Basti Hansen is a director, cinematographer and adventure photographer. Originally from Germany, Hansen put his music career on hold to test his photography abilities for one year in Tel Aviv.
He succeeded and the rest is history.
When Hansen arrived in Tel Aviv, his Instagram account with about 800 followers featured his music. Now focused on his globally renowned photography work, Hansen’s account has 15.5k followers.
ISRAEL21c spoke with Hansen to learn more about his journey as a Tel Aviv-based photographer and cinematographer. The interview has been condensed for clarity.
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Where did your love for photography come from?
I started my career as a musician. I had a band, we played tours and put out records in Germany. I did that for 13 years, ever since I was a teenager. But as a young kid, the cinema was my happy place.
What inspired me back then were old commercials from the 90s, fashion photography, or Pepsi commercials with Cindy Crawford. I loved those early 90s visuals and that aesthetic.
I realized the love I’ve always had for photography and the cinema and that’s when visual arts took over. I put the band on hold for a year to see if I could live off of a camera and that took off.
How exactly did it take off?
I came to Tel Aviv after my studies about eight years ago. After my first successful year in Tel Aviv, I decided to stay another year. Four years in, I thought to myself, I think I live here now.
When I got here, I shot anything I could. I met people in coffee places and would ask to take their portraits.
I also saw the gay pride parade. I went out with my camera and made a video of the parade. The municipality of Tel Aviv saw the video and from that, I got hired to make the official pride parade video for the next five years.
What’s special for you about Tel Aviv?
I originally came to Tel Aviv because my girlfriend is Israeli. Before I came here, I had an engineering degree but I didn’t want to be an engineer in Germany, so I took a chance and came to Tel Aviv. I fell in love. There is beautiful energy here.
“Every time I fly over the coast again inbound, there is this beautiful moment of calmness when I cross into Israel’s threshold.”
I fly to different countries a lot, which makes Tel Aviv my home base. But I have this thing where every time I fly over the coast again inbound, there is this beautiful moment of calmness when I cross into Israel’s threshold. I’ve felt this for eight to 10 years, every single time I fly home. I’m not a spiritual person but you can feel the city’s energy.
Tel Aviv is a cool city that offers you so much. In my first year here, Tel Aviv enabled me to find jobs and people who I wanted to shoot with or who wanted to shoot with me. Everyone is so connected and easy to become friends with. It’s easy to say, “Hey I’m a photographer!” and then become connected.
Tel Aviv enabled me to do what I did in the beginning, to connect with as many people as possible.
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What is your favorite place in Israel?
Always the beach. Ever since I’ve come here that’s where I go when life gets rough or busy and I lose a sense of calmness. The beach helps me breathe and sort everything out in my head.
What’s your favorite thing to eat here?
Definitely Pizza Lila. It’s just pizza but it’s the best pizza in the world. Mmmm! I get arugula, dried tomatoes and parmesan. Of course, there is Mediterranean food – I love that — but Pizza Lila’s the obvious choice.
What do you like most about what you do?
I love that my life isn’t boring. I’ve gotten access to crazy things in the world because I’m a photographer and cinematographer. One day I’m in Rome, one day I’m in Milan, another day I’m editing in Tel Aviv. My work gives me a very exciting life, that’s the coolest thing.
My job is a tool to meet people, access things, and understand the world. I learn so much about life because I’m constantly thrown into so many situations. At the beginning of my career especially I had to figure many things out.
What type of photography do you focus on?
I’m working a lot with Mercedes in Europe. I’m doing a web series with Mercedes AMG in a specific YouTube format. Right now, episode 28 is in the making.
I’ve done multiple videos with car brands that send me out on an adventure with a couple of cars. We produce content and come back with an adventure video from that road trip.
I’ve also done a 10,000-kilometer adventure road trip in the States for a couple of weeks with Mercedes that featured one of their cars. These trips allow me to tell a personal story while also telling the brand’s story.
When did your social media presence expand?
I came here in 2014, but in 2016 there was a huge spike in my following because I was doing so much. I was flown out to Iceland for a project, the gay pride project happened– so many different things so there was so much to post.
My social media told the story of someone who wanted to be a photographer and then became a photographer. That was probably something very fun to keep track of.
What type of story or message do you want your photos to convey?
When I look back on my work, there are themes I notice. Often I see a melancholic longing for something more in my work and images.
I want my work to be in your face and as brutal as it can be. I don’t think my work is there yet. There is still a disconnect between my work and that attitude, but I’m becoming more conscious. I have a feeling I’m on a path in that direction.
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Do you remember the first photo you were truly proud of?
I once flew to India and made a short video there. When that was finished, I felt like it could go somewhere. But for my work I never ever get cocky. This is a belief that is very much in my core. I’ve always been careful about how I feel about my work. You need confidence in negotiations or when you pitch a project to a huge brand, but this is not to be mistaken with cockiness.
What is the hardest part of your job?
How to deal with clients. The jobs in my field are all over the place. One day an actor could ask me for headshots and the next day a global corporation could ask me to shoot a campaign in another country. It’s important to understand how to talk to different people, approach different situations, and know yourself. Then you can guide people regardless of what comes your way.
If you could only photograph one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
That’s a rough one but probably fashion. That’s something I’ve always wanted but never really went for.
Would you rather be able to take selfies but use professional cameras, or continue your work as normal but with an old iPhone camera?
An old iPhone camera, clearly!
If you couldn’t be a photographer, what would you be doing?
I have zero idea. I would probably be broke in the streets.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Don’t let the world scare you. When I was a student in my 20s I was intimidated by how complex everything seemed, by how knowledgeable people seemed, and how I thought everyone else knew what they were doing.
At one point I learned that this is as much my world as everyone else’s. If I want, I can be a part of it and I became more confident. If I’m in Tel Aviv, it’s as much my city as everyone else’s.