There are lots of photographers in and around the sneaker world that stand out through their approach and visual language. There has been an explosion of creativity going on in recent years. But Johannes Höhn does more than that. Besides carving his own path, he has inspired others and helped create a movement. By balancing what he learned in streetwear and sneaker photography with outdoor explorations, he formed the “German Roamers” collective, which became enormously successful and led to collaborations with brands and even a book.
Johannes, besides classic sneakershots you are best known for your unique approach to outdoors photography. What were the first few outdoor trips that triggered your interest in this world, and how did the transition happen?
It was about in the middle of 2014, I remember I was utterly impressed by some images I saw on Instagram. Most of my photography back then focused on sneakers and streetwear, somehow I was struggling to find “the thing” in photography to fulfill me. So when I stumbled upon the outdoor photography of Hannes Becker (Germany) and Dylan Furst (Pacific Northwest, US), I felt truly inspired and motivated to head out and try to take nature photos, too. I think it was in November 2014 when I went out for the first time to explore my local forest to take some shots there. I did not have any clue how to do it, I just did my thing and tried to capture it the way I wanted to. Not long after my first trips to the German outdoors, I felt that this was something I could spend more time on and focus my photographic activities on.
Your name “Pangea” has been around for a long time as well. The name describes a supercontinent in prehistoric times, so a global or traveling theme is kind of involved. Was this your intention when you picked the name?
Not at all. When I chose the name Pangea Productions, I was still into shooting skate videos in the first place. I chose the name around 2007, so at a time I wasn’t even taking photos. Back then I just thought I’d need to have a cool name for my video productions, and wanted to use an alliteration with the letter “P”. During my research I came across the term “Pangea”, and I really liked the sound and also the meaning of it. Now, more than ten years later, I have to say things developed kind of nicely towards the meaning of the word, so I think nowadays it definitely makes a lot more sense that I have this name than it did back then.
Obviously, you have two sides of photography, one outdoors and one that mixes streetwear and sneakers. Can you comment on how these two passions coexist in your life? Are they separate or brothers from the same mother?
They are definitely brothers from the same mother – or father? I agree, there was a time when I strictly posted only outdoor stuff on my channel, but that has changed in the past months. I have grown as a photographer, and I still do with every photo or image I create. I think it’s an important process, and especially for me – being all self-taught – my skills, interest and interpretation of photography have changed rapidly over the past years. What has been there from day one is the urge to somehow combine both of these worlds: sneakers, streetwear and nature. It’s been a balancing act for sure, but to this day a very positive challenge to combine and experiment with both elements. Concerning my IG feed, my mindset has also changed a lot over the past years. Nowadays I just post whatever I feel proud and positive about – whether it’s epic nature, moody street shots or a dope sneaker animation. I’ve realized that all of this is a part of me and all of this means something to me, so why separate it?
Why do you think landscape photography has blown up so much over the past few years?
I think people just noticed that landscapes and nature is something they enjoy looking at and also something they can relate to. It might also be sort of a dreaming aspect to it. With the help of Instagram you can explore the world, see all these crazy places. The other way around, noticing that you can become quite a popular photographer shooting landscapes, there were also a ton of new guys in the game evolving from that fact, posting more of these beautiful landscape photos. Both factors favoring each other made the whole genre even more popular. But that’s probably only one small aspect of it.
Besides being a photographer, you are also truly passionate about sneakers and an integral part of the scene here. Can you describe how this scene has changed in the last ten years?
That’s a big question. In the end I think most people know the main differences between now and then. Ten years ago there simply was no sneaker hype at all. You could easily buy the shoes you want, be it the latest Air Max x Patta collab or the Nike x Atmos Air Max 1 Elephant. I remember these sitting on shelves of local stores for months! Pretty crazy if you think about it. I remember the first big hypes coming up around exactly 2009/2010, with a lot of Asics heat releasing, making people camp out in front of stores. When I think about it, it all started back then: limited releases, collaborations, all the stuff that made people go crazy about shoes. Sneakers were just starting to go mainstream, catching everybody’s attention, young to old. Community-wise I think it was different ten years ago, because everything was just smaller. But I have to say that nowadays the community is still there and still strong – I see a lot of people connecting because of kicks. The whole product craze and market shifted, but in the end the interest for sneakers still brings people together, which I think is the most important part of a community.
To help us better understand your daily life, can you describe some of your latest or current projects?
2018 definitely was a big year, since it was the first year for me to completely freelance. Apart from taking photos by myself it was a lot about organizing campaigns and productions, so my work kind of shifted more to a producer side than actual photographer’s work. It’s super cool to see things evolve and grow, taking benefits from the creative network we have built over the past years. It feels like all the effort I put into growing all comes together now, with brands and clients appreciating the knowledge and skills we can offer.
Favorite projects of the last three years?
Publishing our first book (German Roamers) in November 2017 definitely was something that felt absolutely unreal. It’s a milestone and something so special – having a book in hand is much more than only posting your photos online. Another favorite was a trip we did in Canada and the US in summer 2017, traveling from Whitehorse to Anchorage. It was only ten days but we’ve seen and experienced so much during the time – still love to think back to it. This is the trip I got one of my absolute favorite images of all time at (Bear Crossing). It was all a matter of seconds, and I was the only one of our crew to actually get this exact shot. Still makes me so happy when I look at it. Another favorite project was a photo session we put together with adidas for their Atric release last year. Each of the most important German sneaker retailers sent out one of their photographers and we all came together in Duisburg for a day of creating. These sorts of events are by far my favorite: meeting up with like-minded people, interacting and taking shots with each other.
A lot of photos you take seem like they have taken an awful amount of work to even get into the situation. How serious are your outdoor trips? Do you actually camp outdoors and go all the way or is this just a picture?
Most of the tours I do don’t necessarily involve camping. Especially if you are touring inside a national park, camping is often strictly prohibited! Most of the times there are mountain huts along the way, and this is the way to overnight properly and legally. Most images involve a lot of work though, either to get to a spot or, if the spot is easily accessible – which happens quite a lot, too – putting a lot of work into the situation to create something new.
How hard is it to shoot some of your early morning stuff? What are the times you have to get up to get that amazing morning fog and light?
Preparation definitely is important, but one thing I’ve learned from shooting nature is that anything can happen! You need to look at the forecast, make a plan and decide on where to go, but often things turn out quite different on the way, so it’s most important to always be flexible and able to react to certain circumstances. Getting up early is an essential part of the deal, but once you have experienced an epic situation it’s not hard to motivate yourself to get up super early. It’s like a drug – just the chance of seeing something incredible makes me get up voluntarily. Once you are at the spot, it’s about a certain type of flow. You have some ideas in mind, but also a lot of the creation is happening spontaneously while you’re there.
You are the founder of the German Roamers collective, which has become extremely successful in the past few years. You have really approached this with a community thought in mind instead of focusing on yourself. Why was this important to you to include others?
The idea behind the collective of German Roamers was simply to gather like-minded outdoor photographers on Instagram based in Germany. Seeing outdoor photography being recognized worldwide – especially for the spectacular landscapes of Canada, the US or New Zealand – I was like: “We have some very talented guys here in Germany as well, and we also have some very nice landscapes to show the world!” I saw the potential of all these guys and really felt like we need to get these together. Fun fact: I only knew two of them personally, the rest was chosen only because of their photos on “the gram”. Nowadays, exactly 4 years later, we are 14 people and know each other very well. We have become best friends and spend a lot of time together traveling, taking photos or drinking beers. It’s completely insane if you make yourself realize all of this happened because of an app.
You have obviously traveled big time in the past few years. What were some of the greatest trips you were involved in?
I have to admit that I do not travel as much as people think! I’m very selective when it comes to photographic trips and productions. It might look like I’m traveling all year round, but the reality is very different from what people think they see on social media. Planning and organizing takes a whole lot of time, and I’m not a person with a “I have to see every country of the world before I turn 40” kind of bucket list. That’s not something I want to live by. If you travel all the time, how can you still reflect on the experiences you made? Also, I really love being at home, so I don’t strive for this globetrotter lifestyle. Concerning my favorite trips of the past, there are definitely a lot of incredible moments and things I have on my mind. Each trip is special on its own – it’s the people you are with, the experiences you share – so it’s really hard to name specific ones. My favorite countries traveled so far are the Faroe Islands, Canada and Norway. I think I could spend the rest of my life just exploring these countries and wouldn’t need much else.
There are places I really would love to see one day for sure. Exploring Disko Bay in Greenland during midnight sun is definitely high up on the list, but other than that I think I’d choose my travels wisely and head back to countries I enjoyed being at much rather than forcing [myself] to see new countries.
What are your favorite destinations within two hours of your hometown Cologne?
Number one is and always will be Burg Eltz. The place is pure magic, and even if it is overrun and overshot by tourists, influencers and photographers, it still gives me goosebumps every time I visit. It’s simply incredible.
Besides that I really enjoy the Eifel National Park, the Moselle River area, and the village of Monschau. There is definitely a whole lot of cool things to see near our hometown!
You have a wide range of interests beyond just photography. What are some of the things that inspire you on a daily basis?
Music is an essential part of my inspirational process. Through music I find myself daydreaming, creating ideas in my mind. I think making music will at some point of my life be the craft I want to learn. I am already looking for musical collectives to join to get better at it. Besides music, I still enjoy sports a lot. In general, I would say I love to see people who are passionate about something and take a lot of inspiration from that.
Please name three favorite sneakers.
Air Max 1 “History of Air”, Jordan I “Shattered Backboard”, Nike x Bodega Footscape Woven Chukka Mid.
Which pair of shoes would you pick if you could only take one pair and travel around the world for one year?
Probably my adidas Terrex Free Hiker. It’s super comfy, performs well in city and on the trail, and most importantly: it still looks good.
If you would have to use one camera and lens for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Contax G2 with 21mm lens.
What is the next project you are going to do?
Next up is shooting an editorial for The North Face, showing their Retro 90’s Rage collection. Super stoked on this one, since I own some pieces of the OG Rage collection.
Huge THANKS to you for featuring me and my work in the anniversary edition of Sneakers Mag. I feel more than honored and truly appreciate the love. Thanks to all the people around me supporting me – you know who you are.
This story also appears in our March 2019 issue of Sneakers Magazine with additional AR features – available now!