Westend61 photographer Sebastian Mölleken (39) is at home in two worlds: The Oberhausen native is a true son of the Ruhr region and has portrayed and documented the people and places in the “Pott” region with lots of photos. But he is just as comfortable in the saddle, so to speak, of the smart world of people, lifestyle, and advertising photography—an thrilling combination that creates exciting contrasts not only in Sebastian Mölleken’s everyday professional life but also in his portfolio.

Sebastian Mölleken laid the foundation for his photographic work by studying photo design at FH Dortmund—where he received his diploma—from 2002 to 2009. Since 2005 he has been working as a freelance portrait and people photographer for agencies and direct clients. In the early years, industry and banks were the main topics of his work. The industrial landscape of his home country offers a great variety of motifs.

But he also wanted to use the time between commissions productively and one day turned to stock photography as a second mainstay. Christoph Kniel and Niko Synnatzschke, who have been working as KNSY in stock photography for many years, asked Mölleken whether he wanted to contribute to a joint account at Westend61. No sooner said than done: Under the pseudonym Joseffson, this cooperative now has almost 3,000 pictures online at Westend61 and shares a studio in Essen-Rüttenscheid.

“I first had to get involved with archive photography, where there are no orders,” Sebastian describes his first experiences in this profession in retrospect. In the meantime, stock photography has become an integral part of his work. “At the moment I do a stock production about once a week,” says Mölleken. This not only expands his skills and range of services, but also provides him with steady additional income. Meanwhile, he has had his own account with Westend61 for about a year, in which he currently offers around 2,000 pictures.

Sebastian Mölleken and his colleagues operate in a constantly changing market environment: “You always have to walk around with your eyes open and see how the imagery develops,” he explains. “There are a lot of things being done at the moment that seem a bit random, probably influenced by Instagram and the like, that play a role. But I think that this will become more targeted and more sophisticated again,” he assesses.

That’s why Sebastian Mölleken focuses on class instead of mass: “I try to offer the highest possible quality and to get away from the flood of images with my work.” And so it is no coincidence that he offers his pictures at Westend61, where not only strict quality standards apply, but his photos also have good ranking. Another important aspect for him is the personal support of the photographers, which sets Westend61 apart from other agencies. In particular, the collaboration with Michael Kopal, Westend61 art director in Cologne, has made a positive impression. “Micha sometimes takes part in larger shootings and gives me tips. Sometimes he comes across interesting details you wouldn’t even have noticed yourself.”

But Sebastian also always likes to return to his roots, namely the Ruhr area and its people. Free series, like “Pott-Promis,” in which he portrayed well-known personalities of the region in close-up portraits and without makeup, or the series “A40,” in which he documented life along the motorway of the same name and the “main artery” of the Ruhr area, are expressions of this down-to-earth attitude. “A40” was developed as the scope of his graduating thesis; he drove up and down the motorway again and again for half a year, took every exit, and then went on foot in search of photographic traces through the respective places. “At the time, I just spontaneously chatted people up, drank coffee with them, listened to their stories, and took pictures”—local historical research with the camera and photographic portrait of a region. 

He met and meets genuine types, originals, who can also have corners and edges. And sometimes his pictures also show the wounds that industrial use has inflicted on the landscape. For Sebastian Mölleken, this authenticity and “grounding” in real life represents an exciting antithesis to people and lifestyle photography, which can be posed by models. “I like to do both; I definitely want to continue to follow this track with my free work,” says Sebastian. And he appreciates the variety in his everyday professional life that makes this possible: “One day I have a guy with a six-ton steel girder in front of the camera, the next day it might be a model shoot.”