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If you have a degree in what field is it? I have a degree in German social law, but I left Germany to pursue what I love—photography. Sometimes you have to take a detour in order to really know what to do with your life.

What was your strangest assignment? In Singapore. My assignment was to capture the essence of a super-modern building complex consisting of four high-rise towers, in the center of which was a huge fountain. The only way to get an idea of how cool the fountain looked was to shoot straight down from the top of one of the towers. I shot with a 4 x 5 camera, while suspended over the edge of the roof. I was strapped into a harness leaning out over the edge, anchored to a couple of security guards by a pair of ropes, all the while wondering if their sweaty grips would hold. I got the shots, but I had nightmares of falling for many nights afterward.

Which photographer would you like to meet? Nick Knight. I always try to reinvent myself and I feel inspired by the photography and art he has created and how he always pushes himself.

What famous person (living or dead) would you most like to photograph? I’d like to spend a day, not just a 20 minute photo op, with Nelson Mandela. A day during which I’d have the opportunity to see and know him, really capture his essence and observe and learn from him. His continuing efforts and ability to make a difference in the world despite all of the hardships of his life is truly inspiring.

Aside from your camera and lighting, what item could you not work without? My laptop. I’m totally digital. Everything I do goes on my laptop, allowing me to be completely mobile. I can be in touch and work from anywhere.

Is there anything you would not digitally retouch? I love faces, especially when they have signs of life on them. I think images are over-retouched these days, it’s almost the same as when Flash first started being used on Web sites—everyone went overboard. Let the images be real and breathe and don’t take away their essence.

From where do your best ideas originate? From within. There isn’t a formula for creativity; it happens as life happens.

How do you overcome a creative block? I've never had that problem. I’ve always had an abundance of ideas; many more than I have the time to execute.

Do you have creative pursuits other than photography? If I had more time I would make my own clothes (again) and maybe even start my own clothing label.

What music are you listening to right now? Adham Shaikh’s “Satori,” Interchill Records, on OEM digital radio.

What’s your approach to balancing work and life? Work hard. Play hard. Occasionally step out of your comfort zone to reset yourself and find a fresh perspective.

What's your favorite quote? My logo, jian, an old Tao symbol that means, “without observation learning is impossible.”

Do you have any advice for people just entering the profession? You really have to be committed and love, love, love photography. You must be willing to breathe, eat, drink, sleep and puke photography—if you’re up for all that, go for it.

What's one thing you wish you knew when you started your career? How ultra-competitive this profession is. Perhaps, though, I may have been discouraged knowing; sometimes it’s good not to know everything. I’m glad I didn't.

Photographer Claudia Goetzelmann's wit and vision is as sharp as her shooting style. The German native had the remarkable opportunity to live in both Africa and Asia before bringing her unique perspective to the city of San Francisco in 2001. Her passionate approach to her work has brought her international recognition and awards for her remarkably unusual sensibilities toward creating dynamic and exciting images. Claudia’s list of clients is comprised of fashion labels, graphic design firms, advertising agencies and editors. She currently divides her time between San Francisco and New York and is represented by Marge Casey + Associates.

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