Heinrich Riebesehl

Laconic Landscapes

In the 1960s and 1970s, acclaimed American documentary photographers such as Robert Adams, William Eggleston, Stephen Shore or Walker Evans increasingly chose to capture motifs that at first glance seem insignificant or unspectacular. At around the same time, Heinrich Riebesehl was discovering comparable everyday scenes in Germany and photographing them in black-and-white taking a similar conceptual approach. He gained recognition in the late 1970s as one of the first German representatives of this kind of photography.

Before he discovered this objective, documentary style, Heinrich Riebesehl created a photo series entitled "Situationen und Objekte" (Situations and Objects) in the mid-1970s in which he blended reality with a touch of irony and magic. One picture taken in 1976 showing a combine harvester between two trees under a very white cloud is reminiscent of a surreal kind of performance. It is tempting to interpret the different elements in the image symbolically. But Riebesehl's photographs refuse to be defined in this way.

His series "Agrarlandschaften" (Agricultural Landscapes) is a survey of fields, pastures and meadows, harvesting machinery and cattle-breeding in the barren lowlands of North Germany. Such motifs may well be suited to more romanticized scenes, but Heinrich Riebesehl preferred to capture the countryside where he grew up and lived in an extremely sober, detached and at times laconic visual language. He achieved this by using wide-angle frames, invariably taking an eye-level perspective and consistently avoiding converging lines. In fact, Riebesehl always took a spirit level with him on his extensive forays into the countryside to level out the landscape as viewed through the lens. Thanks to this perfect balance of the individual elements, his pictures radiate a sense of calm that transcends time and space.

Riebesehl later extended the range of motifs in his photographs to include commercial architecture, which he found in the same regions of North Germany. Again, he systematically focused his lens on traces of modern civilization in the landscape. The sheds, warehouses and fish halls he shot were all deserted and stand out against the extremely flat landscape like sculptures. Here, too, Riebesehl maintained his fixed gaze and a certain severity in the composition of his pictures. As he said himself, his goal was "to make pictures about things, and not with things". Through Heinrich Riebesehl's photographic eye, these things become worthy of representation as well as being impressive contemporary documents.

Biographical information

1938

born in Lathen an der Ems, Germany

1963–1965

studies Photography at Folkwangschule Essen, Germany, with Otto Steinert

1972

co-founds the Sprengel Museum’s “Spectrum” photo gallery that he heads until 1992

2010

died in Hannover