It’s a globally unique project: photographer Herlind Kolbel has photographed Angela Merkel for 30 years. Her photos have now appeared in an impressive picture book.
You see it all the time: Angela Merkel on television, in newspapers, at a summit. But the old German chancellor had never seen anything like this before. In the photographs of photographer Herlind Kolbel, one encounters the person Angela Merkel.
The photographer accompanied Merkel with photographs for 30 years. Her photos have now appeared in an impressive picture book.
In 1991 a shy young woman with big eyes sits there. In 1994, she tilted her head and looked with a bit of mischief. In 2018, she puts her hands on her hips and laughs. All of these photos have one thing in common: you feel very close to the person being photographed.
This is due, among other things, to Koelbl’s “beta setup”. She never suggested positions to Angela Merkel, saying, “I kept saying, ‘Look at me with a calm and open look.’ Otherwise, she can do whatever she wants.”
Kolbel gave Merkel a protected space – because it was clear from the start that the photos would not be published until years later.
The photographer was silent about her life project
The place was always the same: a chair against a white wall. Once a year Kolbel would come and take pictures with her Hasselblad counterpart – a selfie and a full-body portrait.
In 1991 she started the project with 15 politicians and businessmen she had photographed and interviewed for eight years, including Angela Merkel. When Angela Merkel became chancellor, Kolbel continued filming sessions without speaking publicly about the project.
Show how the office changes people.
The mini-setting should leave room for the primary question that Kolbel was interested in: “I wanted to show how the office changes people. You’re under unrivaled pressure—especially as Federal Chancellor. Physically and mentally, that’s the hardest thing you can imagine.”
How the power of Angela Merkel has changed over the course of 30 years is very clearly reflected in the project: at first Merkel often looks awkward, she does not know what to do with her arms and legs. After a few years, she stands confidently, using standing and free legs.
Merkel is more open than ever
The photos not only document Angela Merkel’s extreme change of heart, but also Herlind Kölbel’s interviews with her early in her career. Merkel is more open than ever.
The CDU politician talks about her personal concerns, about her partner at the time, and whether as a policy she would like to have children. She tells how she learns to deal with political opponents and how to prove herself.
Eyes as a mirror
All of these experiences are reflected in her body, and especially in her eyes, says Herlind Kolbel: “There’s a photo from 1994 where she looks really bold. The eyes are happy and curious. That glow has really decreased in the past few years.”
To see how such an outstanding figure as Angela Merkel has changed in 30 years – this is very touching. Also a little scary.
SRF 2 Kultur, Kultur-Aktuell, 11/29/2021, 7:05 a.m.
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