With his black-and-white portraits of children
and teenagers in Germany and Russia, Ingar Krauss reveals quietly intense
moments of transformation and the emotional turmoil just below the surface
of life’s thresholds. His young subjects seem to have knowledge
and wisdom beyond their years. Despite the mask-like appearance each tries
to project, their eyes, faces and postures reveal confusion, frustration,
melancholy. They are serious, remote, sad, defiant. They have already
seen too much, and the innocence lost is painfully etched into each of
Krauss started his photography in the mid-1990s, focusing first on neglected
buildings (never published), and then on his daughter and her friends
as they grew up in Berlin and in the countryside near the border of Poland.
Encouraged by the successful responses to this first work, he traveled
to places in the former Soviet Union, and made portraits of children the
same ages, but living in state-run orphanages, juvenile prisons and camps.
Many of these kids are not criminals but these “childhood institutions”
are the only places society can find for them. The intensity of these
images is haunting and complex.
Krauss prints his black-and-white portraits on old photographic paper
produced in Eastern Europe, which gives his pictures even more of a melancholy
tone. In 2004 the artist received the Leica Prize of the Grand Prix International
de Photographie in Vevey.
In an email interview with Jim Casper, Ingar Krauss talked about this
Perhaps you can tell me how and why you began this series.
I believe some of these were your very first photographs (after those
I think there were two reasons why I started to get interested in portrait
photography. Our daughter grew up and also did her friends, and it was
(still is) very interesting to observe how body and mind and biographies
are defining. This was an essential point also in my former “portraits”
of buildings and places. Berlin was transforming a lot; it was a time
in between two ages, exciting but even more melancholic. The second reason
might be that in 1998 we bought an old cottage ruin in the country near
the border to Poland, and there, where a lot of empty space is and only
very few people are living, I could recognize people and especially the
children in a different way. Maybe Berlin was too crowded with people,
it is hard to concentrate on a single face when there are thousands. The
children I have photographed in our garden and in the landscape are friends
of our daughter and sometimes children from the villages nearby.
You are capturing an intensity that is rare in portrait photography.
These young people are at a threshold period in their lives, yet already
they appear older and wiser and not-at-all as care-free as other young
people might feel at the same age. Can you talk about this a bit?
I recognized that I am especially interested in those children who already
have a biography — orphans or criminal children. They have already
a story to tell. They seem to be responsible in a way which is not childlike.
They stand all alone and in their expression there is often a deep psychological
intensity, a deep longing or a deep reserve.
That is why I took portraits in several Russian “childhood institutions”
like orphanages and juvenile prisons and I recognized there in some faces
and gestures a universal truth within these children’s very intimate
Since many of these subjects are not "friends",
can you describe how you get them to pose with such presence?
My portraits are about the biographical shape of these people and the
circumstances and the mystery of their existence. The photograph is both
a document and a vision. In the very moment of taking a portrait I try
to find a secret agreement with that person, in the absence of every language,
and I want to figure out an authentic moment of intensity and concentration.
It seems you have stopped identifying the subjects by personal
name, and title the photographs with the location and date only. Why?
I didn't stop identifying. Those children who are belonging to my family
and circle of friends do still have their names in the pictures. But when
I started to work in Russia in 2002, I found something more fundamental.
The children and young people I met there were strangers but somehow they
were the embodiment of the childhood I used to know, and I think that
is in general what I was looking for in Russia. It was like a time travel
into my own childhood in the GDR.
It is not that I want to ignore their biographies and names, on the contrary,
my Russian work is a lot about biography and about human conditions. Looking
at those pictures they seem always to ask: Why me? And in fact this is
usually the first question they are asking when I am choosing from 200
orphans in an orphanage, this one or these two. And all I can answer them
is that I recognized them, that I feel I know them. Not personally, of
course, because I don't know their stories the moment I decide who I would
like to photograph, but in a fundamental way I think I know them.
Ingar Krauss: Portraits
Edited by Galleria Suzy Shammah, (Milano) Marvelli Gallery (New York), Vince Aletti
Epilogue by Ulf Erdmann Ziegler
Hardcover, 102 pages
38 photos in duotone, 1 fold-out
22.20 x 28.40 cm
Published by Hatje Cantz, 2005
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[More work by Ingar Krauss can be seen here at Lens Culture.]