No interaction, please, we’re German!


General Culture, General Photography

Over the past decade, German photographers have been extraordinarily successful. Some of the most prestigious museums had large shows entirely devoted to photographers whose names non-Germans struggle to pronounce. But with just a few notable exceptions (and I have to add much to my own personal frustration), Germans have nicely conformed to the stereotype of being detached, overly organized, and unbelievably hierarchical. There is just one German blog that covers contemporary photography in a way accessible to non-Germans (by offering English text), Peter Feldhaus’ excellent The Sonic Blog. And more established German photographers simply don’t use blogs.

It is tempting to conclude that there’s a language barrier. But that’s really just an excuse: Most Germans speak English (at least) fairly well; most people start learning English when they’re in around fifth grade. But it’s easy to hide behind a simple explanation when the root problem is quite a bit more severe.

A German photographer who visited this area before traveling to New York to work with an American photographer told me about the vast differences in attitude that he encountered in the US. Here, people are much more open and willing to share.

Of course, there is no actual reason why this couldn’t be the case in Germany. There’s no German gene that all Germans (incl. this one) have that makes the work the way they do. But somehow, things are just different there. Just look at this list of interviews at the German photography magazine’s website Photonews (is it really a website if no contents is available online? what’s the point?). They got a long list of interviews with professors, with university affiliations right above. Just imagine what kind of photography they’d produce if they managed to get rid off this rigid, stifling, hierarchical structure! (just as an aside, my German passport contains my “Dr.” as part of my name; if I want to get things done in Germany or get better treatment, the “Dr.” helps. How sad - and 18th Century - is that?)

Of course, there is a reason why my frustration with this situation was just boiling over again today. I have been trying to get an interview with a well-known German photographer, and he is just not available. He is “busy”. Thing is that many of the American photographers, who generously agreed to participate in my “Conversations”, were quite busy themselves. Let’s face it - we all are pretty busy (I’m working on this blog while having a day job, which has nothing to do with photography whatsoever). But somehow, American photographers appear to be able to find a way to organize things around obligations and work - makes you wonder who’s really good at organizing, doesn’t it? And I yet have to get a single rejection from an American photographer!

I don’t want to make this sound as if I was merely writing this because I think my blog is so important that everybody has to agree to do an interview. What actually irks me about this is that while Germany produces some of the most exciting photography, it’s just so unwilling to open up a little to the new possibilities provided by the internet. I do believe that the strength of the internet is not the ability to make self-promotion so much easier (if all the internet was good for was to sell things more easily that would be very sad), but instead, to allow people to engage with each other and to learn from each other. When you look at the various photography-related blogs, many of them contain lots of comments about topics; and we now see people getting together to find new venues to show and discuss photography (way beyond the somewhat weird world of Flickr). And all of this is happening basically without the Germans. It really doesn’t have to be this way, and it’s so frustrating to see that it is.

End of rant.