Artist Benedikt Partenheimer (Munich, 1977) pursues a philosophy of awareness through mediums such as photography or video. His works often deal with aspects of perception, visibility and invisibility, and they extend beyond their own subjective limits. The poetic representation of serious and important issues related to the effects of excessive global economic growth, challenge the inherited binomials of modernity – such as development/civilisation/wellness versus underdevelopment/lack of education/poverty. The artistic depiction of these serious and important topics is meditative and disturbingly beautiful, and manages to involve the viewer into a moment of contemplation.
I don’t think it really was a conscious decision. Photography has been a part of my life for a very long time. Looking at photographs has always fascinated me, and I have always enjoyed creating pictures. But for some reason it had never crossed my mind to become a photographer or an artist until in some way I became a self–taught photographer. Acquiring a degree in photography was just a logical step and maybe also an excuse to explore the world.
I was very lucky. During my time with Richard Avedon he was very active, shooting a lot of commercial and editorial work. He lived right above his studio on the Upper East Side and would be at the studio almost every day.
Obviously it was a great experience for a young photographer like me to see how Avedon worked. He was a very energetic, intelligent and inspiring man. I learned a lot about studio photography during that time, but I also realised that this was a world I was not interested in as a photographer.
It’s a project I’ve wanted to work on for the last two years, but I never really had the time or the money to pursue it. The situation became more and more dramatic and unbearable, and the urge to work on this project became stronger and stronger. I was ashamed to see how Europe was, and still is, dealing with the situation. Migration has always been part of our societies but I am very concerned to see how Europe’s strategies of deterrence and expulsion are forcing the migrants to take extremely dangerous routes in order to reach Europe.
It’s a quote from a poem from Jeremy Cronin’s book “More than a casual contact”. A bookseller in Johannesburg recommended the book to me and I read the poems when I was traveling through South Africa to work on a project about borders a few years ago.
The migrants and refugees are leaving their countries and homes for different reasons. People are fleeing war, suppression, injustice, hunger and unemployment. But what they all have in common is a dream for a better life in Europe. They are hoping for a safe environment where they can start a new life, find a job, and earn money to support their families.
I don’t know, I think this is different from person to person.
As far as I know, about 70 per cent of the migrants and refugees are young men. I guess this is the case because the journeys are very dangerous and also physically very demanding. So no, it is not a choice I have made, I simply only encountered men on my first trips.
To be honest I am not quite sure. So far I have decided not to photograph children for various reasons, but this might change in the future. I do believe that every life matters and I don’t make the distinction between an economic migrant and a refugee from a war torn country, and I also don’t make a distinction between young and old or male and female. I am trying to portray refugees and migrants in a respectful and dignified manner and I should probably also include children, no matter how this might be perceived.
It really depends, of course there are people who do not want to be photographed and I totally understand and respect that decision. Overall I have to say that the people I met were extremely friendly and open.
Refugees are not necessarily poor people, there are many different kinds of refugees and migrants. There are people and families from the lower class as well as people from the upper and middle class fleeing the war in Syria. A lot of the refugees and migrants from Africa collect the money in their families or sell their property to afford the journey. In other cases, people travel as far as they can and then stay at one place to work and earn money for the rest of the journey. I have met people who have been traveling and working for many years on their way to Europe.
The portrait images of the refugees will only be released as an edition of 1 (+ 1AP). The price of the print will match the amount of money the individual person had to pay to smugglers in order to reach their current location. This way, the size and price of the print is not determined by me, but represents the exploitation of the depicted person. The earnings of the print sales will go back to the refugees or if that is not possible, the money will be donated to an aid organization. Sales from the other images will be used for the continuation of the project.
I am conducting a short interview with every person I photograph and I also write down their contact information so I can contact them if I sell their portrait. I am also planning to contact every person I photographed after about one year has passed to see where they are and to find out how their “dreams” have developed.
Europe must rethink its immigration policies and must start to think about alternatives to the Dublin regulation. We have to offer refugees legal ways to travel and we have to accept that migration is a reality. Migration is part of an unequally distributed and globalised world, and will only be stopped if the living conditions in the countries of origin are improved. But most important is that we stay human and that we treat people in a human and respectful manner.
I was particularly interested in developing work related to the Anthropocene, a proposed term for an epoch that begins when human activities have had significant global impact on the Earth’s ecosystems. The Anthropocene has no agreed start date, but some scientists propose that, based on atmospheric evidence, it may be considered to start with the Industrial Revolution. The Anthropocene is a situation that calls for re–examination, asking us to take a closer, more sensitive look at the way humans have chosen to live.
The work “Particulate Matter” reflects upon the consequences that come along with excessive economic growth in China and the burning of fossil fuels. The work addresses the problems of air pollution and deals with the relationship between revival and decline.
Yes, scientific studies have shown that many cities in China are becoming unsuitable for human habitation – the air pollution has become too strong and too dangerous. This really makes me wonder. What use is economic growth if people have to live in cities where they cannot breathe and where children cannot play outside?
I think it is reliable. I have compared the ratings from the U.S. Consulate in Shanghai, who has their own air quality monitor, with the ones from the Chinese government and they have been identical.
There are six different degrees of air pollution. AQI 0-50 is classified as good air with no heath implications. AQI 51-100 is classified as moderate with few health implications. AQI 101-150 is classified as unhealthy for sensitive groups and AQI 151-200 is classified as unhealthy with increased aggravation of heart or lung disease and premature mortality in persons with cardiopulmonary disease and the elderly. AQI 201-300 is classified as very unhealthy and AQI 301-500 is classified as hazardous. Everyone should avoid all physical outdoor activities and should remain indoors.
Yes, I would always check the AQI Index in the morning before leaving the house.
I think we have reached a point in history where we seriously have to think about how we want to proceed as a species and how we want to treat the world we inhabit. Air pollution is just one example of how humans affect and destroy the environment. We live in an extremely profit orientated world. Profit and economic growth have become more important than the environment and the wellbeing of other people. But money will not help us, once we have destroyed our environment. The only way to reduce Air Pollution is to switch to clean energy sources and move away from fossil fuels.
There is a solution, but I think that many people are not aware of the urgency of the situation. We have only been on this planet for a very short time but the impact we have made on our ecosystem is immense. The world will continue to exist without us, so it is up to us to treat the environment more wisely and respectful. Otherwise this planet will become more and more unsuitable for humans and many other living beings. We need to switch to clean and sustainable solutions, which already exist, but unfortunately our capitalist societies are praying to the wrong god – Mammon. We need to evolve into new economic models and new ways of sharing this planet.