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Interview Series: In Conversation with Photographer Ulrike Rensmeyer-Byrd

Interview Series: In Conversation with Photographer Ulrike Rensmeyer-Byrd

Welcome to the first installment of our new interview series! If you'd like to read more about the concept, check out our previous journal post. In this first interview, I speak with local Photographer Ulrike Rensmeyer-Byrd, who worked as an Early Childhood Educator (ECE) for 30 years. Her work was heavily influenced by the pedagogy of both Emmi Pikler and Waldorf, and these concepts have carried over into how she approaches capturing children, nature and life's moments in what she describes as authentic photography. Hope you enjoy the read!

Ulrike in our Bib Smock in gold, paired with jeans and fringe boots. 

Ulrike Rensmeyer-Byrd

I met Ulrike at a parent craft circle that she was leading at our children's school in 2018. I noticed her right away - tall, silver hair in a chic asymmetrical hairstyle, funky glasses and well put together outfits that made me think she had somehow achieved the seemingly impossible - a wardrobe that suited her perfectly, spoke loudly of her personality, and seemed......effortless. 

During that short time in the craft group, we had talked about Ulrike's love for photography, and that she hoped to transition from her career as an early childhood educator to professional photographer, and her deep interest in capturing magical life moments such as birth. She always spoke of her wish to capture the essence of a person or child, rather than capturing someone in a pose. 

The Bib Smock, paired with Uli's jeans, colour burst boots and a matching black hat.

We met on a few occasions, but with a busy toddler and ensuing exhaustion, my mind bursting with design and business ideas, and frantically knitting and learning knitwear design, I soon fell out of attending the craft group. 

I reached out to her to see if she was still doing childcare in December 2019. I was looking for care so I could try to get my business up and running. Then corona hit, and during that time I learned some photography skills. I often thought of her, and imagined wandering through the local fields with our cameras.

Uli paired the Bib Smock with her wool coat, fringed boots and jeans, all from her own wardrobe.

I found Ulrike on Instagram, and followed her photography account (links at the bottom of the article). We saw each other from time to time - most recently driving one of the buses at my eldest son's school for children with special needs. We decided to meet for coffee, after years of things not lining up.

I had already been working on my interview series, and realized she would be a great person to have a chat with about her life, ideas, creativity and her interest and experience in early childhood pedagogy and photography, and just life in general. She agreed. 

We met one early dewy Sunday morning in August by the forest overlooking the valley near Tübingen-Rottenburg. We recorded the interview in person on a bench on a forest trail, and then had a fun photo session afterwards where she styled our Bib Smock with clothing and accessories from her own wardrobe.    

The following interview has been transcribed from a recording, and has been paraphrased in some parts for clarity with Ulrike's permission. You can find  links in the notes section at the end of the interview for any recommendations and info from the interview. 

1. Tell me a little about yourself: Your work/where you live/family/your roots/your childhood

I’m Ulrike, Mother of 3, and I’m a grandmother already. I grew up in a little place in the Heidelberg area, in the countryside.

Ulrike Rensmeyer-Byrd


We used to play outside after school. There were no cell phones, and we’d walk to school; almost nobody was taken to school by car. We’d play in the forest, with mud and do bike races up and down the hills. I had a fun time as a child; free play outside until the sun went down or your Mum called you in for dinner. If there were accidents – somebody always took care of you. Times change, things change.

I really prefer the countryside instead of living in the city. I love to see how nature changes throughout the year along with the seasons; the growing of plants, the colours during the year. I need to see the daylight changing, and see far into the distance to be able to think things over. It gives me strength, calms me down, and gives me inspiration.

Looking off into the distance - Kiebingen and Rottenburg, Baden-Württemberg, Germany. August 2022.


I was an ECE for 30 years – I would take the children outside and show them nature, name plants, trees, and animals. I taught them to be aware of all of these things. 

As a Photographer, being outside and taking pictures is a meditation for me, walking and taking pictures from a perspective that is perhaps different from other people. Sometimes I think people don't notice what is right next to them - that’s what I like to capture. Animals and plants...I believe many people don’t notice tiny and fine details.

Photo Credit: Authentique Photoart Ulrike Rensmeyer-Byrd


I've had a camera in my hands since I was a teenager. I captured images of my own children and then in my work as an ECE in Spielraum (playroom) groups, based on the concepts of Emmi Pikler and Waldorf. When I take pictures, I capture the fleeting moments of children’s expressions and play.

I left childcare in 2020 due to some family issues. I was looking for another job I could do.

Photography is now my passion as well as my business: working with authentic people capturing authentic things, but I also seek change for society in my work. For example, capturing the human experience, through birth and the work of midwives. 

Portrait by Authentique Photoart Ulrike Rensmeyer-Byrd.
"I love to work with natural daylight......I want to show real faces, and the personality of a person regardless if it is a child or adult. Authentic photography is how I see it."

Corona definitely got in the way.

I'm open to the possibility of photographing different subjects, but it has to resonate with me. It is a cooperation, something that matches - the people and the subject have to match.

I love to work with natural daylight, no filters - I do optimize my pictures but I won't photoshop natural signs of aging, etc. I want to show real faces, and the personality of a person regardless if it is a child or adult. Authentic photography is how I see it.

I see the scenes I want to capture, the subject doesn't have to act – they do what they love to do. I know what I like and don’t like – this is living authentically, and that is what I prefer to photograph.

2. What are you most proud of in your job/career/passion?

I’m really proud that I have had a great influence on many wonderful kids and their families, through my work. A mother told me that her daughter still remembers the flower names that I had taught her. Another one told me about her son keeping up with table manners and rituals at home and even in his kindergarten.  

Photo Credit: Authentique Photoart Ulrike Rensmeyer-Byrd

People tell me. I received a letter from a woman who left my kindergarten 20 years ago. She was so inspired by something I wrote in her book, that she is now working with homeless people in her spare time. She wrote, 'I am so thankful that I was in your group'.

I had written a poem in her little book from the German writer Gina Ruck-Pauquet, describing a Child's situation – something like this: Did you ever think about, while one is laughing maybe another one is crying – somewhere - far away... Another time it might be just the other way... And once you both might be crying - at the same moment - too much world in between – too bad you don't know each other.

I am so thankful to have learned to give babies and children the opportunity to be respected from the beginning as a person with a personality, and to give them the space to develop movement on their own.

Dr. Emmi Pikler based her work on three “pillars” (main points):

beziehungsvolle Pflege (very respectful care)
autonome Entwicklung der Bewegung (autonomic development and movement)
freies Spiel (free and self determined play)

 I was able to bring awareness to families about these concepts – that’s what I’m proud of – that I made a difference for many people.

Photo Credit: Authentique Photoart Ulrike Rensmeyer-Byrd

3. What's your favourite thing about what you do?

I like to take pictures, capture personalities, children and the connection in between. A subject I like to bring forward in photography, my Herzensthema*, is capturing children respectfully. (*Herzensthema loosely translates to 'heart theme' or 'subject' - something you really love to do, that is close to your heart)

When you look through the internet there are so many pictures of children shown being captured when they:

  • try to achieve their next “steps” and fail
  • experience walking and then falling
  • while they feel uncomfortable; scared or crying
  • are often dressed like little grownups, sometimes with makeup –

world, please let them be children.

Photo Credit: Authentique Photoart Ulrike Rensmeyer-Byrd

I like to make a difference by capturing children when they play. Nobody has to pose for me. I let them play, and I observe and capture – you don’t have to look into the camera to get a good picture. I capture moments mid-play – it’s so valuable, otherwise you don’t remember these moments as  a parent. Capture a smile during play – and you'll recognize that same smile later in that person's life.

Children deserve respect, they are not objects to be shown off. It's a real person. A child can’t say no to a type of imagery, but an adult can. It's the little gestures, during play while they interact with toys and their environment – capturing connection, relationships, and warmth towards one another, capturing stillness and play. Their authentic self. Leave them alone, and capture them in the middle of things.

These concepts come from my pedagogic experience (as an ECE), it really influences my work.

Photo Credit: Authentique Photoart Ulrike Rensmeyer-Byrd


4. What’s something big (seems unattainable) that you really want to do, but aren’t sure how? Or – what’s next for you? 

Raise awareness for my Herzensthema and become known for it. Reach more people, get in touch with the right people to spread it further, do speaking engagements about authenticity and awareness of how we look at/see children.

Make it clear that they are not objects/toys/little grown ups – they are children, and they have their own unique needs. If we don’t respect this, they are affected, they grow up differently. They don't need busy schedules. Give them space and time and a few toys, and your child will do something unique and it will come from within, rather than from external stimulation and activities. Bring out the child’s desires and be satisfied with what the child is doing: finding solutions, doing things, being constructive. I think a simple routine is incredibly important in developing a personality – not go go go – be aware of what you do and how you do it. 

I want to be a speaker, go to events and raise awareness for this subject.

I am also interested in capturing images for parents with stillborn babies; capturing special situations, to help with recovery.

I’d like to make change with the way that I take photos.

Raise awareness. 

5. Is there a person or an organization, that you feel has had, or has the possibility to have, a great and positive impact on the world, that you think people should know about?

Harambee: an Austrian woman who helps children in Kenya, built schools there and supported children and families. They have financial transparency, you can see where the money goes. I sewed a doll once for the organization. I think she is doing some really good work.


One Billion Rising: This is an organization that coordinates people to dance for violence against women. I think in 2012-2013, on February 14th – it's valentines day, but they call it V day, meaning against violence. It was about 10 years ago, and many men also volunteered to dance, in Asian countries as well, and there were videos of groups dancing somewhere in Nepal. 


Lifestyle


1. Do you have a self care practice that’s made an impact in your life?

I get up early – about 6 am and enjoy one power nap later at noon which really helps me through the day.

I have trained myself to go into a deep sleep really quickly, and it makes it possible to go through my day until 10 or 11 at night without being exhausted. 20 minutes - you can train yourself!

Around lunchtime, I put up my legs. I set an alarm, but I usually wake up 1-2 minutes before that. It's deeply relaxing and refreshing, and you don’t feel tired afterwards - you can get up right away.


2. How do you overcome obstacles that get in the way of self care?

There are days where it isn’t possible to nap, but maybe I am occupied with something positive and I don’t need it that day!

Sometimes schedules change – and if it isn’t possible, I try to take a walk instead.

You have to move things out of the way, to do these things.

3. How do you incorporate sustainable clothing/sustainability into your wardrobe? 

I really like the idea of sustainable clothing, and being aware of it. 

I was never the type of person to change my closet twice a year with new stuff. I don’t like to buy cheap things, except, I love to wear t-shirts/tank tops – I usually wear 2 at once. I have several colours: white, navy and fuchsia, and I have pieces that combine with those colours.

I like to wear this one special coat I have – a cotton knit coat from Deerberg. I like to have unique single pieces that might cost a little more - I have a few other jackets that are 30 years old that I still wear. I love certain things in my closet, and I keep them forever. I do variations around these pieces, that's how I do it. It all goes together and it always looks different.

Uli wearing her favourite Deerberg coat. August 2022.

During summer or warm days I love to wear two tops, and wear a jacket to go over. I wear two – the one underneath is 1-2 sizes smaller to build a nice body structure, and then I wear the right size on top. I  do have some shirts with longer sleeves, and wool sweaters too.

Scarves and shawls – I love them – I am a singer, I like to keep my neck warm, it feels cozy and it’s a nice accessory!

4. What challenges do you face in trying to incorporate sustainable clothing choices into your wardrobe?

I don't really see it as a challenge – it's a decision you make for your life. 

As I mentioned above, I pick three main colours in my closet, and I wear my stuff until it falls apart. I mix and match. I can't afford to by many many clothing pieces from special sustainable brands, which is kind of sad, but this is the way I manage to do something sustainable.

5. How do you foster creativity in your life?

A friend of a friend came over once, and commented that I have tablecloths and dishes throughout the year, always matching with the seasons. I have special plates with ivy, and Christmas ones with trees and apples. I love to take these out in the Fall when the light changes. I have matching table cloths too, and decorate with natural things that I gather from outside; corners with seasonal decorations.

Photo Credit: Authentique Photoart Ulrike Rensmeyer-Byrd


6. Best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Turn your head towards the sun and the shadows will fall behind.

I love sunflowers. They are symbolic for me, because they always turn their heads towards the sun.


7. Mantra or motto?

Do what you love.

and....
Kinder, Kamera und Kreativität – and music!

(children, camera and creativity)


Fun Stuff:


1. Most worn piece of clothing in your closet? Or - favourite piece of clothing?

The Deerberg cotton coat. I get lots of compliments too!



2. Favourite jewellery piece?

I don’t wear expensive jewelry – I have a few single things that I love, and I wear them constantly.

I like to look for a style that resonates with me. I've had these thin silver spiral earrings for about 4 years, and I’ve worn one of them almost every day since I bought them.

I wear just one – I like to wear it on one side only. It looks more interesting when my hairstyle is asymmetric, longer on one side, and on the other side the hair is tucked behind the ear. People notice and take a closer look – simply because it's different.

I’m not conventional, I like to improvise!

"I've had these thin silver spiral earrings for about 4 years, and I’ve worn one of them almost every day since I bought them. I wear just one – I like to wear it on one side only."


3. Favourite recipe? (or favourite food) 

Summer food – spaghetti with fresh tomatoes and basil, parmigiano, maybe a bit of butter or olive oil. It's called sugo in Italy – basically a tomato salad with olive oil, balsamico and then put it on top of your spaghetti – the spaghetti can be cold or warm. 

And in winter: Hot chocolate with cinnamon.

4. Ideal vacation?

In nature somewhere - hills, mountains and maybe with a lake.

Photo Credit: Authentique Photoart Ulrike Rensmeyer-Byrd


5. Favourite Local Restaurant?

I don’t eat out very often, but Leins Bakery in Wurmlingen - I like their cappuccino – with strong foam and a chocolate heart on top. Also, across from Leins is a nice Italian restaurant called Gasthaus Adler. 

Cappuccino at Leins Bakery, Wurmlingen. Photo Credit: Authentique Photoart Ulrike Rensmeyer-Byrd


6. Favourite non-local restaurant?

I did some photography during the first lockdown 2020 at a restaurant in Rosenfeld - Bickelsberg. It's called “Unser Lamm” and they serve traditional Swabian food. The owner is well known through the local radio station and public cooking events. 

7. What scent or fragrance makes you feel nostalgic?

Orange and Cinnamon during the pre-Christmas season. And my favourite fragrance – Roma by Laura Biagiotti Parfums – It feels like summer, and good, even after 30 years.

Photo Credit: Authentique Photoart Ulrike Rensmeyer-Byrd


Which would you prefer? 



1. Curled up by the fire or sand in your toes?

First the sand and then the fire.

2. Live concert or your favourite song on repeat?

Live Concert for the vibes.

3. Quiet night in with a friend or out on the town?

Quiet night.

4. Water or wind?

Wind

5. Favourite season?

Fall because of the colours and the light.

Photo Credit: Authentique Photoart Ulrike Rensmeyer-Byrd


6. Flower garden or vegetable garden?

Flowers.

7. Favourite Rani & Reine design?

I love your boot socks and mittens.

That’s what I saw first, and I remember when you were up at school, knitting all those things. That’s something that I had in mind that was special for me, because it’s the story of how you developed your brand and worked it out.

I like knitted stuff; I love wool sweaters and especially wool socks and wrist warmers, and I wear them through the winter and spring.


Our boot socks. Cozy, thick and warm. 


8. Is there anything you’d wish to add?

I remember a few years back when you were knitting your first designs in the school where our children went, where I taught needle felting. That’s when we met. Look how things develop and fall into place!

I think it’s great. I wish you joy and success, because I think it is a wonderful inspiring thing that you are doing, and you are a wonderful soul. Thank you for inviting me into your circle.  

For Photography Bookings and Speaking Events with Ulrike Rensmeyer-Byrd, as well as her Gallery Shop: 

Website: www.authentique_photoart.de  (info/contact and gallery shop where you can order prints of her beautiful images for your home)

Email: authentique-photo@online.de

Social Media: @authentique.photoart // @authentique.ulrike 

Blog: www.authentique-ulrike.com

Links: 

Emmi Pikler, Pediatrician and Infant Educator: https://pikler.de/emmi-pikler.html

Harambee is an Austrian registered charity providing education and sustainable support to poor communities in Kilifi, Kenya. For that purpose Harambee is partnering with a Kenyan registered charity, GAPEKA. https://www.harambee.at/

One Billion Rising is the biggest mass action to end violence against women (cisgender, transgender, and those who hold fluid identities that are subject to gender-based violence) in human history. The campaign, which launched on Valentine’s Day 2012, began as a call to action based on the staggering statistic that 1 in 3 women on the planet will be beaten or raped during her lifetime. With the world population at 7 billion, this adds up to more than ONE BILLION WOMEN AND GIRLS. https://www.onebillionrising.org/about/campaign/one-billion-rising/

Deerberg: https://www.deerberg.de/de/

Leins Bakery: https://www.leins-baeckerei.de/Wurmlingen

Gasthaus Adller: https://www.ristorante-pension-adler.de/speisekarten.html

Gasthaus Unser Lamm: http://unserlamm.de/ Schwäbische Gastronomie

Roma by Laura Biagiotti Parfums: https://www.laurabiagiotti.it/?lang=en

Rani & Reine Socks: https://www.raniandreine.com/collections/boot-socks

and mittens https://www.raniandreine.com/collections/mittens

 

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