IN SEARCH OF STORIES

AN INTERVIEW WITH PHOTOGRAPHER BETTINA LEWIN

5 MIN, 39 SEC

HILDESHEIM, GERMANY MAY SEEM AN UNEXPECTED STARTING POINT FOR A PHOTOGRAPHER WHOSE SHOT THE LIKES OF OLIVIA WILDE AND ALINA BAIKOVA, AND WORKED WITH BRANDS FROM FRESH TO ANTHROPOLOGIE. NEVERTHELESS, IT’S WHERE BETTINA LEWIN BEGAN THE JOURNEY THAT’S SPANNED SEVERAL CONTINENTS AND COUNTLESS CAMPAIGNS – WHICH SHE WAS KIND ENOUGH TO SHARE WITH US HERE AT MOSS. STUDYING PEOPLE AND THEIR FACES BEGAN EARLY FOR BETTINA. 

HER CHILDHOOD WAS SHAPED BY VIVID VISUAL EXPERIENCES, AND A CURIOSITY FOR UNDERSTANDING THE TRUTH IN THE IMPRESSIONS THAT SURROUNDED HER. SHE CAN RECOUNT MEMORIES WITH EXTRAORDINARY DETAIL; A TRUE TESTAMENT TO HER EYE FOR THE PHOTOGRAPHIC COMPOSITION THAT PRODUCES SUCH BEAUTIFUL PIECES TODAY. WHEN ASKED ABOUT HER FIRST VISUAL MEMORY, BETTINA TAKES US BACK TO HER VERY EARLY YEARS:

Shooting Bettina Lewin Photographer & Director
Shooting Bettina Lewin Photographer & Director

‘WHEN WE GOT SWEETS FROM THE (CANDY SHOP) IT WAS STILL IN GLASS JARS – IT WAS STILL SOLD IN SINGLES. AND THERE WERE THESE LITTLE CHOCOLATE DROPS, WITH VERY COLORFUL, LITTLE DOTS ON THEM – LIKE SUGAR PEARLS – WHICH WE GOT IN THESE TRIANGLE, PAPER BAGS WITH BLUE, LITTLE STARS. AND GETTING THEM WAS JUST LIKE “YAY!”’

SHE ALSO MENTIONS HER MOTHER, WHO IN BETTINA’S EYES WAS BEAUTIFUL, AND MOVED, IN MANY WAYS, LIKE THE MODELS SHE SHOOTS TODAY. NEXT TO HER INHERENT DRAW TOWARDS EXPLORING AND ANALYZING THE VISUALS AROUND HER, THE EVENTUAL PASSION FOR PHOTOGRAPHY WAS ALSO ROOTED IN HER LOCATION. HILDESHEIM, WITH ITS STRONG, CATHOLIC COMMUNITY, BECAME THE BIRTHPLACE FOR BETTINA LEWIN – NOT JUST LITERALLY, BUT CREATIVELY AS WELL. ON THE ONE HAND, THE SMOKE, ROBE-CLAD PRIESTS, AND STAGGERING, DRAMATIC ARTWORK SERVED AS A VISUAL FRAMEWORK FOR HER EYES. 

ON THE OTHER, AS SHE BEGAN TO QUESTION AND EVENTUALLY LEFT HER STRICT RELIGIOUS ROOTS BEHIND IN HER EARLY TEEN YEARS, THE PHOTOGRAPHER STARTED VIEWING THE WORLD AS A STARK CONTRAST TO WHAT SHE HAD (EXPERIENCED/COME TO KNOW) IN CHURCH. THIS PARADOX CULMINATED WITH BETTINA’S MOVE TO BARCELONA IN 1984, WHICH WAS WHERE HER JOURNEY AS A PHOTOGRAPHER TRULY BEGAN.

‘BARCELONA INFLUENCED ME A LOT, BECAUSE IT WAS THE FIRST TIME I GOT OUT OF LITTLE HILDESHEIM (…) IT WAS A TOTAL CONTRAST TO WHERE I CAME FROM (…) I STARTED PHOTOGRAPHY THERE, AND IT WAS SO ENCOURAGING, BECAUSE EVERYONE TOLD ME (‘BETTY, YOU CAN DO THIS’).’

Shooting Bettina Lewin Photographer & Director
Shooting Bettina Lewin Photographer & Director
Shooting Bettina Lewin Photographer & Director

WORKING ALONGSIDE ESTHER PLANAS, BETTINA CONTRIBUTED TO THE SERIAL PUBLICATION V.O. – A CULTURAL MAGAZINE IN FOUR EDITIONS THAT EXPLORED THE SPANISH ART SCENE OF THE 80’S. LOOKING BACK, BETTINA SEES THAT SHE WAS PERHAPS TOO YOUNG TO UNDERSTAND THE FULL WEIGHT OF THIS PROJECT, WHICH WAS BOTH HUGELY SUCCESSFUL AND SERVED AS HER FIRST EXPERIENCE AS A PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHER. HER TIME IN BARCELONA ALSO INTRODUCED HER TO PEOPLE LIKE NICK KNIGHT, BIGAS LUNA AND JAVIER MARISCAL, AND LEFT HER WITH THE CERTAINTY THAT SHE HAD FOUND HER PASSION. IT WOULD TAKE SEVERAL PROFESSIONAL DETOURS, HOWEVER, FOR BETTINA TO COME FULL CIRCLE AND WIND BACK UP AS A FULL-TIME PHOTOGRAPHER. UPON HER RETURN FROM BARCELONA, SHE BRIEFLY CONSIDERED UNIVERSITY IN HAMBURG, ONLY TO BE QUESTIONED BY STUDENTS AT A PORTFOLIO EXHIBITION SHE VISITED AS TO WHY SHE WOULD TAKE A STEP BACK TO SCHOOL WHEN SHE ALREADY HAD EXPERIENCE.

IT WAS THE START OF A FEW ROCKY YEARS ASSISTING, BUT BETTINA EVENTUALLY WOUND UP WORKING FOR A FASHION PHOTOGRAPHER, LEARNING THE ROPES OF WHAT PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHY ENTAILED, BOTH ADMINISTRATIVELY AND CREATIVELY. UNFORTUNATELY, HER HOURS UPON HOURS SPENT ON WHITE STUDIO CAMPAIGNS ALSO MEANT THAT SHE LOST SOME OF HER RAW PASSION, AND EVENTUALLY SHE LANDED IN THE ROLE OF BEAUTY EDITOR, WHICH SHE KEPT FOR 12 YEARS. IT WAS WHEN SHE AND HER HUSBAND RENTED A SHOP IN HAMBURG, WHICH EVENTUALLY BECAME THE HEADQUARTERS FOR TAILOR-MADE SUITS BRAND LEWIN, THAT BETTINA FOUND HER WAY BACK TO PHOTOGRAPHY. INITIALLY TO PAY THE BILLS – EVENTUALLY BECAUSE SHE KNEW SHE HAD FINALLY ARRIVED BACK TO WHERE SHE SHOULD BE. IT DIDN’T TAKE LONG TO TRANSITION INTO FULL-TIME PHOTOGRAPHY. TODAY, IT’S EASY TO SEE THAT SHE REALLY HAS FOUND HER CALLING. WHEN ASKED ABOUT WHAT CREATIVITY IS TO HER, HER ANSWER IS STEADFAST,

Shooting Bettina Lewin Photographer & Director
Shooting Bettina Lewin Photographer & Director

‘CREATIVITY TO ME IS WHEN YOU HAVE A VISION AND THIS VISION, IF YOU PUT IT OUT THERE, IS SOMETHING THAT EMPOWERS PEOPLE. THAT IS MY IDEA OF CREATIVITY. AND IF I CAN DO THAT WITH A TEAM AND WITH MANY PEOPLE, THEN IT’S WONDERFUL. THEN IT’S JUST LIKE LOVE.’

BETTINA IS FOREVER TREADING THE BALANCE BETWEEN THE COMMERCIAL AND PURELY CREATIVE. SHE’S WARY OF THE FACT THAT IF YOU SPEND TOO MUCH TIME IN A STUDIO, YOU MAY WIND UP LOSING SOME OF THAT INNOCENCE, THAT TRUTH, THAT MAKES YOUR PHOTOGRAPHIC VOICE UNIQUE. THIS IS ALSO WHY SHE LOVES THE WORK THAT ALLOWS HER TO SPREAD HER CREATIVE WINGS, SUCH AS HER TRAVEL CAMPAIGNS FOR ANTHROPOLOGIE, HER WORK FOR TOWN AND COUNTRY PHOTOGRAPHING OLIVIA WILDE, AND, MOST RECENTLY, HER KOMBUCHA CAMPAIGN FOR FRESH. THE LATTER WAS ONE OF THE FIRST CLIENTS TO GET HER WORKING SPECIFICALLY WITH VIDEO, WHICH WAS A BIG MILESTONE IN HER PHOTOGRAPHIC JOURNEY. SINCE THEN, BETTINA AND FRESH HAVE WORKED IN CLOSE COLLABORATION WITH EACH OTHER, ON BOTH STILLS AND VIDEOS.

THE COMMON DENOMINATOR FOR EVERYTHING SHE TOUCHES IS THAT BETTINA IS ALWAYS SEARCHING FOR STORIES – AND SHE USUALLY FINDS THEM OUTSIDE THE STUDIO. THIS PHOTOGRAPHER EMBODIES A SENSE OF RAW EXPLORATION; A YEARNING FOR DISCOVERING AND BRINGING HIDDEN NARRATIVES TO LIGHT. PARTICULARLY FASCINATING TO HER ARE EXTRAORDINARY STORIES THAT HAVE FORGOTTEN. THIS INTRIGUE FOR LOST TALES HAS, AMONG OTHER THINGS, INSPIRED HER WORK ON IRMA STERN, AND WHEN TALKING ABOUT HER FAVORITE STORIES TO TELL, BETTINA’S PASSION FOR TRUTH, HONESTY AND PORTRAYAL RADIATES THROUGHOUT HER. IT’S IMPOSSIBLE NOT TO BE DRAWN IN AS SHE SPEAKS.

‘MY FAVORITE STORIES TO TELL ARE THE HIDDEN ONES (…) AND I THINK (WHEN) SOMEBODY IS HAPPY WITH THEMSELVES. THAT THERE’S A MOMENT OF ‘I’M IN HERE AND THIS IS GOOD – THIS IS MY HOME, AND I’M FINE.’ AND THE PEOPLE WHO LOOK AT IT CAN RELATE TO IT, OR CAN START DREAMING; I LIKE WHEN THE PICTURE IS STILL OPEN FOR SOMEBODY TO LOOK AT AND THEN START THEIR OWN MACHINE.’

LOOKING FORWARD, AND WHEN ASKED ABOUT HER GREATEST ASPIRATION, BETTINA HAS AN ANSWER THAT’S BOTH SURPRISING AND ANTICIPATED. SURPRISING BECAUSE YOU MIGHT WONDER WHY A PHOTOGRAPHER WOULD WANT TO MOVE OUT FROM HER COMFORT ZONE BEHIND THE CAMERA. ANTICIPATED BECAUSE, AFTER ALL, THIS PHOTOGRAPHER IS ON A LIFELONG QUEST FOR TRULY MESMERIZING STORIES. BETTINA WANTS TO DIRECT.

RECENTLY, SHE SAW BEHIND-THE-SCENES SHOTS OF HERSELF FROM A CAMPAIGN SHE WAS WORKING ON, BOTH WITH AND WITHOUT HER CAMERA, AND NOTICED HOW HER BODY LANGUAGE OPENED UP AWAY FROM THE LENS. THE ROLE WOULD FIT HER PERFECTLY; WHEN ASKED WHAT INSPIRES HER, BETTINA SIMPLY RESPONDS:

‘EVERYTHING.’