The Overgaard Workshop Flim-Flam

At the risk of being labelled a "suppressive person" we bring you this important PSA. What do photography, or Leica for that matter - have to do with Scientology? Absolutely nothing, unless you consider all the Hollywood celebrities involved with it, and that's because they're actively recruited for their A-list status, money and talent. Strange then, that these qualities are lacking in the true subject of this PSA... Thorsten "von" Overgaard and his workshops; a flim-flam operation at best.

This self-styled celebrity, portrait, documentary photographer (and his hanger-on, the forgettable Hollywood washout calling herself "princess" Joy Villa) utilize Scientology-inspired courses under the guise of self-improvement for you - and self-enrichment for them. Why target Leica shooters? For the same reason Scientology targets Hollywood celebrities - the clientele has above average disposable income. There's also a certain amount of panache and luxury associated with the brand, making it easy to wrap a glamorous feel around the whole thing. So we thought we'd take a moment to do a quick comparison:

  Scientology Overgaard
Expensive courses full of promise
Self-appointed master
Utilizes celebrities for shameless promotion
Really a money-making sham

Moral Issues

So what's the point of this comparison, you ask? We don't like to see anyone taken for a ride - especially our readers. You may have heard of these Overgaard "workshops" all over the world, where you'll learn all about photography and become a master. If you've already taken one, the probability is high that you lack talent or common sense to begin with, and we can't help you. For everyone else, read on.

There's an idea in PhotographyWorld that anyone that has a website and is reasonably popular, must surely be a master photographer and can teach you, the hapless newbie - how to become one. Much like Steve Huff (who's an IT guy with a website shilling product) and his workshops, Thorsten Overgaard is also lacking any shred of credibility as a photographer - let alone a successful, talented one in any position to teach others.

It's not that we have a bone to pick with Scientology - in this article, anyway... What people choose to do with their lives is their own business. If it means joining a creepy cult that bilks its members for every cent in their name, enslaving children and killing those it doesn't like - so be it. But we digress.

Well, at least some of it is true...

Overgaard likes to claim he's a "published AP/Getty/Wire Image photographer" and working for them. Let's see what, exactly, has been submitted then... First, Associated Press - not much there. A handful of pictures of Seal. Even Huff has those. How about Getty Images then? Nope. Nada. Though Getty Images UK has a few from 2008-2011. Nothing recent, certainly. Wire Image? Zilch. Well this isn't looking good. How about a Google search for the standard industry credit, "photo by Thorsten Overgaard?" Hmm. Thought so. Nothing actually published. What this means is, it's all a lie. See here for more info about his dubious connection to these services.

He just recently used the text, "His work has been published in Vanity Fair, MTV, GQ Magazine, Vogue, Time Magazine, and CNN." Honestly? We'd like to see ONE link to ANY of those where his work is published. Just one! A quick Google search on each of those sites reveals absolutely nothing. Though to be fair, with a little digging we found one mention on Lucky's site.

So where has he been published? Well, only his website as far as anyone can tell. But a monkey with an internet connection can do that. Any "real" publication of his work, if it exists at all - the public at large will never see. Why is that? They're likely all in Scientology magazines or materials. Things you and I are not privy to. An example of his "publication" posted to Instagram:

Nice blurb: "Thorsten von Overgaard is a Danish born photographer specializing in portrait and documentary photography, known as a worldwide photography teacher and writing about photography so everybody can understand." Well, thank goodness for that. Making photography easy for everybody to understand. Now what does he document - and where - exactly? Do you mean his After the Tsunami website? That's at least a little documentary. And noble, right? Sounds like something Scientology would do. Whoops.

We tried to interview Overgaard, asking poignant questions such as, "where have you been published?" and "are you repped?" He's blown us off for almost a year, so far.

Legal Issues

There are also legal issues here, besides the obvious moral ones. For example, are the proper work visas acquired to hold these workshops in all these countries? Here in the United States, you are required to obtain one to wit:

To work in the United States temporarily as a lawful nonimmigrant, temporary workers must qualify for the available visa category based on the planned employment purpose.

Something similar exists in most developed nations that these workshops are held in. And they are numerous; Germany, France, Italy, Brazil, Indonesia, Taiwan and Japan, just to name a few. They are usually called work permits and every country in the EU requires one, for example.

So what's the problem? Without a work visa/permit, you're working off the books. Your income is not reported and you pay no taxes - either in the host country or your own; in Overgaard's case, Denmark. This means that you're (illegally) pocketing all the proceeds. Hey, a lot goes into funding the glamorous (but totally bogus) lifestyle of traveling around the world to host these workshops. A whole lot more goes to supporting this fantasy in the form of fancy Louis Vuitton bags and Hermès scarves that he chooses to ensconce himself with.

We flat-out asked Overgaard whether or not he obtained said authorizations. He refused to answer the question, instead choosing to be evasive and coy:

A more grey area of legality is misrepresentation. Let's take a look at what Overgaard's "prestige" is built on.

Glory by Association

Here are some randomly chosen celebrities that Overgaard has photographed and posted to his website - helping him build this aura of prestige and elite hob-knobbery:

Celebrity Scientologist?
Anne Archer
Juliette Lewis
Catherin Kubillus
Joachim Bendig
Ted Sorensen
Ole Boskov
Ian Krieger
Paul Boyle
Kelly Preston

Are you noticing a pattern here? All of his work with celebrities is through association with Scientology (which he himself joined in 1987). And in Hollywood, that's not a stretch of the imagination at all. It's like shooting fish in a barrel. There are others that aren't Scientologists themselves, but are also associated in one way or another. Take Michelle Yeoh; performed at a big Scientology wedding in the UK, for example. To spell it out, he gets access to these celebrities via "the church." It's a "scratch our back and we'll scratch yours" circle jerk.

Another interesting thing worth pointing out are the self-appointed titles that both Overgaard and Villa use. Look carefully: Thorsten "von" Overgaard and "princess" Joy Villa. Who appointed these titles, associated with nobility, royalty or furthering the country in some fashion? They did. Not a higher authority, as is the normal practice. For example, in the United Kingdom, typically only the Queen can knight someone, bestowing the title of "Sir" or "Dame." In fact, Villa, a citizen of the United States... Does not even bestow titles on its citizens, such as "princess" - except perhaps, at Walt Disney World. But the titles sound cool don't they?

More Puffery

Reading through some of the testimonials on his workshop page is awesome. Glowing praise such as, "Meeting you was one of the most memorable things in my life!" and "I’m one of the luckiest guys in the world who have chance to attend Thorsten Overgaard workshop in Bangkok." Or how about, "I was participant on your photo workshops in Malmö in 2011 and 2012. My abilities increased beyond imagination after that..." Seriously? Those are things you might say about the Dalai Lama. The skeptical among us might say, "but there's no proof anyone ever said any of those things." Just saying... Hell, we can do that too:

"La Vida Leica is the coolest jammy since Dennis Rodman!" - Kim Jong-un

Remember people, contemplate the light. Which comes from this piece of self-promoting tripe. The title reads "A website dedicated to the world's premiere Leica photographers" and yet it features only an insipid photo of Overgaard as large as your browser window. A little more association there? He's hardly either. In truth, it's actually about a movie he's putting together... A documentary of himself.

But what about his legion of followers on Facebook? Surely those are legit, right? Well, no. Not really. They've been bought. For a small fee, you can buy as many page likes as you want - either through Facebook's "Boost this page" (advertise) or through shady hacker circles. While this is great for your friend/follower count, in the end it actually hurts you. Why? Well, for one - it's totally bogus. These "friends" don't exist. But secondly, as of late January 2014, Facebook changed their algorithm - reducing the number of people that actually see your posts. By watering your audience down with all these fakes, the percentage of real people that truly exist (and see the posts in their newsfeed) drops considerably. Whoops. Notice where all these likes are coming from... Indonesia. Thailand. Mexico. Several countries where these fake likes originate.

How about Twitter, then? Surely his 3,249 followers (as of 08/10/14) are real?! Well... No. As it turns out, 48% of them are inactive and 8% are fake. So taking 56% of those 3,249 gives us 1,819 - and leaving just 1,430 possibly normal followers. Surprised? No, we weren't either.

In closing, it's worth pointing out that there's no real relationship between Overgaard and Leica Camera AG. Not anymore, at least. Especially after this heinous interview between Villa and Dr. Andreas Kaufmann. Notice he wasn't invited to any of the events in Wetzlar for the centennial? Nor did he talk about them in any way. As Arsenio Hall used to say, "Things that make you go 'hmmmm...'"

The Take Away

So what is the point of this scathing article? Simply to inform people of the sham that are Overgaard workshops. He's built a "reputation" out of nothing - and stretched truths. The shots he likes to wave about are easily arranged through Scientology; just like shooting members of your church congregation or members of your family. Moral and legal issues abound as well. We're sure that multiple countries would probably like to speak to him about possible back taxes. We are not the only ones that share this opinion. And no, this isn't about Scientology itself; we couldn't care less what religion anyone practices. But it does explain certain aspects.

So don't be a victim. There are numerous other workshops out there by actual, talented (if not famous) photographers where you'll actually learn something.