He first picked up a camera by chance; now Stefan Draschan makes a living taking photographs by chance.
“When I quit smoking I started photographing,” he says. “I needed something in my hand.”
“It just happened by chance,” the German photographer tells CNN Travel. “I saw a guy matching an antique vase.”
Amused, Draschan snapped a photo of the moment. But after this encounter, he began to notice other gallery observers matching artwork around them.
“It became clear that it will be a series, it’s not a unique photograph,” says Draschan.
From these early serendipitous events, Draschan’s popular photo series “People Matching Artworks” was born.
Draschan, who has previously owned a bar and worked as a teacher and as a journalist, is an art lover. Whenever he travels to a city, he heads to his favorite museums and galleries to explore.
Draschan names 19th-century painter Edouard Manet as a favorite artist, but he says his tastes are varied and cover many different movements.
“For me the longest I’ve spent in front of a painting is certain Caravaggios. I can pass 30 minutes, probably without breathing, in front of Caravaggio,” he says.
Draschan has photographed hundreds of different people coordinating with artwork in hundreds of different locations.
The exact way in which the people mimic the art varies from photograph to photograph — sometimes it’s a floral pattern on their clothes matching the aesthetic of a watercolor.
Other times it’s the color of their clothes or their hair.
In some instances, it’s simply their stance — they’re tilting their head in the same way, or caressing their partner in a similar way to a couple on the canvas.
Draschan doesn’t generally speak to his subjects when taking their picture.
“If I’m photographing I’m in a very silent, poetic mood, very concentrated and speaking in between would be not so good,” he says.
But there have been a few instances where he’s been moved to show people the photos.
“In one, it’s of a couple and there’s a couple standing in front,” Draschan says. “They were kissing each other, they were so cute — I showed them the photograph.”
The photographer posts the results of his museum outings on his Tumblr and Instagram page. As he grows in popularity, he’s having more serendipitous encounters online as well as off.
One woman got in touch via Instagram to tell Draschan she was the subject of one of his photographs.
“Someone from, I think, Japan discovered herself in front of a Monet,” says Draschan. “She wrote on Instagram that that’s her.”
Draschan says he enjoys sharing his photographs on social media — but exhibitions remain his focus.
“I’m an artist and I need to be in exhibitions, I like exhibitions if it’s solo shows or group shows. It’s very important for me to be showcasing the physical material itself,” he says.
Draschan’s prints are also popular with buyers.
“The internet is just to promote it, but I live from selling the photographs,” he says.
But his passion for photography isn’t confined to gallery halls.
“All of my average day I take photographs,” explains Draschan. “If I see lightning I try and capture a fantastic photograph of lightning.”
Draschan remains fascinated by the way people behave in museums and galleries.
He also photographs “People Sleeping in Museums” — in which sleep-deprived, jet-lagged or merely bored visitors grab a few winks on gallery sofas, unaware Draschan’s eagle eye is watching them.
He’s also just begun a new project “People Touching Artworks” — capturing the moments when punters get too close to the subject they’re admiring.
“A lot of, not only kids, but really people, touch the artworks themselves,” he says. “I see it and maybe it’s quite dangerous for the artworks. This is the heritage of everything human mankind made.”
However, anyone viewing Draschan’s series will notice his subjects are often filming or photographing the artwork they’re observing. Draschan says it would be hypocritical for him to disapprove of this behavior.
“I like it,” he says. “If you like photography you cannot be against anything.”
Draschan is excited for the photographic opportunities the future holds.
“Everything’s just pure luck, if something happens I take a lot of photographs, of everything. I could do exhibitions on lightning, churches, various things,” he says.
Ultimately, the photographer says it’s less about the setting of his photographs — and more about their aesthetic quality:
“I’m not only focused on museums, I’m always focused on beauty and on taking great photographs, this is my main goal at least,” Draschan says.