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April - Ralf Tooten.

Ralf Tooten was born in 1958 in Duisburg, Germany. He received his photographic training at the hands of photographers Clemens Hartzenbusch and Hildegard Lontz, with whom he worked as an assistant for three years. He lives and works in Hamburg, where he has his own studio. He prefers to photograph people and his clients include companies, record companies, and advertising agencies. Typical assignments include annual reports, cd-covers, and portraits for various magazines and periodicals.

He has received several awards for his photography, including first prize in Max Magazine’s ”One Day in Germany” contest, 1992 and the Galaxy Award/New York, 1999.

For four years the German photographer Ralf Tooten, together with editor Bernhard Strahmann, worked with the photo project ”The Eyes of Wisdom”. The goal of the project, which would require almost 50 trips to remote locations around the world, was to document the face of spirituality within different religious faiths. With his Zeiss lens Tooten captured hundreds of faces, with looks that preach of the warmth and wisdom that can be found in all people, regardless of nationality, culture, or religion.

”There is only one road to success,” says Tooten, ”and that is to listen to your heart. I think that the most weighty responsibility we humans have is to find our special talent and make sure it is put to good use.” Listening to his heart was just what Tooten was doing a few years ago when he realized that he would undertake the most fascinating project of his life.
At a lecture given by the Dalai Lama he heard the theory that ”The Heart of All Religions is One”. Tooten was so captivated by this idea that he decided to carry out a photo project based on the concept. Four years later this has resulted in a photo book with more than eighty portraits of spiritual and religious figures.

 In the book we meet, among others, Mushi Baba, a fasting Indian yogi who has not left his temple for over 40 years. We meet an eight-year-old girl from Katmandu, with the clothing and make-up of an adult, but playing with her rabbit like a child. We meet serious, steady gazes from orthodox nuns in Romanian Moldavia and wide, warm smiles from priests in India. We meet the Dalai Lama himself. His theory that all religions’ hearts are one runs as a common thread through the book’s pages.
All images are taken with Hasselblads. Thoughts, feelings, and stories – all are captured in the square. Even as a 16-year-old, when Tooten took his first photo lessons, Hasselblad was his tool of choice. The same is still true today and he works almost exclusively with 503CW and 553ELX cameras. At one time he also owned a 500C. He got the camera from his mother as a present, but sold it during a period when he was rather hard pressed for money. Tooten works with five lenses; Zeiss 50, 80, 150, 180 and 250 mm. He uses the 180 mm lens the most. About 66% of his work is done on location and about 33 % in the studio, sometimes hand-held and sometimes using a tripod. The images in ”Eyes of Wisdom” are printed using the Lithprint technique. He experimented for quite some time with various papers and developers before he found a combination he was happy with.

”Eyes of Wisdom” turned into a very expensive project. Among other things, over 1500 rolls of Kodak film were used.
”But I have never regretted it, not even for a second. The project has taught me a lot about mankind and about life itself. And I have had wonderful people around me, who have believed in me and supported me wholeheartedly. In addition to my friend and editor Bernhard Strahmann, I would like to mention Christian Diener, Art Director for the book and curator for the mobile exhibition that was shown for the first time at Photokina in Cologne 2002. It was to a large degree thanks to these two that this project became so successful.”

Kerstin Fiedler