Rider’s Lens: Franzi Wernsing’s Travel and Portrait Photography
In this Rider’s Lens, we talk to Franzi Wernsing (aka Tales on Tyres) about the connection between traveling by bicycle and photography, her secret passion for portraits, breaking out of the Instagram comfort zone, and a life beyond asparagus peelers…
Photography hasn’t always been a passion of mine. I’m not sure how we found to each other, but it was definitely more accidental than anything else. After I finished high school, all I wanted was to travel the world and to become a painter. So, I left home to travel a year across Australia before signing up for visual art studies at a college in Melbourne. Although I enjoyed it, with the time I started to feel more and more disillusioned about what it meant to be working as a freelance artist. I slowly started questioning myself, as to whether this was the path I wanted to follow in life. After a year, I eventually gave up my studies to return home to Germany, but without really having a good alternative plan.
As to what happened next, when I look back, I see it as the sum of a series of coincidences and a couple of decisions I made on a whim. To keep it short, I was living in Berlin, but fell in love with a boy living in Hamburg, and while I looked for a job I accidentally stumbled across an apprenticeship as a photographer there. I finally moved, telling myself it was because of the job, but in reality I moved because I was madly in love. I actually did end up getting the apprenticeship, but broke up with the guy only three month later. And even though it didn’t really mesh with my belief system and was anything but creative, to my own surprise somehow I stuck to the job. I spent three years working in a large advertising studio, trying to see my mundane day-to-day work life of positioning teapots, mattress covers, and electric asparagus peelers, among many other things, into the right perspective.
As soon as I finished the apprenticeship, I felt ready to escape the flashlights and replaceable backdrops and booked two tickets to New Zealand together with my partner Jona. At that point we had no idea that we’d still be traveling six years later. I documented our journey with my camera from the beginning – a Canon 5D Mark II – and I believe this is when my passion for photography really started. On our first bike trip, from Iran to Mongolia, I focused on taking portraits of the people we met. It was only during our time cycling the Americas that I also started to become interested in documenting our travels and sharing them on social media, especially through Instagram.
A PASSION FOR PORTRAITS
Now that our Instagram account has nearly 30k followers, it sometimes it feels weird to disclose our personal experiences to thousands of strangers. Still, I feel grateful to be able to share my photos and to connect through them with others. But, what many don’t know is that it only presents a small fraction of my work. My real passion is actually portraits.
I’m fascinated by capturing someone’s personality, and I’m always eager to catch them how they really are, not how they want to be perceived. This strong feeling was probably fueled by having worked in the field of advertising for so long, where flawless perfectionism is the norm, which isn’t something I want to support. But, to be honest, I have been neglecting this adoration of mine during the past years of travelling, as I have become increasingly focused on documenting our journey for the articles I write for different magazines and blogs about bikepacking.
Nevertheless, I’ve just recently started to challenge this routine of mine. I’ve been trying to tell the same story, but from a different angle, and to take more portraits again. As much as I like sharing my photos on Instagram, I also see how it has lured me into following a certain pattern. Although I always try to be authentic, it’s hard to completely detach my work from the reactions I get from followers. Over time, I have established quite a good feeling of what works and people like and it’s hard to disengage myself from that anticipation. Given all this, breaking out of my creative comfort zone might be hard work, but I’m ready to explore where it will take me in the future. For me, that’s the beauty of being creative, and also its biggest challenge, and maybe why travelling and photography fit so well together for me. In the end, they both force me to question my perspective over and over again.
I shoot all of my photos with a Canon 5D Mark II, equipped with a 50mm prime lens. I simply have fallen in love with this combination. The prime lens not only reduces it to a more compact system, but it also forces me to move around instead of just zooming in and out. After having used the same lens for over two years, I know its field of view by heart, and that makes it really quick for me to decide how to frame my shots.
DECONSTRUCTING AN IMAGE
I took this pictures in Uzbekistan, and it’s one of my favorite photos to this day. We were camping in the middle of the desert, and while Jona was preparing a cup of coffee on our stove in the morning, this man on his donkey turned up at our campsite. We approached him, trying to kick off a conversation, just as we’d normally do when a stranger approached our camp. But he wasn’t a particular chatty fellow. After a couple of failed attempts, we returned to finish off our coffees and to pack up our tent and the rest of our gear. He stood there nearly motionless in the same spot the entire time, observing each of our steps carefully, only his donkey wiggling with his ears to flick flies every now and then. Although I felt a little intimidated by his stern look, before we wheeled our bikes back onto the road to continue our journey that day, I asked if I could take a photo of him. To my surprise, he nodded and I got this shot.
The images captured above were taken in Uzbekistan, Iran, Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, India, North America, South America, Spain, and Mexico.