Interview with Simon Hoegsberg

Interview with Simon Hoegsberg

A couple of weeks ago I came across a great online digital photography project by the name of We’re All Gonna Die – 100 meters of Existence by Simon Hoegsberg.

The image in the project is 100 meters long, contains portraits of 178 people and…. well its an image that needs to be seen to really appreciated. I spent a good 15-20 minutes looking at it on my first viewing. It’s not something that loads particularly past if you’re on a slow internet connection – but if you’re able – it’s worth a look.

After looking over the image I shot the photographer Simon Hoegsberg an email and asked if he’d mind answering a few questions. He agreed and below is our short interview.


Darren: “We’re All Gonna Die – 100 meters of Existence” – where did the name come from?

Simon: The title of the photograph: “We’re All Gonna Die – 100 meters of existence” is not meant to spread fear as some people may believe – on the contrary, it’s meant to point out that life is beautiful, and unless we open up to each other instead of keeping our longings, hopes and experiences to ourselves we’ll fall into the grave with a lot of valuable information and love that we never got around to sharing with the people we’re in touch with. I believe that it is meaningful to let the thought that we’re going to die into our heads once in a while because it brings into perspective what we’re actually doing with the life we’ve been given.

Darren: What gear did you use in shooting for this project? (camera, lens etc)

Simon: The camera I used for the project is a Canon 1D Mark II, and the lens a Canon 400mm. The software is Photoshop.

Darren: Can you talk us through the logistics of the image? How many images are in it? How many did you shoot that are not in it? How did you stitch it together?

Simon: There are 178 portraits of people in the image – chosen from a selection of about 3000. The location where I shot the portraits was a railway bridge on Warschauer Strasse in Berlin, and the time: two hours of shooting a day over 20 days (only two hours because the light falling onto the people I was photographing had to come from the same angle so that it would look as if every person copy/pasted into the final picture was actually present in the moment and on the location that the long photograph depicts).

Darren: What reactions have you been getting from people about the image?

Simon: The reactions from people who’ve seen the image have been surprisingly positive. I have been and am delighted to receive so many emails from people around the world who’ve seen the photograph, and who have decided to write me to let me know that my work has had an impact on them. Reading all these mails has been sort of a mesmerizing process in that I’m not used to being praised in this scale.

Darren: Are you displaying the image (or do you intend to display it) anywhere except online?

Simon: Currently I’m in the process of preparing to exhibit the 100 meter photograph in its full length (100 m x 78 cm) in a public square in Copenhagen in the month of May 2009.

Darren: You’ve displayed a number of projects on your site – what’s next for you?

Simon: I’m not sure what kind of project I will throw myself into in the near future. But I wouldn’t be surprised if in the coming weeks I’ll be very receptive to all sorts of small impressions which – I’m sure – I will gladly invite inside and let myself be influenced by. In any case, I’ll have to await the moment where a thought strikes me hard and I realize: yes!!! This is what I must do! That’s mostly how I’ve previously “fallen” into new projects.

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

Some Older Comments

  • Seabury July 21, 2011 04:11 pm

    Very nice the content go explain the my question about this.

  • Dunworth March 22, 2010 09:29 pm

    nice post, nice blog! :)

  • Max March 26, 2009 09:18 am

    Amazing piece, love the baby sling man, eyepatch couple and the guy flipping the bird, genius....

    Would love to know more about how the image was actually worked; like how were the images captured to ensure a seamless stitch on the software?

  • Slickriptide February 28, 2009 08:40 am

    Focusing on the mechanics of the photo misses the point

    If you say "this is just a bunch of photos stitched together. Anyone can do that!" is a way of seeing the trees instead of the forest. At the most basic level, a Van Goh or a Rembrandt is nothing more than "a bunch of brush strokes overlaid on one another. Anyone can do that!"

    Art is end result, the composition of those mechanical bits in to something new. "Starry Night" may be nothing more than a lot of paint laid on canvas, but the composition created by those strokes is what we're judging, no the brushstrokes themselves. Dimissing a photo-mosaic because it's bunch of photos stitched together is silly. Of course it's a bunch of photos stitched together. That's what makes it a photomosaic. Should we dismiss "Starry Night" because, from a certain viewpoint, it looks like something a five year old could have drawn with crayons?

    Just because "We're all gonna die..." is stitched together in a way to suggest that you're looking at a single instant time, that doesn't somehow disqualify it from consideration as art. Would be more "artsy" if the photos were literally a mosaic with frames around each photo? It would be different, but I'd argue about it somehow being more "valid" as art.

    The "art" comes from the decisions about which of the 3000 shots to use and how to arrange them to present the artist's vision. Not from the simple fact of a camera taking photographs for a few weeks. Now, criticizing it as ineffective is certainly valid. I'd agree with the poster who said "It doesn't tell a story, it tells 178 stories...". It's not about weaving a theme between all of these people. It's a slice of life, albeit an artificially enhanced one.

    Is "We're all gonna die..." art? I find it intriguing and through provoking. That's as reasonable a definition of "art" as any I can think of.

  • R.LOWE February 14, 2009 07:39 am

    wow what an amazing idea!!!!... your work is inspiring and beautiful. its simply ordinary people living everyday lives captured on film witch sounds boring but is executed in a wonderful way and i LIKE it A LOT!!

  • Georg February 13, 2009 07:20 am

    > Question - can the photographer use this as a public exhibit?
    > [...] one may argue the website itself is a public exhibit !

    IANAL, but even though in Germany the concept of "right to one's own picture" exists and seems to restrict publishing of photographs (in the sense of making them available to somebody else) more than the rules in other countries, there also exist provisions in the context of art to allow publication. It basically boils down to a per case consideration if somebody is really put off - that is what a court of law is for, right? ;-) - but an artist may sometimes have more freedom than, say, a reporter (without regarding the obvious "public interest" they can invoke, etc.)
    As to the question of the role of the publication on the website, I must admit that I have no good understanding how the laws are applicable but common sense would hint that it could most likely depend on the nationality of the owner and the server location, plus the demographics of the denizens (to assess the gravity of the insection to personal rights, etc.)...

    Looking forward to seeing more enlightening
    comments on this matter :-)

    P.S: For a good read (in German) see also:

    P.P.S: Of course playing it safe with model releases would be preferable, but then again, with 3000 pictures taken to exhibit 178 of them...

  • HK February 13, 2009 05:32 am

    People are funny.
    People in the photo project and people and their subsequent comments...
    I enjoyed viewing the project. I think white space makes an impact when used judiciously, but a bit too much here for my personal preference; disappointed with the title relating to the project.

    Some great shots, luv the man with the baby in the sling. The eye patch couple is something else too...

  • Sime February 12, 2009 10:40 pm

    "Question - can the photographer use this as a public exhibit ? Doesnt he need to get the permission of those photographed ? I am sure there is some legal impediment in doing it as a public exhibit - even though one may argue the website itself is a public exhibit !"

    If he's not selling it, and not making defamatory remarks - I'd suggest he'd be just fine to exhibit the work.

    (Laws may vary from country to country)

  • Riyazi February 12, 2009 10:33 pm

    I think there more than several portraits in that image which are brilliantly captured and would have made a great image on their own. However, I do agree the title and the image don't go together. After reading the title, I expected something more than a stitched up set of candid street photos. The expectations from the title was not forthcoming in the image.

    Great rant Digital Photography Tips - I believe that art is in the eye of the beholder and that different people view the same piece of art differently - but some things out there are a real load of s-crap (pickled cows anyone?) even though they are being hailed as masterpieces.

    The image is great - I looked some of the people and it made me think why they were doing what they were doing at that moment of time (the guy in a hurry, the 2 girls sharing a laugh, the eye patch man & woman - same eye !!! what are the chances !!! )

    Question - can the photographer use this as a public exhibit ? Doesnt he need to get the permission of those photographed ? I am sure there is some legal impediment in doing it as a public exhibit - even though one may argue the website itself is a public exhibit !

  • Rowan Lamb February 12, 2009 01:24 am

    I think DPT might be missing the point. Just because you don't like something doesn't mean it's not art. I happen to think that it's fantastic. I agree that it doesn't tell a story, but it does tell about 178 stories - look at every face in that picture, try and imagine what is going through those peoples' minds at that exact point. There are some wonderful moments of interaction, and some truly absorbed people who are in a world of their own. It illustrates the variety of humanity, and I think the fact that the artist is trying to make us think about our own interactions, and the way we live our lives is quite clear.

    And as for saying that stitching images together isn't art because its easy, well that's ridiculous. You could say the same about pressing a shutter button...

  • kajenn February 10, 2009 06:15 pm

    This is - literally - a great composition and an awesome piece of work. I'm looking forward to be able to see it in real life in Copenhagen in May.

  • Badowski February 10, 2009 01:34 pm

    Really powerful project, thank you DPS and Simon Hoegsberg

  • lils February 10, 2009 10:50 am

    Love it! Thanks dps for securing an interview with such talented people!
    I like the characters he's captured. Including mr cypa man shirt giving the finger secretly...I think there's 2 men doing random!

  • D. Travis North February 10, 2009 07:09 am

    Forgot to mention - this reminds me of a similar exhibit in the Orlando Airport. At one point, there's an area where you have to go under-ground with a moving walkway, and there's photos of people as if they were moving along (or waiting on) the walkway. It's actually pretty impressive, but you can't stand far enough away from it to really appreciate it's immense size.

  • chris February 10, 2009 02:10 am

    Neat idea but I too was disappointed -- especially when I saw the same set of hammerhead cranes in the backdrop more than once. I must agree with Digital Photography Tips here - the title and the finished product dont have anything in common = to sit and take pictures of people on the sly and stitch it together is not nearly as thought provoking as it could be.

  • D. Travis North February 10, 2009 02:06 am

    DPT - amusing little commentary there. I especially liked your bit about Worhol. But I think you're being too hard on Hoegsberg. If nothing else, he had a clear vision before he began this work (or at least it seems that way). I'm not a huge fan of the result, but I have some respect for it.

  • Deirdre February 10, 2009 01:39 am

    I actually think the name works quite well and that it's not morbid at all.

    Each of the people in this project is caught in a moment of their own lives, oblivious to the lives around them.

    I believe that the point is to remember that despite the differences we may have in our lives and our own self-centeredness -- in the end we all die. It reminds me that I am small in the scheme of things and yet I am part of a larger web.

  • Matt February 9, 2009 04:45 pm

    Impressive, I love the idea and I'm sure the exhibit will be fantastic.

  • Digital Photography Tips February 9, 2009 04:40 pm

    Everybody has their own opinion of what makes good art .. so there is no way to say .. this is good and this is bad .. it's all a matter of opinion. personally I was rather disappointed in opening up the image. We’re All Gonna Die - 100 meters of Existence ... that's a nice catchy title .. too catchy .. because the image does not live up to it's expectations. With a title like that I expect for the photographer to tell me a story. I expect them to pull me in and make me think about my life and draw my own personal relationships and experiences into the image. I didn't learn anything from this image on any level. It didn't tell me a story. Basically it doesn't stand on it's own and speak for itself. What it does have going for it is he took the time to make a huge panoramic image but then again .. so what. How many photographers stitch images into panaromas? It's not even hard to do, it only take a couple clicks in photoshop .. crop and your done. Not only that but this one is an extremely simplistic stitch job. We're all going to die? Ok that's something we all have in common. So what do these subjects have in common? Nothing. His other projects seem to reflect the same pattern ... catchy titles with nothing to back them up. This is another example of the trend where a photographer sits around and says ok I have images that don't have any thought-provoking content to them so how can I pass them off as art? Hmmmm I can make a print that's really big .. yeah that's the ticket .. no that's just lame.
    Sorry it's late and I get touchy about todays so called art. Awhile back a HUGE exhibit came through town .. it was stacked hand towels .. they were plain white hand towels stacked in large piles .. not in any fancy shape or form .. just folded and stacked up. Yet somehow the artist claimed that they were screaming out at the tragedy of the war in the middle easy and the children who had died and bring our troops home and blah blah blah ... give .. me .. a .. break .. they were playing off the media and insulting the true horrors of war by trying to make a quick buck off it and to make a name for themselves without doing a single thing to help the cause they were claiming to help ... by stacking plain white hand towels.
    This image reminds me of those hand towels ... covering up bad art with a catchy title or cause. And while I'm ranting about my disappointment in the overall global art community .. Andy Warhol sucks !! ... just thought I'd throw that in for good measure. :) No honestly, I have a master plan to win the big lottery and then secretly go around buying up everything that Andy Warhol ever created at which point I will announce to the world my collection and set a date for the largest Warhol exhibit the world has ever seen .. the night will come .. all the top names will be there ... the lights will go down .. the curtain will rise ... and there it will be .. all his work in a huge pile soaked in kerosene ... and me ... standing in the shadows ... with a smile and a match.

  • Ilan February 9, 2009 03:51 pm

    Impressive work!
    Bit morbid title, but hey.. :)

  • Ramón February 9, 2009 11:25 am

    The man and the woman, both wearing eyepatches, and the woman pushing the stroller with the skull t-shirt are brilliant.

  • Martin February 9, 2009 08:59 am

    I came across that image last week, and found it fascinating. Thanks for chasing up the photographer and getting some background info on it!

  • Sime February 9, 2009 08:58 am

    Simon! The image is amazing, not because of its amazing size, but because of the different feelings and faces and emotions you've captured and put together. Thanks for sharing.

    Sime (dPS)

  • Jenny Stewart February 9, 2009 08:56 am

    This is such an awesome project, really fun to look at.