German photographer Walter Schels presents his photographic long-term study on the process of becoming one with oneself in a solo exhibition at 68projects, Berlin.
In autumn 2013, Walter Schels began working on a long-term project, which we are exhibiting for the first time in Berlin under the title “*TRANS”. In compassionate images, the photographer portrays young transgender people in transition. What makes this special is the photographer’s close friendship with a doctor, a hormone expert who helps his patients adapt their bodies to their identified sex, resulting in a unique series that documents the transformation from the anatomically innate to the ‘correct’ sex over an extended period of time.
Today, the series includes portraits of 27 transsgender people. The youngest participant was eleven years old at the time of the first photo, the oldest is now 23. The moment of astonishment of the first encounter still remains. Whether trans boy or trans girl, from the very beginning their clothing, body language and manner of speaking already point towards the future sex they perceive as ‘right’.
Walter Schels deliberately chose the classical form of portraiture, which his work helped develop and shape over decades: the photographs are taken from a short distance against a black background, with direct eye contact. Lit by an even, flat light, the faces of girls and boys look into the camera without smiling. These are calm shots: the metamorphosis from female to male and vice versa is not presented dramatically, but in subtle steps.
The sitters decide for themselves how they want to be presented and at what moment. Stages of bodily transformation only become an issue if the sitter expressly wants it. More important than physical appearance are questions of identity, consciousness and personality. “What is the core of a person’s being?", the photos ask, “why are they like this and not different? What possibilities do they have? Where are their limits?”
Walter Schels’ interest in the identity of his counterpart is rooted in his own biography. The photographer says he is very familiar with the theme of self-rejection, and his empathetic attitude might be the key to the striking proximity that many viewers discover in his portraits. His black-and-white photos offer insights into the sitter’s being and psyche. They are intimate, emotional, compassionate and respectful. Here the face appears as a mirror of the soul. Schels concentrates entirely on his relationship with the portrayed persons, entering into a dialogue through the lens of his camera, blurring the limits between the viewer and the portrayed.
Walter Schels (born 1936 in Landshut) is regarded as one of Germany’s most important contemporary photographers. He made a name for himself with character studies of celebrities from politics and culture, portrait series of people in extreme situations and animal portraits. From the early 1990s onwards, he increasingly devoted himself to his own artistic projects. A key experience for him was a commission from the magazine “Eltern” (“Parents”), for which he photographed a birth in 1974. Schels describes the moment in the following terms: “For the first time I saw the face of a new-born human being. But it was not a being without history that was looking at me, but a face with a past, knowing, ancient…”. Since then, his preoccupation with faces has never left him.
His works are part of renowned art collections and have been shown in exhibitions in Germany and abroad, including the German Hygiene Museum in Dresden, the DZ Bank in Frankfurt, C/O Berlin and the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo. In 2019, the House of Photography at the Deichtorhallen Hamburg dedicated a major solo exhibition to his work.
To mark the TRANS* exhibition, a 100-page catalogue containing 120 black-and-white illustrations and a text by Beate Lakotta will be published.
at Via degli Aurunci 19
Saturday 17 July 2021 at 14:02h
at Veteranenstrasse 21
Friday 16 July 2021 at 17:00h
at Al Rusail Industrial Area
Saturday 24 July 2021 at 22:00h