you find it useful?
As mentioned above, I love the Hadley Pro 2020. Simply because of the room it provides for my equipment and other stuff – it’s ideal as I am able to take it as carry-on luggage in the aircraft. I already loved the original Hadley Pro, but the 2020 now perfectly serves my needs as I travel so much by plane. I always have a trolley case with me, so I love the additional luggage strap that has been included with the new Hadley series.
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© Mehrdad Samak-Abedi
What exciting developments do you expect to see in the world of photography in the future?
Well, to be honest and I know this sounds strange for a reviewer like me, but I am actually pleased with everything I have at the moment. The autofocus of my M won’t get any faster and I am happy with the results my camera and lenses offer me right now. The only limitation is me, the one behind the camera. ‘Better’ equipment won’t make me a better photographer!
An actress from China. She is preparing herself for a traditional Chinese Opera © Mehrdad Samak-Abedi
What advice would you give to young people thinking about a career in photography today?
Fight for your dreams!
Oriental Pearl Tower (centre) and Bank of China Tower (right) in Shanghai © Mehrdad Samak-Abedi
What is the project or piece of work you’re proudest of?
Well, probably something that is nothing to do with photography. My family and kids are the only ‘project’ that really matters to me. ;-)
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Mehrdad's wife and daughter. © Mehrdad Samak-Abedi
What’s next for Mehrdad? What are your next big projects?
I am currently planning two photographic projects, which I can’t discuss right now… however, here’s a little sneak peek: one is about my origins. That’s all I can say!
The "Regierungsviertel" in Berlin. In the background one can see a part of the Reichstag. © Mehrdad Samak-Abedi
Where can readers follow you on social media? What can they expect to find?
You can find some of my travel photos on Instagram (@mehrdad_qimago). From street to landscape, you can see a mixture of my everyday experiences.
Photo from Tokyo by © Mehrdad Samak-Abedi
Where can people come and see your work / meet you? Do you have any forthcoming exhibitions, talks or workshops?
Right now, I am planning a workshop with my blog partner Christian. It’s not finalised yet, but as soon as it is, we will announce it on our Facebook page, blog, and of course on Twitter.
Whenever any of your readers are in Berlin, they can just send me a message – I am always happy to meet other photographers.
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What do you get up to when you’re not out taking photographs? What’s your biggest passion or hobby?
Well, photography is also my hobby, but I think my biggest and most beloved passion is to share time with my family.
Street scene in Tokyo © Mehrdad Samak-Abedi
Mehrdad Samak-Abedi can be found at:
Web site: https://www.qimago.de/
Instagram (Qimago): https://www.instagram.com/qimago.de/
Instagram (Mehrdad): https://www.instagram.com/mehrdad_qimago/