Travelers | Lina Zelonka
If you’ve ever reblogged a photo of a castle, or a foggy road, or a quaint, German village on Tumblr, there’s a pretty good chance that it was taken by Lina Zelonka, formally known as Ivvy Millions. Zelonka, who primarily captures life in the Nahe valley, has built up quite the internet following with her gorgeous photographs. We were lucky enough to chat with Lina about her work + the importance of capturing home.
Introduce yourself! Where do you live, what’s your occupation, favorite food, etc.
Hi! My name is Lina, I’m 23 and from Germany, more specifically from Rhineland-Palatinate. I’ve just finished my bachelor’s degree and am now in this weird in-between state in life. My plans for the next months are to do a couple of internships and travel. Next year I’d like to start my master’s degree, but these are just plans so far, so nothing is certain yet. My favorite food is pizza, pasta and literally anything that’s not healthy (cake, muffins, ice cream, chocolate, cookies, you name it). I love villages, hills and mountains, rivers, forests, old European architecture, languages, trains, mornings and fog.
When did you start taking photos? Why do you shoot? What camera equipment do you use?
I think I started taking photos when I was around 16. I take pictures for different reasons. In the first place I feel like I want to document my life, including the little things and moments. I have this love for simple things and this fear of forgetting and losing. Then, ever since I’ve enrolled in university and received a student ticket with which I can take all local trains and buses for free, it’s become a hobby of mine to travel around my state and visit every city, town and village I can – I literally collect places. I’ve seen beauty where I hadn’t expected to find much of it and I somehow wanted to share these places with other people. A third reason why I take photos is simply because I love photography – I love looking at photos, I love the worlds they contain (worlds that truly exist, or existed), I love how you can create something and capture a moment. I have a Nikon D7100 (and an older Nikon D90, which I don’t really use anymore, though) and a 18-105 mm lens, a 35 mm lens and a 50 mm lens (all from Nikkor).
What has been your favorite place you’ve visited? Why?
That’s a tough question. Emotionally speaking it’s where I grew up and lived up until last spring: the Nahe valley. When I was 16 I didn’t care at all about landscapes. I liked taking photos of people, but nature just seemed boring. My taste changed radically when I started exploring the area I lived in. I visited neighbor villages, and neighbor villages of neighbor villages, and so on, and eventually I developed the habit of getting up early in the morning to see the sun rise. Sometimes when I showed a few of my photos to others, they reacted surprised: “This is here?! I’d have never guessed this place was just around the corner.” I started to love exploring the area I lived in and eventually fell in love with the place itself. I’ve moved away from the Nahe valley by now, but it’s still my (emotional) favorite with its hilly landscapes, the deep green forests, the often curvy country roads, the steep streets, the narrowness and the remoteness (especially in the more western part of the Nahe valley), the rock formations, the castles and castle ruins, the vineyards and of course the Nahe river.
Emotions aside, though, I could pick a thousand favorite places. I absolutely love Switzerland (mountains!!) and Austria and Italy and France and Great Britain, and there are hundreds of places I still need to visit … so I really can’t pick that one favorite place – but since Ireland is one of the few countries I’ve had the opportunity to see quite a bit of, I’d like to stress Ireland. The west coast, for example, has so much to offer – the Ring of Kerry, Slea Head, the Cliffs of Moher. What has struck me about Ireland is that it’s such a colorful country, especially in summer when the countryside is sprinkled with all kinds of wildflowers. Last December I was in Dublin for a couple of days (it’s now my favorite Irish city) and found that even in winter, Ireland’s coasts can be – are? – full of flowers. It’s amazing. Ireland is said to be “the green country” – to me it’s “the colorful country.”
What do you look for when you are taking photos?
I look at the patterns, the symmetry, the light, the shadows, the colors, the forms. I absolutely love fog and snow! Most of all, though, I just take photos of everything I find pretty or interesting.
Tell us about a special moment from your travels.
I don’t think there’s been this one special moment for me – rather, it’s this thing with the strangers I meet, most of the time on the trains or at the train stations. Once, for example, an elderly man on the train told me about his business appointment in Frankfurt, his children (both studying in Switzerland), his travels to Russia and his penthouse in Florida. Another time I met a man who was just on his way to the airport – his son, who was living in Texas, was about to get married. One time I was waiting for my train when a young man started talking to me. He told me he was from Afghanistan and had been living in Germany for three years. We talked a bit and then the train arrived, and eventually I ended up sitting next to this stranger on the train watching clips from Indian dance movies with him on his smartphone.
Sometimes people even offer you something. Once around Christmas I talked to an elderly woman on the train and before she got off she rummaged in her bag and handed me a lottery code plus a 10 % coupon for a shopping center – she said she had two of these and I could have one. Another time I helped a Syrian woman (who told me she had only been speaking German for five months) with her connections. Ten minutes later, her little daughter showed up next to me again and wordlessly offered me some of her potato chips as a thank-you.
These are just little moments, but they’re special to me. Sometimes you sit there and talk to someone you’ve never seen before (and will never see again) for 45 minutes and in the end you know that they’re from Northern Germany, that their son has a car dealership and that they really don’t like carnival – or you know that they were threatened with a knife and then robbed at the train station two days ago. Or you know that they’re on their way to the hospital because their wife has cancer.
What advice would you give to new photographers?
Probably this: It’s a progress. You might look at your photos from two years ago and find them terrible and you might look at your photos from two weeks ago and find them terrible. (At least this is what constantly happens to me, ha.) I personally think a big part of photography is about taste – and taste is subjective and changes over time. Try to experiment a bit, for example with the depth of field (lenses with f/1.8 or f/1.4 are perfect for this). Take photos of everything you find interesting. Notice the sun, the light, the shadows. I think it’s okay to compare yourself to others, because honestly who doesn’t, but try to remember that this world is so big and tastes are so different, and maybe in the end it’s not about “doing it right” but about finding your own style of expression, the one you can identify and feel the most comfortable with. I personally am not sure I’ve really found it yet … but I tell myself it’s a progress.