Passengers on a city tram enjoy an unscripted tour of such grand Vienna sights as the neo-Renaissance State Opera House.
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Photo: Catherine Karnow/NGS
Passengers on a city tram enjoy an unscripted tour of such grand Vienna sights as the neo-Renaissance State Opera House.
TravelTraveler Magazine

Behind the Lens: Catherine Karnow in Vienna

Veteran travel photographer Catherine Karnow has been around the world to cover stories for National Geographic Traveler magazine. Her most recent assignment: to shoot Vienna, Austria, for a November/December feature story about the city’s thriving neighborhoods. We loved Catherine’s photos of daily life in the grand city so much that photo editor Krista Rossow asked Catherine to tell us more about her time exploring and shooting the place.

Krista Rossow: This was your first visit to Vienna. What were your initial reactions to the city?

Catherine Karnow: For some reason I expected the Viennese would be humorless, rigid, resistant to being photographed, and difficult about access. I was delighted to discover the absolute opposite. There was an almost Mediterranean, relaxed, “far niente” feel. People sat around in coffeehouses all day and were very open to being photographed. It was extremely easy to get permission to shoot anywhere and everywhere. A museum security guard was in no rush as I spent almost two hours on a roof climbing around, sometimes close to the edge, to get my shots.

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Local artist Martin Markeli (Photo: Catherine Karnow/NGS)

KR: Who was the most interesting or surprising character you met while photographing in Vienna?

CK: The most interesting character I met was Martin Markeli, who is an artist of many media. I met him in the Museum Quarter, where he had set up his crazy, colorful miniature car racetrack where anyone–children and adults alike–can rent a small car and enter it in a race. Their joy and excitement were palpable as they madly cheered their cars around the track. Martin spends days and weeks creating his zany racetracks, which are decorated with hundreds of tiny toy plastic figurines and details.

Martin has been given an atelier space right at the Museum Quarter, and his narrow studio is chock-full of racetracks, hundreds of figurines, his own eccentric paintings on the walls, and all kinds of odd things he has picked up.

KR: Did you discover a favorite place: café, park, or restaurant?

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Kent, a Turkish restaurant (Photo: Catherine Karnow/NGS)

CK: I discovered so many wonderful places that it is difficult to name just one. But I would have to say one favorite place was Kent restaurant in Brunnenviertel, the Turkish neighborhood. Kent has fantastic Turkish food, like the baked chicken. I spent hours shooting there and made friends with the staff, like the server whose wife brought in their adorable six-month-old baby for everyone to dote on. The clientele was delightfully varied as well, from cool foodie hipsters to entire Turkish families with veiled women and grandfathers with wrinkled faces. Kent was voted one of the ten best Turkish restaurants in the world outside of Turkey, and it definitely deserves that honor.

KR: Sometimes a photographer’s favorite images never see the light of day simply because they don’t fit with the story line or work in the layout.  Do you have a favorite image from this shoot that didn’t make it into the story?

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Vintage car in Vienna (Photo: Catherine Karnow/NGS)

CK: I am very fond of this image of this vintage Skoda and the two owners with their nifty driving caps. I had seen the car while I was shooting at Café Landtmann, and just as I was just leaving a note on the windshield to contact me, the owners showed up. They enthusiastically agreed to let me shoot them as they pulled away onto the main street. I think this image says a lot about Vienna: its playful, joie de vivre character; the old-world and much beloved Café Landtmann; and the lovely, leafy Ring Road.

KR: If you could pick your next assignment from National Geographic Traveler, where would it be?  And no promises, but we’ll think about it!

CK: I have always wanted to go to Morocco. My father was based in North Africa as the bureau chief for Time-Life in the 1950s, covering the Franco-Algerian War, and that is where he and my mother met. I have never been to Morocco, and it is my dream to shoot there. I have also always wanted to go to Laos, as I am deeply drawn to those countries of former Indochina.

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