6 Questions to: Quirin Leppert

In his series Wir Sind Da (We’re There), the photographer Quirin Leppert reveals the relationships between displaced people and their private helpers, and offers insights into their newly established bonds. In a short interview, he talks about his personal experiences.

From 23 September to 7 October 2016, the FREELENS community project showed the group exhibition Angekommen!? Fotografien zu Flucht und Ankunft in Deutschland (Arrived!? Photographs on Fight and Arrival in Germany) at the Permanent Representation of Rhineland Palatinate in Berlin. Among the many works by other photographers, photos by Quirin Leppert were also shown.

WIR MACHEN DAS: Your photo series for the community project Angekommen!? (Arrived!?) with pictures of flight and arrival in Germany received lots of attention. How did you approach the topic and what did you think was particularly important in terms of what to show?

Quirin Leppert: I have two series being exhibited. One consists of reportage pictures from the green borders. It emerged in connection with a job I did for the Welt am Sonntag newspaper. I was a classic, observant reporter for it, and ultimately I photographed what I saw.

The second series shows double portraits I staged. My approach was to look at the topic of displaced people from as far outside the “refugee” context as possible. The relationship theme was important to me. The double portraits show people who got together in many different ways and developed common ground. They’re pictures of people in the kinds of relationships that happen all over the world at any time. And yet the pictures make you feel that something unusual, shy and tender is taking place. What is ultimately normal in relationships is here emblematic of the situation for newcomers – of the new start.

How did you go about it? How did you find the people you portrayed?

My mother rented a room to a Syrian-Palestinian – so a relationship emerged, as did the idea to photograph the situation as a double portrait. I then also asked friends and relatives if they had any personal contact with refugees and who would be willing to take part in my project.

What effect do you think this work could have?

I hope that at some point even people who react to newcomers in a reserved, fearful way will become more open.

What experience do you take as a photographer and as a human being from this project?

The experience is actually always the same with my photographic work. I approach a story with certain ideas and opinions, and as soon as I have direct contact and dive into the topic my view changes and I see the story in a substantially more differentiated way. This changes me and my work. Exciting experiences emerge, for example in this case: at first, many people jumped into refugee work with great euphoria and they got to know new people and their stories. In the course of time, the personal contact that may at times have been too personal and the helpers’ expectations of the newcomers strained the situation a bit. It was similar for me as a photographer: I also approached the topic with great enthusiasm and only really thought about my own ideas. In the course of getting to know people and in our continued contact after my photo sessions, I realised that people who have just recently arrived here have their own ideas and perceptions, and that these didn’t necessarily correspond with my own. This phenomenon doesn’t owe itself specifically to the refugee theme, but it’s one that I repeatedly observe in my independent projects, namely the split between subjective, artistic work on the one hand and the depiction of reality on the other.

What do you think the photographer’s task is today?

The same as always: to give people a new perspective on the world.

What are you working on at the moment?

My new project is called Passfotos (Pass Photos). I photograph passes I’ve climbed with the racing bike. It’s more of a private topic, close to my heart, to give me a bit of a break from everyday life. I can really take pictures I like here in a wholly subjective way without having to think about social relevance when assessing the results.

[Translator’s note: The project title Passfotos is a play on words, as the German noun Pass means either ‘passport’ or ‘pass’ (in the sense of ‘mountain pass’).]

Ali lives with Ursl. Photo: Quirin Leppert.
Ali lives with Ursl.
Carmen helps Nada with the search for accommodation and job. Photo: Quirin Leppert.
Carmen helps Nada with the search for accommodation and job.
Engin has spent a year looking after a player pass for Joudi. Photo: Quirin Leppert.
Engin has spent a year looking after a player pass for Joudi.
Claudia accompanies Sayed at his many doctor visits. Photo: Quirin Leppert.
Claudia accompanies Sayed at his many doctor visits.
Sada makes a apprenticeship at Uli's health food store. Photo: Quirin Leppert.
Sada makes an apprenticeship at Uli’s health food store.
Doris houses Mohammad in their hotel. Photo: Quirin Leppert.
Doris houses Mohammad in their hotel.
Alpha and Lukas like to train together. Photo: Quirin Leppert.
Alpha and Lukas like to train together.
Mariam and Sonja have become friends. Sonja studied in Cairo and speaks Arabic.Photo: Quirin Leppert.
Mariam and Sonja have become friends. Sonja studied in Cairo and speaks Arabic.

Quirin Leppert, born in Munich in 1963, began his career as a photographer at the age of 21 after completing his secondary school examinations and military service. After assistantships in Rome, London and Hamburg, he became a freelancer in 1992 and has since worked for major German magazines and newspapers as well as for advertising agencies and architects. In 2001, he won an art-in-architecture competition for which he took 70 photographs that are a permanent fixture in the new Federal Employment Agency building in Neuruppin. His pictures have been shown in various exhibitions at home and abroad. From 2004–2014, he taught architectural photography in the Free Design faculty at Innsbruck University. The enthusiastic racing bike rider is married with two children. His studio is in Munich and he lives in Allmannshausen on Lake Starnberg.