Photographer, Jasmin Merdan

Spotlight / Creative Spotlight
Jasmin Merdan
Sarah Foster
Jun 11, 2019
Jasmin Merdan is an accomplished and prolific photographer, driven by an insatiable curiosity about the world and a belief that authentic imagery has the power to remind us all of our common humanity. Finding equal inspiration in his global travels and his everyday home life, this year Jasmin celebrates his 10th anniversary of collaborating with Getty Images creative briefs and guidance to build his dynamic portfolio. Here he joins Senior Creative Content Manager, Sarah Foster to share insights about his working practices and discuss the values underlying his photographic ‘mission.’  
I am always very proud when I see my images used for some humanitarian and positive projects.
[Sarah Foster]:  Let’s start with a simple but very telling question – What three words would you use to describe your work?
[Jasmin Merdan]:  Try. More. Better.

[SF]: You initially studied Arabic Language and International Relations. What led you to move from that career path to photography?  
[JM]: Photography has always been my big love. Since my childhood, it was my hobby. In the end, my hobby replaced my profession, and my profession became my hobby. And I like that life scenario.

[SF]: At what point did you know you wanted and might be able to make it your full‑time focus?
[JM]: It sounded impossible. We are talking about 2009. I had a friend who happened to discover iStock and start shooting before me, and he was having success. Information sharing was everything. I gave myself a short‑term goal ‑ six months to try and give it my best with no rest to see whether all of this is possible or just a fiction. It took me a month.
At first, it was so exciting. I remember the first image I sold, I was jumping and screaming around the house, people thought I'd lost my mind!  But now friends send me my images from all over the world.  I’ve traveled to over 30 countries and have seen my work almost everywhere ‑ after a while you just get used to it.  But I am always very proud when I see my images used for some humanitarian and positive projects. Those remind me that I have a mission.  It’s proof that images are such a powerful tool to be used for good.
[SF]:  How has your work evolved since you began?  Have you noticed any visual or stylistic shifts in your approach or the kinds of subjects you shoot since you first started?
[JM]:  The most significant difference between yesterday and today is a big demand for natural light, natural faces, natural life – a desire for photography that is more true and real.  It seems like a positive and very necessary progression from the overly clean, light, unreal, idealized, and retouched version of the world in commercial photography up until recently.   That’s not to say I didn’t like the approach and style of that previous period, but the problem is when you lose the line between dream and reality, between fake and authentic.

[SF]:  How about equipment ‑ do you find yourself experimenting more or using different formats as a result?
[JM]:  Before I took so much care about the equipment, always having the best camera, lenses, lighting, gadgets, etc. But now I like to think that the eye and the brain are the most essential tools for the photographer. You can have the most expensive things but without knowledge, experience and experimentation, you can’t bring results. This is the line between professional and amateur.  Over the last two years, I’ve started to avoid lighting setups and flash; instead, I love the effects of natural light and playing more with shadows.  Some recent portraits I shot only using the light from a smartphone, for example.  Beginners play with light; experts play with shadows. If it’s interesting for anyone to know camera specifics, I’m currently using a Sony a7rII in combination with Zeiss lenses, Sony RX1r and last week I put hands on Fujifilm X‑H1.
I feel it is part of my mission – a very simple mission: to show the world this natural, beautiful, and real part of the Islamic culture.
[SF]: How about the impact of mobile technology – do you find social media a benefit or a hindrance? Are there any apps you can’t live without?
[JM]: For me, social media has hit its limit, and lost some of the real magic it had in its early days. The world is ready for the next step, whatever that might be. As for apps, mainly for me, they are work‑related: the Getty Images for Contributors App ‑ especially the targeted Creative briefs and shoot guidance ‑ and Easy Release [for digital model/property releases].
[SF]: Being based between Bosnia and Turkey, much of your candid lifestyle imagery offers a unique insight into the modern Muslim experience, which is not pictured very often in the global commercial marketplace. What are your thoughts on the current range of representation of contemporary Islamic culture? Is this something you think about explicitly when shooting?
[JM]:  Thank you for this question. I feel it is part of my mission – a very simple mission: to show the world this natural, beautiful, and real part of the Islamic culture. By merely showing authentic daily life, normal situations. Natural faces looking to you. Telling you, we are just people like you are. We are parts of this world together.  Don’t despise us. The media is full of bad stories and negative political context about Muslims; Islamophobia has never been more enhanced in the world.  So 1.8 billion Muslims, a quarter of the world’s population, are suffering because of this faulty and narrow view. Let’s break the stereotypes. If you see we are human beings just like you, smiling, crying, traveling, enjoying barbecue, having ups and downs, you will realize that the world is maybe a bit different than you’ve been told. When you Google “Muslim,” you will find a skewed and very incomplete depiction, but I remember the search results ten years ago were even worse. And now you have two of my photos on the Google first page, showing attractive, successful people studying, running businesses, living a normal life. I see it as a positive move in my humble mission. I see Getty Images as a powerful and positive influence, so I am proud to be a part of it. Let’s move the world with images together. 😊 
Here in Europe, people are full of stress, under pressure, busy and always running after something. But there, no. We tried to explain to them the meaning of the word “stress,” and we failed!  
[SF]: You also shoot a lot with your kids and family – clearly they enjoy the process! What’s their perspective on having imagery of themselves out in the commercial marketplace? Have they ever seen themselves in a usage?
[JM]: Our photos have been used worldwide in all sorts of ways, so they’re actually used to it by now as something normal to be ‘anonymous celebrities.’  At the same time, it’s still fun when I see my four kids enjoy my, oh, I mean our work – because truly it is, this is our family love and family work!  Before they played the role of models. But by growing up now they are more and more a part of the process, discussing and planning together, working behind the scenes and the camera, criticizing and giving real influence.  

[SF]: You’ve mentioned that you’ve photographed in over 30 countries – is there one place that you particularly loved?  
[JM]: Turkey and Jordan are so great, and for sure my homeland, Bosnia. A small but incredible country, so inspiring ‑ God’s creation. Zanzibar is amazing. I recently spent almost two weeks there, and already I can’t wait to go back again!  What I loved most is that wherever you go, you meet positive, happy, warm people, so nice, natural, friendly and reachable. They don’t have a lot of material resources but are rich in their spirits and smiles. Here in Europe, people are full of stress, under pressure, busy and always running after something. But there, no. We tried to explain to them the meaning of the word “stress,” and we failed!  
My current favorite picture is actually a portrait from that trip ‑ I met this girl by chance on the beach, and she ended up joining us for a few days of our trip. We are still in touch and have done several other photo sessions since then, adding video productions as well.
[SF]: Your recent story about Elder Care is so lovely, natural and candid with many real moments of tenderness and positive connection. It’s such an important topic, but it can be challenging to get access to a care facility and to find willing models/families. Can you tell us more about how that shoot came about?
[JM]: I had that concept for a while. And as you said it is not an easy thing to manage in many ways, but I like difficult, because difficult has less competition!  I tried all my contacts searching for a place with elder care. Nothing. After more than a year, two nursing centers finally called me because I offered to shoot pro bono promotional material for them in exchange for their help preparing the location, arranging our elder models, sorting the releases. And we made it. We are still in touch, and we did several photo sessions since then,  adding video productions as well. Both sides turned out extremely happy.

[SF]: Is there a current commercial campaign or brand out in the broader marketplace that you find really inspiring? For example, what would be your dream shoot?
[JM]: I would like to spend 5 or 6 minutes with each of the Game of Thrones cast members (Tywin Lannister first) to shoot portraits, that would be wonderful to add to my portfolio.
If there is a humanitarian project for poor people where my work can make a difference, for example for drilling water wells or building schools in Africa, or delivering aid to children in Yemen, I would be happy to be a part of that. Voluntarily, no commission. Powerless and oppressed people are what move me and drive me into action, and I would like to be able to help all of them, regardless of their race or religion.
 I am a workaholic and a restaholic as well.  Photography is not like any other job. I do it because I love it. You can’t afford to jeopardize that passion.
[SF]: As someone who is constantly shooting, where are you currently drawing inspiration?  How do you stay motivated?
[JM]:  Daily life, travel, kids, movies, faces, gestures. I am a workaholic and a restaholic as well. When I work, I can be crazy, and I remember one time working twenty‑two hours editing photos. I stopped when I couldn’t feel my pointer finger anymore! On the other hand, after successful shoots, I go and do nothing for days, maybe a week, watching movies, enjoying nature, going out with my family. It’s important that you don’t force yourself to be motivated. Because, anyway, you can’t!  Photography is not like any other job. I do it because I love it. You can’t afford to jeopardize that passion, and it’s hard to love something if you are forced to do it.  So when I have inspiration, I use it. When the inspiration goes for a rest, I go for rest too. When I have good energy, I love all subjects and enjoy shooting them. And the best feeling is knowing that ideas can’t run out.
[SF]: When you’re resting and relaxing from photography, how do you like to spend your time?
[JM]: I am not resting and relaxing FROM photography, be careful what you say! 😊 But when I’m not working, I love swimming, watching a movie, reading a book, walking on the beach or hiking. Praying.
[SF]: Are you an early bird or late riser? 
[JM]: I don’t fit the standard definition; there’s not a regular rhythm or routine.  For example, I woke up this morning at 4 am to start preparing answers for this interview.  Then after this, I’ll probably do some work and then back to catch some sleep.  But every day is a different story.

[SF]: So on that note, what does tomorrow hold? What’s up next for you?  
[JM]: Continue. More. Better!  
Photographer, Evelyn Martinez