Roofs in Lisbon

Patterns of Life: Pattern photography in Lisbon

Being colour blind is no setback for German photographer, Kilian Schoenberger. Although he can't clearly distinguish different green and brown tones, Kilian expresses his unique creative perspective by concentrating on patterns. His photographic work ranges from natural landscapes to cityscapes. As well as shooting rural areas, his work often focuses on the lifestyles and architecture of urban melting pots, as in his Patterns of Lisbon series, shot in the Portuguese capital. Here he explains his photographic style and how seeking out the city’s remote quarters brought ample rewards.

Colour blind photography

“Structures and patterns are essential to my photographic style. I'm colour blind and can't distinguish hues like green/red, blue/magenta, grey/magenta and so on. Several years ago I thought this handicap would prevent me being successful in any kind of visual arts, however creating my path as a photographer was an aspiration that was growing more and more. I recognised that I could turn this so-called disadvantage into a strength and developed my own unique photographic view. For example, whilst capturing a picture of a chaotic cityscape, I can't clearly distinguish the different colours of the houses but I don't care about those tones and just concentrate on the patterns of roofs and walls to achieve an impressive image structure.

Discovering and capturing patterns

Lisbon is a melting pot. It's a mixture of cultures, architectural styles and ways of life. Hundreds of years of history and alternating fashions have left their marks in its rich tapestry.

There has long been a deep yearning among many Europeans to visit Lisbon. And it's not least because of the best-selling novel "Night Train to Lisbon".¹

The philosophical novel taps into everyone's confusion about life's very purpose and shows Portugal's capital as a mysterious and intricate place where the answer might be found. Those intricacies can be also found in the architectural structures of the city.

The whole city consists of mosaics - in large and small scales. It was in those mosaic patterns that I targeted my series "Lisbon: Patterns of Life".

For my series I wanted to see behind the curtain of the well-known sights of the city and focus it in a way that captured the patterns of the city itself. I wanted to take my usual approach to mountain landscapes and apply it to cityscapes. So I left the main sights behind and looked for remote quarters.

I decided to try a rather unusual approach and use a telephoto lens to capture the city, and it worked out well. It helped me to bypass the distance you naturally have as a tourist and provided me the ability to snatch some intimate views of the structures behind the bright veneers.

I didn't have to walk far from the beaten track. A few hundred metres away from the city centre you won't find English information boards like in the bustling tourist traps. The old quarters where the minorities from the former Portuguese colonies live in small flats and old houses is like a small city within the city.

Winding and narrow alleys are dark and sometimes even a bit eerie. A colourful patchwork of styles and personal tastes make the 3D mosaic; on the walls incomplete Azujelo mosaics seem to reflect the structure of the quarter.

Exploring the outskirts

Further out of the city centre, clothes hang out to dry everywhere and neighbours stand on small balconies, chatting with each other. But before you can get lost in details, a huge block of flats 25 storeys high appears. Tiles again, but not the colourful Azujelos: Grey and monotonous facades this time. An interesting contrast to the city. They represent the smallest scale of mosaics and patterns of life mentioned earlier. It's a typical street scene; the historic centre with the tiled house matches pretty much with the touristic centre of the city.

Going off the beaten track

Then I followed the river Tagus up to the area Parque das Nações where I found the modern face of Lisbon. Huge concrete buildings and the train station "Oriente" stand in stark contrast to the ancient churches and historic houses. This contrast is the real Lisbon.

And so here, like anywhere, the tourist-friendly facades are just like a gift wrapper: to find the real gift it's necessary to leave the first impressions behind. I left the beaten track, and the world of colours, behind me to find structures, lines and patterns.

I call on everybody to overcome handicaps, like colour blindness, and to find your own and unique expressions of creativity. Emphasise your strengths not your weaknesses.”

Share the patterns in your city

Now you’ve seen colour blind photographer Kilian Schoenberger’s patterns of Lisbon, why not try this month’s photo challenge and shoot the patterns in your city? For more of a challenge, shoot in monochrome only.

Black and white photography can focus a viewer’s attention on structures, shapes and patterns and create striking effects. Try shooting interesting tessellations, architectural layers and street scenes by setting your camera to black and white mode. Seek out unusual angles and explore areas of a city where you’ve never been before.

When you’ve captured city patterns, upload your images to our Gallery, here >

¹ Pascal Mercier, Night Train to Lisbon, Carl Hanser Verlag, 2004.