Interview: Murad Osmann, the Instagram 'Follow Me' photographer
The Russian talks about the places he and wife Natalia still want to visit, what it's like having two million Instagram followers, and the planning that now goes into what once were spontaneous shots
48 HOURS: Did you expect your Instagram travel pictures with your then girlfriend now wife, Natalia Zakharova, leading you into beautiful places to be so big?
MURAD OSMANN: It wasn't instantly popular. It started in Barcelona — it was our first trip together. We took our first picture there, then another one, and it went on and on. It was popular among our friends for a year-and-a-half first, and only then did it gain popularity throughout the world.
What has been the most memorable or challenging series so far? There were lots of difficult ones because you can't see the weather, for example, in the picture. [Sometimes] it's really cold and Natalia is in a dress, while I'll be in a coat with my sleeves rolled up. Every photo has a story. Our first four days in Hong Kong last year were sunny but the day we went to the Global Geopark there was a thunderstorm and the humidity was mad. Natalia was dressed as a swan and rain is bad for that outfit. For a second it stopped, we took the photo and got back on the bus wet.
The pictures are not as spontaneous as they seem, right?They are not spontaneous like they used to be before. We do prepare more and plan ahead — we choose the locations and dresses. In my opinion the photos are more beautiful that way. There is a lot of research behind a photo. We always talk with local people and ask for places to visit. We go to a location, shoot, and if it doesn't work out, we might come back. But most of the time we just shoot what we have.
What are the places at the top of your list right now? We haven't been to Japan, so we want to go there. Natalia dreams about Tibet and there are a lot of places — Iceland, New Zealand and Australia — we haven't been yet.
What's it like having more than two million followers on Instagram? Our fans give us a lot of advice on locations to visit and share stories of their lives, which is always interesting to know. Or they share their photos from those locations that we took — it's fun to see in the hashtag how people do the same photos as us. If we have negative comments, we leave them — everyone has their own opinion. But if they're abusive or have bad words, we delete them.
What is one of your favourite pictures? We took one in the helicopter of the Hollywood Hills. We took off the doors of the helicopter and flew with open doors. Both of us leaned out and it was really dangerous. But the picture is gorgeous.
Is there anything unexpected that has happened since the project went viral? We've met a lot of people and done a lot of interesting collaborations. Right now, we're doing a collaboration with high-end jewellery brand Bochic and [online store] Plukka. Bochic's philosophy is similar to ours — its jewellery has a history and can tell stories, and so can our photos. The idea is this Bohemian woman travels everywhere to seek inspiration from people and locations. We like the contrast between her Bohemian look and the environment where we take the pictures, which can be a street in Mong Kok or on a double decker tram.
What camera do you use? Recently, I've been using a Sony Alpha 7 because it's small and you can mount different lenses on it. I don't stick to one camera; it depends on the conditions we shoot in. Natalia says I have hundreds of cameras that I take with me. I don't. She has hundreds of dresses that she takes with her.
Is there going to be an end to this project in the near future? It goes on. It's a passion project. We started it as a hobby to try share our vision and we will continue doing that.
What was the concept behind your wedding at Lid's Eventhouse in Moscow? There was so much to prepare but it was fun. The theme was imaginary and surreal like Alice in Wonderland. It was like a fairy tale.