Over Bubbled Water: Marlon Schipper Photography
Known for being a burst of positivity, Marlon Schipper pours a cup of tea and talks about finding happiness, overcoming personal challenges and reveals the story behind her quirky fascination with the portable Dixi loos.
Marlon and I used to work for the same company in Berlin – that was where we met, about four years ago – since then we’ve moved on in different directions but she continues to be a good friend and is the ray of sunshine we all need!
The first thing that strikes you about Marlon when you meet her, is her immediate, bright smile and platinum-blonde waves. You can’t help but reciprocate this warmth and feel comfortable around her.
She sits cross-legged in the armchair opposite me in my cosy, alt-bau flat. We were just talking about the different books we’re reading and I gave her mine to inspect, which she loosely holds in her lap throughout our conversation – a small book of extracts from William Styron’s Darkness Visible.
Our discussions often turn towards mental health and our challenges. Marlon’s candidness is refreshing as she tells me that she wants to focus on marketing herself and her photography but sometimes she struggles with holding herself back. ‘I’m less good at promoting myself and what I’m offering. You know imposter syndrome? That’s definitely a part of it – I know I can do the stuff but sometimes I tell myself I’m not good at that’. We talk about how to overcome this shared feeling of self-doubt, and lack of confidence. There are definitely self-help books and courses out there where you can learn to let go of these fears and embrace your talents but a lot of the time the confidence comes with practice, ‘by doing more [photography & marketing], I already get more confidence’.
Marlon specialises in street photography, family photography and portraiture. As we talk about the familiar lack of self-confidence women so often face, Marlon explains how she wants to use her photography to help other women build confidence. Having professional photos for your LinkedIn profile can be incredibly empowering and this is one of the ways Marlon would like to support women. She knows a lot of people can be insecure and camera-shy, so she doesn’t put any pressure on the outcome of the photos. Some good tips for a photo shoot? ‘I just take some pictures to make them more comfortable with the camera. Don’t rush, just take your time. And laugh! Go out, have a laugh, do a bit of weird stuff’, she shrugs. It’s easy to let down your guard around Marlon and build trust with her. She gives good direction if you’re unsure about how to stand, which way to face or what to do with your arms, but she stresses how important it is to just be yourself, move freely – the lighting and her photography skills will do the rest.
Her personal instagram is a balanced mix of portraiture and street photography, some analogue, some digital. Walking around the city and taking photos of reconstructed buildings or vintage cars has become a form of meditation for Marlon and she enjoys having her camera on her to take a picture as soon as she sees something beautiful. For all that she loves street photography, she finds a deeper connection in pictures with people. ‘I find it very nice when people take pictures of random people. I take pictures with [my friends]. All our views are different, and it’s very inspiring to see what we think works’.
She talks about a pleasant, weekend stroll in the snow with her friends through Görlitzer Park, in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district, and how all the families with their children and sleighs brought her happiness. She laughs, ‘I find happiness everywhere!’ – to those who are lucky enough to know Marlon, this comes as no surprise. ‘It is really not hard for me to find (most days). It has a lot to do with my outlook on things.’ She lists examples of things that have made her smile recently: the snow falling; a quirky number plate; the way the sun shines on something; dogs! Of course, not everybody shares Marlon’s luminous outlook but this doesn’t phase her. She’s used to people having different views and not always seeing the beauty in things, the way she does, but she admits she struggles with people who notoriously only see the negative. ‘There’s nothing I can say to help people like that, I just wish they could see a light’.
Arguably, dogs might be the biggest source of Marlon’s happiness. She has a very close connection with dogs and asides from her photography, her priority goal in life is to own a dog – this idea is a key motivation and influences a lot of her life decisions. If Marlon was a dog herself, it would probably be a labrador – always happy and a little clumsy but very loyal and sweet. She has a purity about her, the same way labradors do. Her family golden labrador, Tucker, passed away and in memory of him she has a striking tattoo on her forearm of his name in a bold, black script – all dog owners know that love.
Marlon has always been surrounded by photography. Her dad is a keen photographer and is notably responsible for introducing her to the hobby, although she has developed a totally different style. Growing up in the Netherlands, she would always take photos on her phone when she was out for walks with her dog, but when she moved to Berlin, her family dog stayed behind and she decided to take up photography to keep her occupied. ‘I missed having something to do on my walks. I bought my digital camera for my birthday and I’m still using it.’ Her 30th birthday is coming up shortly and she proudly reflects on how much she’s improved over the last few years since she really started focussing on her hobby and turning it into a business.
Her voice is soft and steady but it grows when she gets particularly excited and animated about her work. She tells me of her proudest moment to date: exhibiting her work in a coffee shop. She met the owner through a friend of a former colleague and he offered her a space to hang her pictures. At the time, she created a collage with a few photos but looking back she would have done it differently – maybe with individual pictures instead, she says this as advice to benefit other photographers, and highlights the importance of trying things and learning from the experience. Nevertheless it was still an exciting opportunity and she beams with pride recalling the moment she stood back and saw her pictures up there on the wall, with her name, “…everyone drinking coffee and my pictures there. Yeah, it was very, very cool!”. She also describes her elation after her first paid photoshoot. ‘Every time I take pictures, I think I hope it’s enough and then when you get positive feedback from the clients it really makes you proud, yes!’, she rattles her fist in the air, celebrating herself and quite rightly so.
At this point she pauses and offers me a cup of tea. I agree and although we’re in my flat, she jumps up to put the kettle on before I even get the chance.
When we settle back in with a pot of tea between us, I ask her if she would consider taking her photography abroad. Of course everyone likes to take photos on their holidays but is this something she is passionate about? ‘I get a lot of inspiration when I’m walking through Berlin, I don’t know that I would get that elsewhere… Maybe different styles of ‘Dixi’s round the world’.
She laughs at this idea but her eyes look up at the ceiling as she genuinely considers the prospect of taking her iconic @DixiStories on tour. Often overlooked by most of us, Marlon never fails to spot a Dixi out on her walks. They’ve become a strong focus of her photography and she has managed to spark excitement and inspiration in others when they pass the portaloos themselves. Trust me, you will see them everywhere.
Being a huge lover of music, Marlon loves festivals and the Dixi loos evoke that uplifting festival feeling: dancing, sunshine, being around people and listening to live music – remember that? Conveniently, Berlin is in a constant state of construction and there are portaloos all over the city. ‘They’re always in a spot where you think they don’t belong […] even when it’s next to an important German building, they’re just floop right there,’ she imitates a Dixi standing stoutly out of place, ‘they’re so cute!’. The idea of these little, blue cabins having some kind of identity and belonging crisis amuses me. She says it’s a growing love, and I can see how they’re symbolic of the internal struggles that resonate with many. ‘Of course they’re not the most pretty thing but actually I really like that about them now. Sometimes they can also be quite lonely, I think it can be quite sad to see them standing there’.
She reflects on that part with pursed lips, but to bring the mood back up she quips, ‘besides all that, they’re quite useful! When I do a photography tour, in the middle of nowhere, it’s nice to see [them] – most are locked though… about 60% are locked’.
Next time you’re out for a walk, keep an eye open for those Dixi loos – Marlon would love to be tagged in your photos, @DixiStories – and if you get caught short, there’s a good 40% chance you’ll be in luck with an open door.
Follow Marlon on instagram, @MarlonSchipper. To see more of Marlon’s work, and if you would like to get in touch, please reach out via her website.
All photos in this article were provided by Marlon Schipper.