â€œMy first real break in Germany was a book project to photograph Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser. I learned later that for this job, I had beaten out world-renowned Magnum photographer Ernst Haas and Thomas Hoepker, at the time the preeminent photojournalist in Germany and now president of Magnum,â€ recalls Gerd Ludwig on his beginnings as a professional photographer.
But before he became a professional, he took a break from college and travelled throughout the world, supporting himself along the way by working as a gardener, bricklayer and sailor.
Now a world renowned photographer for National Geographic who also shoots upscale advertising, Gerd Ludwig relates a funny episode where he was shooting this ad for an expensive German wine. The photograph was to depict an upbeat party of rich, young, beautiful professionals in a wealthy German home, served by impeccably dressed waiters. But he took his time preparing, and before he could start shooting everybody was already drunk. Needless to say, the shoot verged on a near disaster.
His most memorable shoot however was the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster. Exposing himself to the danger of radiation, Gerd Ludwig got inside the town and into the failed nuclear reactor site itself and documented the lives and suffering of the victims of the nuclear disaster.
â€œDanger itself doesnâ€™t excite me. But when you have the opportunity to take on a risky situation knowing that your images have the potential to educate the world and possibly make a difference, thatâ€™s exciting,â€ he said.
Photo: Memo Zack