The Virtual Illusion of Marisa Hampe

To accurately describe Marisa Hampe’s current profession, the word travel influencer won’t do. The Berliner is traveling the world, sharing pictures of her adventures on Instagram, like so many other travel influencers and bloggers. But her goal is not to produce the hundredth picture of a popular travel destination. In her images, she creates her very own world.

“My followers and I are very much into photography. I’m not a typical fashion or lifestyle blogger. During art school, I have worked as a studio photographer, and I took film classes at the Berlin University of the Arts. A lot of bloggers are celebrated for their striking looks, specific talents, or their unique personality. To many of them, the quality of their photography is not relevant when presenting themselves. But to me, the quality of photography is the basis when I try to convey emotions and creativity. I like to create worlds, images that are sometimes strange, out of this world. My goal is to create something different.”

virtual illusion of Marisa Hampe in an Aquarium

In 2012 Marisa joined Instagram, mainly to share the drawings she made before and while attending art school, and to connect with other artists and to find inspiration. Her focus shifted from drawing to photography, and she began to capture abandoned places. Instagram took notice of her account and asked her to guide a photo walk through Berlin in 2014.

“They flew in 200 Instagrammers from all over the world. It was my first time meeting like-minded people from the digital world in the analog world and sharing my hobby in real life. Living social media not only online was an amazing experience, and the positive feedback encouraged me to document my greatest passion: Traveling. That’s how I found my niche, which I still feel most comfortable in.”  

If you scroll (all the way) through Marisa’s Instagram posts, the gradual evolution of her visual language is evident. What seems more spontaneous and enhanced with Instagram or VSCO filters in the beginning, gets an increasingly cohesive and distinctive CI. She calls this look “Mustard Smurf,” a Lightroom preset she offers on her website.

“It’s dark, mysterious, and moody. It creates a certain melancholic vibe that sets images apart from typical vacation photos. I like drama, dark contrasts, rich and film inspired toning. I didn’t really choose that look; it somehow took this direction over time. In my early Instagram days my images were very saturated and colorful. Now everything is desaturated and moodier. Maybe I’ve grown up? Though perhaps I’m still partly child, after all, I named my preset ‘Mustard Smurf'”

virtual artist Marisa Hampe with Dog Halo
Marisa Hampe and her dog Halo

Her images also seem less random now and deliberately staged. In her pictures, Marisa doesn’t try to fake perfection. Through photoshop, she creates apparent illusions. Those are the posts that get the most reactions from her followers. They like, comment, and also reach out to Marisa with questions.

All that social media hype puts me under pressure. I don’t feel perfect enough, not happy enough. I don’t fit into the high life concept that’s being celebrated around me. At least not enough to compete with those perfect lifestyle influencers.

“A lot of young girls are asking questions. They are looking for help in their personal life, mostly with decisions they have to make. I do talk about my conflicts that I am struggling with and for which I don’t have solutions. All that social media hype puts me under pressure. I don’t feel perfect enough, not happy enough. I don’t fit into the high life concept that’s being celebrated around me. At least not enough to compete with those perfect lifestyle influencers. In my feed, I want to be honest about my insecurities. I don’t want anyone to think that my world is perfect, even if my staged images might seem like it. That’s why I changed my bio to: ‘Virtual Illusion of Marisa Hampe.’ The definition of illusion is: ‘A euphemistic self-deception corresponding to wishful thinking about a circumstance that is less positive in reality.’ And that pretty much sums up my Instagram account. In posts like this one, I explain my intentions on Instagram. Some people can identify with my statements. I try to turn my inner conflicts into art. That leads some young girls to believe that I have answers to their problems, but of course, I don’t, and I’m not entitled to make decisions for them. I answer these girls in a rather reserved and matter-of-fact way. I tell them that I struggle with things just as much as anyone and that I can’t help them make decisions.”

Marisa doesn’t only turn her inner conflicts into art. She also addresses problems that affect all of us, the extinction of endangered animal species, for example. Three years ago she traveled to Kenia as part of an anti-ivory campaign where she learned firsthand about poaching and endangered species such as elephants, white rhinos and mountain gorillas. Back then, only a few hundred mountain gorillas were estimated to exist in Uganda, Rwanda, and Kongo. “I knew that I would never have the privilege to experience these amazing creatures in the wild,” Marisa says, “because their population was declining rapidly.” Over the last years, the mountain gorilla population has risen to over 1000 and is still going up because conservation efforts are working. Last year in Rwanda, she was lucky enough to see them in their natural habitat after all.

“After a three-hour trek through the jungle of Volcanoes National Park equipped with machetes, we arrived at a location deep within the bush. We were surrounded by bamboo and shrubs. The rangers who were with us were clearing the area we were standing in when we heard a drumming sound and roaring. Right then, a silverback ran towards me, pounding his chest. He rose up and I was like in trance. The ranger told us that everything was cool, that we shouldn’t move or look him in the eyes. Some people in the group got very pale. I enjoyed this surreal moment, not being really scared but having lots of respect. With his chest-beating, the gorilla was demonstrating social dominance, and behind him followed about ten more gorillas, many fluffy babies among them. They walked right through our group, out of the shrubs and into the open and we followed them. They sat down, ate slept and played while we were making ourselves comfortable in their living room, so to speak. We were allowed to stay there for one and a half hours and were not only tolerated but also felt accepted by them. That was the most impressive nature experience I have had.”

Marisa with Gorillas in Rwanda and sleeping peacefully

Nature and the longing for it play a big part in the photographer’s life. Does she consider herself an outdoor person?

“Yes, absolutely. Being outdoors means everything to me! The outdoors are where I get my energy and motivation. After my trips, I sit in front of the computer a lot and deal with the online world: emails, organizational stuff, post-production, etc. Within this chaos I sometimes forget why I do what I do. Then, when I travel again, being outside living life again, I remember. It’s all about the experiences outside in nature with people that want the same things. Besides my travels for work I also try to plan one or two trips just for me. Then, I can indulge in the experience in a relaxed way. I get to create content without any pressure. My main criterion for those trips is nature. I love green landscapes, the ocean, deserts, and mountains.” 

Marisa Hampe hiking in Romania with Jack Wolfskin clothes and backpack

With a growing number of followers and requests from brands, the whole world seems to be her oyster. But with increasing reach also comes more responsibility. How does Marisa decide where she will travel next?

“For most trips, I can’t make requests. If the trips are for a certain project, I can sometimes suggest destinations, but I don’t have a lot to choose from. What I can do is select. Last year I declined many offers because I want to be more mindful when I travel. In the beginning, when I was less experienced, I liked being sent from one place to another. Nowadays I am trying to make more sustainable choices. Does a weekend trip to Africa make sense? Definitely not!” 

Over the years, Marisa found her style and her way of doing things. The days when she had to moonlight as a barkeeper are long gone. She can make a living by pursuing her greatest passion and – despite her own struggles – she’s living many people’s dream. But what is Marisa dreaming of?

“Please, can everything just stay the way it is? I’m rarely one hundred percent content, but right now, I really can’t complain. I am so happy about my job. It was never a conscious choice, always a hobby that eventually turned into a job. I often hear from friends about their struggle with decisions: should they go freelance or not? I never had to make that decision. I was so young and still studying when I realized that I am freelancing. I really hope that I will always be able to pay the bills with a job that makes me happy. I hope that I don’t lose my curiosity and my spirit because that’s what I need to do my job. I’m planning to launch a sustainable product in the future. If I can find a balance between that enterprise and my travel photography, then I’ll be perfectly happy in terms of work.

More Travel Impressions of
Marisa Hampe