Award winners revisited: Origin, family life

Christina/ June 15, 2024/ Culture

Origin and Family Life are the main themes of the exhibition “Documentary Photography Award Winners of the Wüstenrot Foundation revisited.” Why “revisited”? Well, the artists featured are those who have already been awarded and are now presenting the further development of their original works. Origin and Family Life represent two major and formative themes in everyone’s life. Both aspects shape a person’s identity. It is well known that one cannot choose either, only try to cope with them. Four artists—Espen Eichhöfer, Verena Jaekel, Birte Kaufmann, and Maziar Moradi—illuminate aspects of family constellations in their photographs that sometimes surprise and often leave the viewer feeling helpless and affected.

“I’m Becoming German”
I begin my tour in Torhaus 1. At the ticket counter, I ask if the tour starts to the right or the left. I am told it doesn’t matter. So, I choose the room on the right. It is dark. “That’s because of the projection,” a student explains to me. She assures me I can turn on the light, which I do immediately. At first, I am confused by the pictures on the wall. They show various buildings that initially mean nothing to me. Through the panels, I realize that these are refugee homes. So, I am already in the middle of the topic. What I then read about “Jenny” and two anonymous interview partners by Maziar Moradi shakes me. Jenny was born in Germany. Her mother is from Ghana and sends her five-year-old daughter there so her grandmother can take care of her. At first, she feels foreign in the West African country. Gradually, she builds a close bond with her relatives until her grandmother dies. At the age of 10, she returns to Germany. Now, much is unfamiliar to her here. Her mother places her in a foster family. Her foster father gives her a guiding principle: “As a Negro, you always have to be better than the Germans. That’s the only way to succeed.” Even more shocking, however, is the reason the family took in the colored girl. Their biological daughter had a black doll as a toy and wished for it to come to life.

Find the Mistake
Deeply affected, I turn to Verena Jaekel’s family portraits. At first, I don’t understand what they are about. Initially, the family photos seem to me like the creepy photographs of the English royal family on special occasions. Often, a supposed harmony is depicted here, which could not seem more artificial. I think to myself: “Find the (thought) mistake.” And indeed, upon closer inspection, I realize that these are same-sex families. I find two pictures of a German-Indian wedding particularly impressive, along with the letters the two grooms wrote to each other. In one picture, the families wear traditional Indian clothing, and in the other, Western attire.

Albanian Blood Feud
I change locations. Across the street, I reach Torhaus 2 and stumble directly into an Albanian blood feud. Birte Kaufmann has named her photo series about an Albanian family “Gjakmarrja.” The term stands for the tradition of killing a perpetrator or a family member to restore one’s honor. I am immediately reminded of my trip to Albania and the encounter with the “Kula,” the blood feud towers. Here, men threatened by a vendetta hid. I also recall the book “The Broken April,” which deals with this very topic. It is hard for me to understand that Albanian families, at least in remote mountain villages, still suffer from this tradition. But as the saying goes: “You can’t choose your family.” Nor your origin.

The Travellers
I am surprised by Kaufmann’s picture series “The Travellers.” These nomads from Ireland, also called Pavee, were entirely unknown to me. Perhaps I felt somewhat reminded of the Amish People in the USA, although it wasn’t clear from the pictures whether the Travellers are particularly religiously motivated. The poverty in which these people apparently live in the middle of Europe is quite shocking. I found the large wall picture with a dead hare hanging on a clothesline, framed in a barren landscape and thunderstorm clouds, very telling. It brings to mind the phrase: “In some places, I wouldn’t want to be caught dead over the fence.”

Share this Post