How it all started

How did you get into photography?

I started by studying Chemistry and reoriented after two semesters. After two internships, I was accepted at the HAW Hamburg in the design department, and studied communication design. With the support of my professor Ute Mahler, I decided to focus on photography and that’s how I discovered my passion for portrait photography.

Photography is all about the encounter with the person in front of the camera. I aim to capture their personality, skills and work in the most authentic way possible.

Who or what inspires you the most?

I love science in general. I frequently attend science slams and a regulars' table for science communication. Author Simon Singh, singer Tom Lehrer, astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti and scientists like Prof. Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard are my inspiration. Other sources of inspiration for my work are the photos of talented Diane Arbus, Jeff Wall, William Eggelsten and many more such as the photographs of my professor Ute Mahler.

What camera and what lens could you not live without?

For my work, I use the Canon system (Mark III and Mark IV) with a 24-70mm and a 70-200mm lens. I prefer to photograph portraits with a fixed focal length of 85mm. In my private life, I love my Fuji x100 and my old Hasselblad 500c.

Visual narrative

What’s your favourite shot ever? What’s the story behind the photo?

Nobel Prize winner Ada Yonath captured by Gesine Born
Nobel Prize winner Ada Yonath was captured by Gesine Born

My favourite photo ever is a portrait of the chemistry Nobel Prize winner Ada Yonath that I took for DESY. I didn't have a lot of time on my hands and was overly excited to meet her. Just before meeting her, I got myself a periodic table. She signed it for me and it’s been hanging in my living room ever since. It was an amazing moment and I would love to take more portraits of her in my studio.

Another honourable mention: one of my most memorable photoshoots was for an illustrated scientific press release. This stunning shot illustrates how researchers transform diamonds into graphite. For this, I had graphite powder on a glass plate in my kitchen and let glass diamonds fall from above. So the photo is real, I only added the laser digitally with Photoshop later to illustrate the researchers' work. It took me almost a week to clean my kitchen and get rid of the graphite dust afterwards, I’m honestly not sure I would reiterate the experience.

Photo of a diamond turned into graphite by scientific Gesine Born

What’s the best project you've ever worked on?

My favourite project, which has been running for many years now, is the portrait series of the leading scientists at the DESY research institute. For this project, I always set up the same light and use the same white background. The scientists wear light-coloured clothing, my main goal is to bring all the focus to their personalities. I want to show and enlighten the faces behind science, which is often very complex and confusing to most. I make sure to always have enough time to engage in deep conversations about science and research with the talents I’m photographing. These discussions actually inspired me to make short films about the stories of these scientists.

Ingmar Hartl photon scientific photo by Gesine Born
DESY | Ingmar Hartl | Photon Science
Robin Santra Senior Scientist, photographey by Gesine Born
DESY | Robin Santra | Senior Scientist

What is your relationship with the people you’re photographing? How does this affect your approach?

I think empathy is the key to a good portrait. Most people don't like to be photographed and it’s the photographer's job to build trust with the person in front of the camera and create the best atmosphere possible to make the person feel comfortable. Everyone has their own space, which they fill with their personality. Photographing someone is like getting the key to this space and opening the door to a new personality to discover. In my experience, it makes no difference whether you photograph a scientist or someone with a completely different background, like the clients of the Kaspar Hauser Foundation who are cognitively impaired. The picture illustrating my approach is a portrait of one of the clients of the Kaspar Hauser Foundation, whom I was allowed to accompany for a day.

Portrait by scientific photographer gesine born

What's next?

This year all plans have been put on hold due to the corona pandemic. I was just about to make YouTube videos about my work when schools closed and I couldn't work anymore. Fortunately, things are slowly starting again now. I hope that in the future I will have the opportunity to make more films about scientists. My dream is a series of portraits of women Nobel Prize winners. You can check my Website to follow my projects and discover more of my work. You can also listen to the Beazy Podcast where I've been invited as a guest.