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Mariko’s Wonderland

Marikos Wonderland

Into the Light.

A childhood fascination for silent, enchanting landscapes drew Mariko Klug to pick up a camera and start searching. She speaks to Nilofer Khan about her journey.

How often do you look back at your childhood memories? The first time you learned to cycle, got involved in a heated argument with a close friend, or spent an entire summer night gazing at the stars. With each of these moments, you learned a little bit more about yourself and life. In some way, it has contributed to building your personality and vision. For some people, revisiting a place or a person who played a crucial role helps to stay connected with those emotions and moments. But then, there are also those who can’t go back because things changed or ceased to exist. So, they choose to recreate the wonder they felt as a child, through art, or, as with Mariko Klug, through photography.

Her breathtaking photographs of nature and landscapes are her renditions of the fascinations she felt when she was a child. “When I visited the amusement park with my family, I went for a Pirate’s World boat ride. The surrounding was extremely dark, and the sole source of light was the moon. Right at the beginning of the ride, there was an old wooden hut. There, an old man was sitting on a rocking chair. The dim light, the swirling fireflies, the sound of crickets and frogs, and the mood surrounding the hut—everything was so melancholic and mysterious. Although it was an artificial world, I instantly fell in love with it. Since then, I have been longing to witness something like this. Through my work, I am trying to find this feeling again,” she says.

A Blend of Colours and Composition
It is interesting to notice how one can easily draw parallels between the places she has photographed and the enchanting scenes of fairytales. For instance, the photographs of a dense forest might remind one of a location right out of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Hobbit, or Harry Potter. Her photographs of ponds and water bodies have an uncanny resemblance to Swan Lake. A closer inspection reveals how she accurately and painstakingly composes her frame, waiting for multiple natural elements together, to bring out certain emotions. “The colours I use depend on what I want to create, and what I want to emphasise in the photograph. I try to create a pleasant interplay. For instance, I photographed a castle that was completely shrouded in fog. The original photo looked like a black and white image with some patches of colour. It was rather disturbing because all the attention was drawn to those patches. So, I decided to make it a monotone image. With the help of a subtle aqua grey, I enhanced the eerie mood. I also want my Flickr and Instagram feed to look harmonious and appealing. So I tend to choose my colours very carefully,” she says.

Dreamy forests and haunting castles are one of the many things Mariko photographs. Her work incorporates images of lonely roads, enticing wildflower and grass fields, intricate closeups and macro photographs of insects, as well as intimate animal portraits. With time, Mariko learned to use animals or birds as a point of interest, to balance out her frame. Occasionally, this role is taken over by trees and branches in the foreground. In some cases, she would shoot her subjects from an angle to add a sense of depth to the image. “I have never actively gathered knowledge about the rules of composition and framing. When I shoot, I don’t think much about rules, I just trust my feelings. The picture must convey balance and harmony, but finally, it is a matter of preference. I have noticed that I instinctively followed some of the well-known rules in the book, without having to actively engage with it,” she adds.

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The Chapel of Unstad.

Elements in Photography
When she was just eight-years-old, Mariko’s father presented her with a Kodak pocket camera that had a cube flash. Her first model was a guinea pig. Years later, she invested in DSLRs with an aim to chronicle her travels and memories. All of this changed by the end of 2011 when she discovered the joys of cellphone photography. By coincidence, she also received an iPhone 4 from her husband. “I noticed some interesting work on social media that was made using Hipstamatic. These photos were painterly, more like artworks. I became curious and wanted to give it a try. With the help of communities on Facebook and other photography websites, I began to learn about iPhone photography and its unlimited possibilities. It was so fascinating. Eventually, I actively began to shoot, and it became my camera of choice,” she says.

Residing in a small town close to Munich, Germany, Mariko doesn’t specifically head out with the intent of making pictures. In fact, interestingly, she shot most of her photographs while walking her dog, and sometimes, during her travels to other cities in Europe. Either way, the time of the day, the weather conditions, and her mood impacts her creation. “I am always chasing light, preferably low light. So the ideal time to shoot a moody photograph is in the golden hours. I absolutely love photographing when there is a heavy fog. It transforms almost any setting into something eerie and mysterious. With a bit of luck, there is also a good chance to catch some rays streaming through the mist,” she says.

Photographing with a dog in tow has its own challenges. For instance, she cannot spend long hours at one spot. “I only take pictures of places that interest me or fit my photo gallery. But even then, I am usually under pressure, as he walks on a leash and is difficult to control. So I have to be extremely quick while arranging my frame,” she says. However, Mariko says that some photographs would have not been possible without Lobo. For instance, her first award in 2012, the Mobile Photography Awards. “This is a photo of a few cows in the Big Maple Plain in Austria. When I arrived at the location, the cows were grazing. I wanted them to look up, so I tried everything to get their attention, but it did not work. Lobo, who hates them, started barking from my side and they all looked up at once,” she recalls.

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The White Horse.

Elaborate Editing Techniques
Besides using the native camera on her iPhone, Mariko sometimes prefers shooting with third-party apps, namely ProCamera’s HDR mode and Hipstamatic. The reason being that the square format brings harmony to her galleries on Flickr and Instagram. She also has multiple filters that she chooses from while making her pictures. “My aim is to improve my compositions without cropping the image. Previsualising my images, including framing and which filter to use, is a good way to improve my skills and challenge myself,” she states.

But choosing the correct filter to shoot with is just the start of her meticulous editing process. Apart from basic editing, she also applies textures and additional filters. “If correctly used, it can further enhance your image. For example, a clear sky is boring. So a subtle texture could help to make the image more interesting. Or, depending on the texture, you can emphasise or even completely change the atmosphere of an image,” she says. Her second reason is something most cellphone photographers often face. “Textures help to hide grain. So if you have a poor quality photo but want to save it, adding texture could be helpful. However, it does not always works.”

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The Philosopher.

Once she knows which image she wants to upload, she uses other apps to edit them, which varies between one to three editing apps. “It is always about the mood, and I edit using filters or add textures to enhance it. But I try as much to not overdo it. Based on the weather condition, I choose between various apps to shoot with, as I want my colours and contrasts to be perfect. I always start with Snapseed for basic editing. It has a brush tool that is great to increase or decrease the luminance in specific areas. But from then on, I do not have any methodology. Depending on what I want to create, I choose the process. The apps I use the most are Snapseed, Mextures, Hipstamatic, LensLight, and PS Express,” she explains.

On rare occasions, Mariko does not just edit photographs but quite literally designs them. “Sometimes I superimpose other elements on to my image, but I haven’t been doing it much lately. If there is something missing to complete the harmony in a picture, I am open to everything. For example, I have used birds, rays of sunlight, snow, clouds etc. It is all about the aesthetics,” she says.

The Learning Curve
Besides nature, Mariko draws her inspiration from movies and television shows. As for photographers, she follows several people on social media. “I really admire Gianluca Ricoveri, Lee Atwell, and Paul Moore’s work. Moreover, the fact that you can easily connect with people on social media, find creative inspiration, learn from them, and get feedback, is amazing,” she opines.

Depending on the images she likes the most, Mariko also makes prints. She either hangs them up on a wall or creates calendars. She also often gifts them to her family and friends on Christmas. For someone who shares her work actively on social media, Mariko prefers to make prints. “Social media is important for presenting your work, making contacts and developing yourself, but to view photographs, I think it is a little distracting because it is all about the likes, comments and advertising. Prints are for a lifetime, and it is a good feeling to hold the finished work in your hands. I enjoy the process. Prints tell their stories quietly and without distraction, unlike seeing the same images on a tiny screen.”

Dramatic, mystical, and serene. These are a few words that describe Mariko’s extensive body of work. Although she constantly juggles between her day job and taking care of family, she finds time to build her enchanted world, one picture at a time. “Photography isn’t about the gear or the technical quality of an image. It is about the power of the image itself, the content and its composition. It must be able to evoke some emotions in the viewer,” she concludes.

Growing up, Mariko Klug spent her childhood in Tokyo and Rio de Janeiro, before settling down in a small town in Germany. She has won several awards for her work, and has also been widely exhibited in the USA, Canada, Germany, Portugal, Cyprus and Russia. In her free time, she likes to go for hikes in the mountains. • You can find Mariko at @mariko_klug.

This article originally appeared in the February 2020 issue of Better Photography.


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