Ryan Irelan

is building Mijingo and doing limited consulting.

Tu Etwas

While living in Germany from January 1998 to August 1999 I spent a large amount of my time practicing photography. I didn’t have a great camera (I arrived with the classic Pentax K-1000 and left with a marginally better Canon) and only decent composition skills I learned while studying video production at a performing arts high school. I wasn’t as good as I thought I was.

I was 23 and still a kid. Sure, I had made the big decision to sell my belongings and literally pack two bags and fly on a one-way ticket to Germany. But I was still young and, considering the opportunities in front of me, quite lazy.

My mother-in-law kindly arranged (through what I’m sure was a lot of persuading) an internship for me at the regional newspaper, the Lübecker Nachricten. I spent some of my stay in Germany working as an intern (and got to photograph some fun stuff) and later landed a handful of easy freelance assignments.

After a slow few weeks in the Summer, I was loafing around the photography office and not doing much of anything but occupying space. I was called into photo editor’s office.

“Hey Ami”, he said.

“Ami” was his nickname for me; it’s a not mean, but not exactly endearing term for Americans, especially when preceded by the word “Scheiß.”

“Tu etwas!”

I looked around and it took a moment for it to register what he was saying.

This photo editor, who was the head of the photography department at the newspaper, is an accomplished photographer. He traveled to more than one hundred countries doing photojournalism; he was in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation in the 1980s, and was in the States photographing election campaigns of Ford, Carter and Reagan.

The first time he brought out his heavy, oversized portfolio, I was stunned by the work and the locations he photographed. I admired his accomplishments, was inspired by his photography and always listened to his critiques of my work.

But I wasn’t doing anything with that inspiration and knowledge. I was sitting around the photo office with the other photographers instead of being out practicing my photography.

Today, the equivalent of loafing around the photography office is sitting hunched over your laptop, engrossed in your feedreader reading articles about creating stuff, admiring success stories and getting inspired. But none of that means anything at all unless you do something yourself or, as I was told:

“Tu etwas!”

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