Undercover

Some inhabitants of Sag Harbor/Long Island wrap their cold-sensitive plants in the fall with jute fabric, to prevent freezing during winter. It is an elaborate and quite expensive process. The wraps are hand-made, customized to the specific shapes of the plants.

The undercover plants remind me of the many undercover investigations I had undertaken as a nonfiction author and journalist, to uncover secrets. I posed as a doctor, as an heir of a very rich man, an export-import trader, a patient, a pharmaceutical salesman, a consulter and some other professionals – to find out, how pharmaceutical companies bribe doctors, how multinational companies evade taxes, how they manage to sell outrageously overprized products, how they corrupt politicians and so on.

The photos were taken in 2016.

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Primavera

This series is a tribute to two great Italian works of art:

The Renaissance painting „La Primavera“ by Sandro Botticelli from 1478 and the music piece „La Primavera“ by the Venetian composer Antonio Vivaldi, written in 1725.

The photos were taken during a railway ride 2012 in Tyrol/Austria and printed in 2018 (archival inkjet on transparent paper, with acrylic paint on the back side).

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The Towers of Babel

And the whole earth was of one language and of one speech. And as the people journeyed from the east, they said one to another, let us build a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven. It was called Babel. And the Lord said: Let us confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. And the lord scattered them abroad upon the face of all the earth.” (Genesis; II:1-9)

The “Tower of Babel” was the first skyscraper and a symbol of arrogance. The skyscrapers of NYC symbolize the opposite of the biblical “Tower of Babel”: People from all over the world come to this place and feel united and at home. Although they speak 170 different languages, they understand each other.

The photos of this series have been shot from a similar angle as Pieter Bruegel the Elder used 1563 in his famous painting “Tower of Babel”: The bird’s-eye view. All pictures were taken with an IPhone on the 10th floor of the NYU Library, at the same spot, between 2014 and 2018, at different times and seasons. There was always the same view, but every single image of the 3.000 pictures was as different as the people in NYC.

The selected 27 photographs are assigned to five different topics: Emotions, Seasons, Daytimes, Cloud and Values.

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Dancing Souls at Canal Grande

For centuries, day by day, as darkness falls, the same ceremony takes place at Canal Grande. The souls of the founders of Venice meet and start dancing and celebrating the beauty of what they have created with their hands and minds. Out of the muddy waters they built a dream-like city, stone by stone, on millions of wooden piles, which they hit into the swamps.

The dance lasts only a few minutes and one must hurry to catch the delicate moments, when Venice shows his magical essence: Water, light and stones. All of a sudden, here and there, the souls show up as flickering lights, flashing and disappearing.

 

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Death of Venice

 

These pictures show an apocalyptic vision. Venice is falling apart, set on fire and flooded. Even the people seem to stem from another place and another age. In the end monstrous pigeons and bizarre human creatures are ruling. In art there is a famous tradition of such visions, best known by the scenarios of the Renaissance artists Hieronymus Bosch or Peter Bruegel the Elder.

I took these pictures after heavy rainfall or acqua alta – they are reflections of the cityscape in puddles: Windows to another world. The eerie colors and shapes are caused by debris, mud, leaves, undercoating, dirt and wind. To show them in the gallery, I turn them upside down. With this tiny trick you see them not as reflections, but as bizarre realities. Fourteen of them will be on show at “Soho Photo Gallery” in New York in December 2017.

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Thinking of

In spring 2015 I was browsing through my pictures and discovered, that over the years I had taken several portraits of people not face-to-face, but from behind – in very intimate or life-changing moments, joyous and sad ones. It was only after I realized that, I started actively looking for such situations.

In one picture, a mother remembers her daughter’s suicide ten years before. In another, a woman for the first time revisited the cloister where Catholic nuns had tortured and raped her during childhood. One portrait shows my ex-wife after she was diagnosed with Parkinson´s disease at age 49.

There are also good moments: My stepdaughter´s first day of high school in a foreign country; my mother after she fell in love when she was 94; my son celebrating his 13th birthday at the harbor of Rotterdam/Netherlands, very meaningful for him; my naked wife gazing at a sunny lake during our honeymoon. I almost always took the pictures on the very day when these things happened.

This series is all about life and reflection about it. When you look at the portraits they also make you think as a viewer – about your own life, your own special, intimate moments, good and bad. How was it? How would I feel or react in such a situation?

 

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Success

In 1996 I shot a series of New York as a world in black and white. There is almost nothing in between. Everybody is out for winning or losing. High-rise buildings, high-rise dreams, high-rise stakes. Every morning men and women rush out of the subway and hurry to work. They look like predators: ambitious, concentrated, determined, tense, hungry for success.

They rise as high as the surrounding skyscrapers of Midtown Manhattan. I put my camera on the asphalt aimed upwards, and took shots without looking through the viewfinder. Looked at the predators and pushed the trigger, when they approached me. At the end of the day, when they went back home, I did not check: Who was a winner, who was a loser.

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Fifty New Immigrants

This project is a combination of two very different approaches: Current photography and historical data.

On the one hand there are fifty people I´d photographed at the Easter Parade 2015 on Fifth Avenue, between 49th and 57th Street. About two thirds of the portraits show people who attended the parade. The remaining portraits are passers-by, onlookers or street vendors. There are equal numbers of women and men. Typical of New York is the great cultural, national and ethnic diversity. With few exceptions I neither know the names of these people nor where they come from.

On the other hand I read the data of all persons who had arrived exactly 100 years earlier, on Easter 1915, at Ellis Island – the central point for immigration in the US. All in all I searched through more than 4.500 passenger files of 13 incoming ships between April 3rd (Good Friday) and April 6th (Easter Monday). About 1.500 of them were immigrants from 41 different nations.

For this project I combine every one of the fifty portraits, taken at Easter 2015, with the information I took from a passenger file from Easter 1915. Here is an example of one of these files:

Margarete Müller 2nd Cabin Passenger
Single female.
Occupation: Circuit Performer.
Is in possession of 50 $.
Born 1883 in Berlin/Germany (32 years old at time of arrival).
Nationality: Germany.
Race or People: German.
Height:  5 feet, 5 inches.
Fair complexion, brown hair, brown eyes. She has no marks of identification.
She is neither an anarchist nor a polygamist.
She has been in New York in 1907.
She is in good health and is able to read and write.
Her last residence was Friedrichshain, Berlin/Germany.
On March 25th 1915 she boarded the ship Kristianiafjord in Bergen/Norway and arrived at Ellis Island on April 3rd 1915.
She has paid the passage by herself.
Her final destination will be Orpheum Circuit (Off Broadway Theatre) on 2nd Avenue near St. Mark´s Place, East Village, New York City.

 

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East coast dreaming

In May 2015 I took a bus ride from New York to Niagara Falls, to Washington DC and Philadelphia. My assigned seat was beside a damaged window. Inside it was trapped with condensed water. Initially I was annoyed, because nobody on the bus wanted to swap seats with me. But then I decided to use this disadvantage to my photographic benefit.

It was a very special, exclusive window to another world, formed by the speed of the bus, the distorting and blurring qualities of the wet window and the reflections in the glass.

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Apocalypse

The first time I moved to New York, in the 1990s, the skyscrapers fascinated me. As symbols of power and money they force you to look upwards and to feel small. But at rainy days they fall down into street puddles. I took a few pictures of these reflections, in black and white.

When I moved to New York a second time, in 2014, I again started taking puddle pictures, this time in color – which adds an apocalyptic dimension.

If you take a close look at the pictures, they are like windows into another world, with eerie colors, shapes and distortions, caused by debris, mud, leaves, undercoating, dirt and wind. Even the reflected persons seem to stem from some other place and some other age. In these pictures New York is set on fire, with buildings and trees in flames, distorted, falling apart or being flooded. Memories of hurricane Sandy or 9/11 come to mind, when I walked downtown Manhattan, with my three year old son in the buggy. This experience was an important inspiration for the pictures.

In the future all types of disasters are possible: a renewed cold war with atomic threats, terror attacks or various environmental debacles.

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