Rider’s Lens: Joshua Meissner’s Berlin and Beyond
In our latest edition of Rider’s Lens, Joshua Meissner shares his view of his hometown of Berlin and the surrounding state of Brandenburg, along with some thoughts about the rewards of finding creative flow and his motivations for picking up a camera. See it all here…
Words and photos by Joshua Meissner (@justjoshm)
In my childhood and teenage years, I’d never considered myself among those lucky enough to be instinctively capable of creative expression in any medium; drawing, painting, music, writing, whatever. It never really clicked. While it’s true I don’t have a musical ear or the patience for brushes, I had somehow increasingly accepted this extended to all mediums of creative expression.
Initially inspired by sites such as this one, I bought a used mirrorless camera while going through engineering school. As I was getting comfortable with the technical camera handling by practising during my commutes and shooting criteriums, I came in contact with certain powerful undercurrents of the subconscious mind, a lot of it terra incognita for me at the time. Sometimes I’d go out shooting alone, and completely lose track of time, the self, and everything other than the present. It was even revitalizing. For the first time in my life, I’d gotten a taste of what real creative flow could feel like.
Flow is characterized by complete engagement in the present. It can occur when you immerse yourself fully in a challenging situation with clear goals where you have direct control of the outcome. Your actions can become effortless and merge with your awareness. The activity becomes so engrossing you can lose track of time—and possibly yourself. These are innately rewarding experiences and can occur in social, creative, athletic, and even professional pursuits. This is when the learning and growing happens. The restorative power of these moments can be profound.
Think of an engaging conversation with a friend about a topic you’re both knowledgeable and passionate about, say bike fork trail figures or ultralight coffee setups (I may be projecting here). Or consider the focus required for riding a technical singletrack descent and the resulting exhilaration as you pull up to a stop at the bottom, having nailed the perfect line all the way down. Those are examples of everyday flow experiences. In a time of great personal turmoil, the magnitude of this feeling I was experiencing when out with a camera reassured me that pure enjoyment was still possible and within grasp. It was and continues to be addicting.
Documenting bike trips was a natural step for me, in fact a trip to San Francisco and riding gravel in the Marin Headlands was basically the trigger for getting into photography in the first place. It did take a year or two of general photography before I refocused on documenting this subject matter.
Over time, I’ve learned that my bike and my camera are my conduits for channelling an enjoyable experience, no matter the place or time. I discount the notion that some places are categorically boring, a frequent refrain voiced by Berliner’s speaking about the landscape of the surrounding federal state of Brandenburg. The camera taught me to see the world through new eyes. The upshot of this false sentiment is the relative solitude waiting to be discovered just an hour’s ride out, ours to discover.
I try to maintain a conscious appreciation for this incredible privilege of access by directing my attention outwards in full engagement with the environment instead of being lost in thought. I’ve noticed this quiets the constant internal monologue that inhabits our heads and, given some time, eventually makes it dissipate completely. These regular mini trips are great practice for slowing down and tuning in to the subtle details. The skills transfer to photography in other settings and even life in general.
Incidentally, it appears some of the most personally meaningful photographs are created during these episodes. It makes sense I guess, experiencing flow by definition requires tuning out any noise that could distract you from noticing a compelling subject and capturing a good image.
I find myself raising the camera to capture momentary feelings, subliminal impressions that frequently lack a discrete subject. Presently, I’m challenging myself by going beyond the comfort of my usual contrast-y street aesthetic and seeking out specific scenes of recent human abandonment cruising around Berlin and beyond. That might be a shed left ajar a minute ago or a decrepit wall untended for decades. On a more abstract level, it could mean images with large swaths of unexpected negative or blank space: equally untended, just in graphic terms. The contemplative subject and composition come together to create a slightly disconcerting underlying tension, arresting my interest in the photo and leaving me pondering what these visual preferences might reveal about me.
Transcending the aesthetic, the salient point is that practising photography has greatly expanded my appreciation for my immediate surroundings. It’s independent of location, gear, likes, or followers. Viewed this way, photography is one possible method, the camera a facilitating tool for pursuing the innately rewarding processes of self-discovery and directing more attention outwards in the immediate present. I do hope this passion shines through in my images and my core aspiration is to inspire others to find their own process-centric approach to experiencing enjoyment, wherever they are.
At this point in time, I’d happily describe myself as a dilettante, an amateur, in the truest sense of these words–someone who finds delight in the activity of photography for what it is. I’ve found sharing these experiences with people and engaging in real conversations with other like-minded individuals to be infinitely more rewarding than commercial viability, and certainly any extrinsic measures as suggested by social media.
The enjoyment I’ve derived from photography and cycling has galvanized my plans for the future towards more frequent local trips in favour of holding out for vague dreams of unspecified distant places, especially in light of current events. Slow pedalling my packed bike over dusty dirt roads through the heat of a lazy summer afternoon, destination unknown, has a powerful buoying effect on my mental health, regardless of locale. I’ve learned that much so far.
Josh’s Photography Gear
I carry a Ricoh GR III every single day and simply slip it into a stem bag for quick access. For overnighters and local bikepacking trips, it’s a toss-up between the GR III and the larger Fuji XT-2 with the 27mm pancake lens (fits in a stem bag as well). It comes down to what I feel like framing on that particular outing. On longer trips or specific shoots, I’ll bring both and add the compact 50mm f2 for the short telephoto ability.
Lost in Brandenburg. I captured this image last summer south of Berlin. Due to its thematic simplicity and graphic nature, it’s one of my favourites. Dissecting the image into quarters along the diagonals splits the image into four colour patches of things quintessentially rural Brandenburg: golden wheat fields of summer, endless sandy agricultural access roads, blue skies, green forests. There is a derelict hunting stand and a distinct lack of people.
About Joshua Meissner
Joshua Meissner is a German-Canadian from Berlin who documents his world with the eye of an engineering mind. Tinkering on bikes, slow rides, and good coffee are some of things he likes. You can find more of his work on his website at JoshuaMeissner.de or on instagram @justjoshm.