Infliction is as an ongoing project that began in a school for children with different degrees of learning difficulties, Asperger syndrome, autism and trauma in Duisburg, Germany.

Located in an area effected by a variety of social problems, the school is a place where such problems resurface quite significantly. As part of new inclusion initiatives, the school will be closed this year. However, in the meantime, many of my subjects remain “overlooked” individuals within our society—people who become more and more neglected by the mechanisms and dynamics of our system.

Who gives them a position of expressing themselves? Or even the possibility of just being for the purpose of being?

With the students of the school, I experience a sense of deep respect and humbleness. Rather than engaging in exploitation, I seek to give these children a visual voice grounded solely within their own history, appearance, and inner circumstances.

During the course of the project, which lasted over a year, I integrated myself within their world with empathy and curiosity. Simultaneously, I focused on my visual sensitivity, resulting in a symbiosis between emotional integrity, responsibility, and the ability to find those images which are able to transcend dignity. All of this stems from the person being photographed. It is no easy task and can only be described superficially with words.

While this work could be described as “social photography” (or even political photography), for me it is not so easily categorized. Phantasms break through to the surface without contrived staging. They are a result of looking, empathy and sensitivity.

After working on Infliction for over a year, the work continues to challenge me. I am very specific in choosing my subjects…I only become more involved if I believe that doing so will be of true significance.

The portraits of these young people might be the only ones made in their lifetimes. They are especially important, as they come in this crucial time of transition between childhood and adulthood.

—Heiko Tiemann