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Protesting with good pictures

Tim Kaiser is a bicycle activist, photographer and filmmaker. He has developed the new visual language for muli.
2022-07-01 - Menschen Orte Fahrräder

Tim, you've been a muli rider from the very beginning, run the blog and have already launched many cycling initiatives in Hamburg. These include bicycle workshops for refugees at Kampnagel, the "Space for Bicycle Culture" in Hamburg's city centre - and many a pro-bike campaigns online or " traditionally" in the streets are also down to you. So has anything changed in all these years?

Basically, cycling has become a topic of public debate. Many things that we used to ride for as "Critical Mass" or that we used to promote online, are now on their way. New cycling infrastructure is also slowly becoming visible in Hamburg. There are government incentives for the purchase of cargo bikes and things like Jobrad-Leasing and public bike sharing. These are all steps in the right direction. The lockdowns have definitely also contributed to the infrastructure. In cities like Paris and Berlin, car lanes were turned into pop-up bike lanes during the pandemic. In Hamburg, the political decision-makers were rather hesitant, while elsewhere protected bikelanes had already been permanentised, here we saw isolated temporary attempts - i.e. yellow lines on the roads. But progress is being made, and two years later the first pop-up bikelanes have been permanently installed here too. Many things take a long time and are often not consistent - there are reasons for this: Planning in the regulatory framework - but also in people's minds - is still generally car-centred. When people talk about traffic, they mean car traffic. Unfortunately, this is still very often reflected in the final implementation of new road infrastructure.

Has progress and the broader debate also changed your perspective or your perception of the topic?

Of course, it's all a process. Changes in the debate, the situation in the local area, personal circumstances and everyday experiences - everything is constantly changing the perspective. I am increasingly focused on what is happening right on my doorstep and in my city. I am committed to people-friendly mobility in my neighbourhood and try to highlight and name the unfair distribution of public space in the city using practical everyday examples. It's not okay when cycle paths and footpaths are blocked by cars; that our children are fenced into playgrounds while we have given up public urban space to waist-high cars.

When people talk about traffic, they mean car traffic.

What can we do about it?

We should stop accepting that it is too dangerous for small children to run around outside their front doors. So the structural problems still exist. Despite all the progress that has been made, there is still a long way to go before we have a people-friendly city. But I believe it is important to utilise this small improvements to reinforce and multiply the positive images. Unlike in the past, current developments are giving me more and more opportunities to do this. As a photographer and designer, I have the opportunity to protest with positive images, document new things and contrast them with yesterday's outdated ones.

You not only accompany muli as a photographer with your camera, but also as a consultant. And you also took the pictures for the new website. What guided you? 

My aim was to create a visual world with images that are close to people who ride themselves. So I looked for "models" such as Badrieh or Felix among my friends and acquaintances - and followed them with my muli and a small photo set-up. It was important to me to stage as little as possible. The result was a mixture of street photography and documentary " just being there". Even though the weather wasn't always on our side, I really enjoyed this way of working and I'm delighted with the result.

What was the reason for this unconventional approach?

Fortunately, I don't have to make up a lifestyle-conscious stock image character for muli. There are simply wonderful people who already ride muli or who are passionate about it. Why not tell their stories? The bike doesn't have to be the centre of the spotlight. It is a means to a good end and I only need to capture it in pictures. That helps the product and the mobility transition as a whole - and I enjoy working with interesting people. I can hardly imagine anything more sustainable.

Björn, Hafencity Hamburg
U-Bahn, Lasten/Fahrradmitnahme
Badrieh, Spielplatz Altona

Was that a specification for the shoot?

No. I would describe it more as a creative process. I was in direct conversation with Sören from muli and open to input from the protagonists. I had a free hand in the realisation. I like to work on a brand at a moment when not everything is set and I can actively and holistically shape it. Of course, that doesn't always work everywhere. If possible, I try not to limit myself to one role, for example as a photographer, but also to influence the product and the people behind it - so that something new is created together. 

We also took a more artistic approach with the product shots in my studio. Due to the global supply shortage during the pandemic, we had to be very flexible and shoot over a long period of time. This gave me the opportunity to work longer on the bikes and pictures and go more into detail - I think the extra effort was worth it ... I literally know every screw now.

Was it an advantage knowing muli for a long time?

Absolutely. I've been riding a muli myself since the Startnext crowdfunding in 2017. It has helped me with complete moves, huge household purchases and photo productions. The child seat and canopy were added at some point, along with family trips. Just as the muli grew with me, I am now growing with the brand.

What would you like to improve? 

We all make compromises at some point. I think what's more important "than wanting to do absolutely everything right" is listening to feedback and critiques, remaining open to discourse and constantly reflecting on your own work. Specifically, I'm really looking forward to the new version of the muli rain cover - laughs - and in terms of my work, the selection of featured characters for the website launch is not yet diverse enough for my liking. But we're only at the beginning of the series and will hopefully be able to feature many more interesting people.

And hopefully you are not at the end of your activism yet. What else are you planning?

For me, activism works best when you create scenarios in which people can experience a possible ideal situation. That's another reason why the Critical Mass has achieved so much. It is a very impressive experience when thousands of cyclists share the space that is otherwise reserved for cars. And because you can't start early enough - I am especially excited to help push the first "Bicibus" in Hamburg. The campaign was inspired by an initiative in Barcelona, where children travel to school together as a group every Friday. In the beginning it was just a few families travelling on bicycles, scooters or roller skates, but then it became a movement. I hope it will also succeed in Hamburg.

Thank you for the interview!

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