Timm Rautert

The Powerlessness of Photographs

When television moved into people’s living rooms in the 1950s, many predicted the moving picture would spell the end of still photography. Yet it is not films but photographs with their capacity to eternalize individual moments, freeze them in time and, by bringing things to a halt, compel viewers to look at them and think, that continue to define our collective memory today. Buzz Aldrin on the moon, children fleeing a napalm attack in Vietnam, the student in front of the army tanks in Tiananmen Square, victims of torture at Abu Ghraib – these are the images that are said to have changed the world.

Timm Rautert began his career as a photo journalist. Inspired by the belief that photography could change the world, he addressed social issues on behalf of major magazines and newspapers. His work took him to Japan, Russia and the USA, and led him to the homeless, the jobless and to Thalidomide victims. He wanted to use his camera to get to the heart of things, and draw the viewer’s attention to injustice in the long term through his haunting series of images. But it turned out that the power of these images and their influence on society was limited: “My images haven’t change a thing,” was Timm Rautert’s sobering realization some years later.

His interest in social and moral issues continued unabated. But his photographic style changed, becoming more conscious and more reflective. Increasingly, Timm Rautert straddled the boundary between applied and artistic photography. But he still put the message of his images above their aesthetic quality: “Photography is an important medium to understanding the world; it is such a waste to use it only as art.” Nevertheless, he combined form and content in the knowledge that his work could only ever show his personal perspective on things.

His teacher, Otto Steinert, had a profound influence on this approach. The founder of subjective photography claimed it was impossible to depict reality objectively. The mere presence of the camera distorted the situation for everyone involved and therefore the image – including the photographer himself. Timm Rautert, too, sees the camera as standing between himself and reality – biasing his view of life.

Biographical information

1941

born in Tuchel, Germany

1966–1971

studies Photography at the Folkwangschule für Gestaltung, Essen, Germany

1993–2007

Professor of Photography Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst, Leipzig, Germany

2008

receives the Lovis-Corint-Prize for his achievements in Photography

lives and works in Essen and Leipzig