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Chris Lettner

2012 Alumnus
BA Journalism and Communications

Meet Chris Lettner. An Austrian born in Germany, he went to school in Munich and Salzburg, and was first introduced to Prague when he spent a year at the Terezín Initiative Institute. He started university in Vienna but moved back to Prague where he finished his BA in Journalism and Communications at AAU in 2012.

Still based in Prague, Chris works as a web and communications designer, and as a photographer with his photos making it on CNN, the BBC, and VICE. Every year he spends a few months over seas, demystifying new locations with his camera lens, such as Iran, Cuba and Burma.

I recommend checking out his pictures.

What have you been up to since graduation? 
My idea is to spend a few months each yeartravelling, mostly to places that are changing rapidly and which might really defy expectations. More recently I spent time in Colombia, China,Burma and Cuba. I was in Tehran for the celebrations after the preliminary Nuclear Deal agreement was signed and my photos from Iran have been on CNN, the BBC and VICE. 

Why AAU?
My program at the University of Vienna was hopelessly overcrowded; the idea was to bore and frustrate people into leaving. In my first semester, I was in the middle of Austria’s student protests, it was an exciting way to start university but academically it was a waste of time. Plus I wanted to move back to Prague. AAU was the only option and it was extremely helpful with transferring credits from Vienna.

Memories of your very first day at AAU?
I remember President Krautstengl sitting down next to me on a bench in the garden when I had just finished my English proficiency test. He lit a cigarette and asked me how it went. He was wearing a bow tie.

Memorable classes?
Eva Eckert’s fiery, uncompromising passion for languages. Jaroslava Gajdošová’s eye-opening introduction to Visual Culture. Douglas Dix’ school of life; I really wish I could have fit more of his classes in somehow.

AAU in 3 words?
Diverse – Personal – Surprising

So you studied journalism and communication, but what influenced you to pursue photojournalism, aside from other tracks of journalism?
Natalia Vasquez, in the first week of her photography class, said she expected us to carry a camera on us always. It seemed mad to me at the time plus I didn’t have a camera but this is how it started and I’m very grateful now.

With the state of mass information via the internet and social media today, what is the importance of visual storytelling?
Media consumption has become atomized and divided, people tend to find the stories that fit with their preconceptions and dismiss everyone who disagrees. Maybe what’s important is to find ways to tell stories beyond ever repeating patterns and cliches, and to find the empathy to reach people across the aisle. Instead our stories tend to match our preconceptions.

What was your thesis topic at AAU?
The Mystification of the Cigarette. Initially I was interested in working out why people, myself included, buy something that says on its package that it will kill you and whether the warning labels on cigarette packages help. I learnt a lot about the history of advertising and how we came to smoke cigarettes. People tend to think we have smoked for thousand of years but really very few people had been smoking much before the Industrial Revolution. The rise of big tobacco is one of the big mistakes of the 20st centuries. As to the warning labels, at best they don’t work help much. They might help some people stop but in others, especially teenagers, they might trigger psychological reactance, thereby helping them start.

Thoughts on the restaurant/ cafe/ bar smoking ban that is supposed to go through next month? How do you think this will affect Prague?
Finally. To keep raising prices for cigarettes is hard on people with low incomes. Warning labels aren’t really effective. The smoking ban in pubs will take a few weeks to get used to and then it will be good for everyone. The question is whether it will really be enforced.

Now that it is spring and Prague has come back to life, what are your favorite hangouts?
I like to be close to the water: Náplavka, Containall, the Letna beer garden.

Tell us about your projects with Krymská Manufaktura
Krymská Manufaktura makes Czech maritime fashion. It aims to overcome the Czech Republic’s great flaw, the Absence of Ocean, conjuring up images of the Czechs’ great seafaring past, challenging advertising’s obsession with‚ authenticity,‘ the emptiest of words.

We started the label last Fall by bringing back the mythical Original Czech Sailor Bag. We are just adding sailor hats, t-shirts, shoes, etc. If people buy it, hopefully soon, bringing Czechia ever closer to the sea, we will be making Czech beach wear. We have some great ideas for that.

We ship for free worldwide and have a really nice, new website.

Out of the places you have travelled, which place surprised you the most?
Although everyone who’s been will tell you about it, nothing prepares you for Iranians’ overwhelming hospitality. The image we get of the country, its culture and way of life really tends to be very one-dimensional. If you want shake the foundations of your world view go to Iran.

What’s your next planned trip?
I think I’d like to spend more time in China. I’ve been to one relatively remote province and seeing the pace of change and development was incredible. Obviously China is really big and diverse, there is a lot more to see and the country’s rise is sort of the story of our time.

What draws you to Prague?
Prague keeps me calm, life isn’t unmanageably fast-paced.

How do you want to stay connected with AAU and other fellow alumni from AAU?
It’s been a few years since I graduated and I’ve really only been in touch with a few of students and two or three professors. It’s really great to see the school is making an effort to create more of an alumni community.