|The Hasselblad Master for May in the Hasselblad Calendar 2005 is the renowned German photographer Walter Schels. The pictures chosen to represent his work were a portrait of a Doberman and an owl because they have a unique quality. But this choice does not directly reflect other sides of his work and involvement. After a long career in advertising and many years working for a magazine about parenting in Germany he was drawn more and more towards a fascination with faces and portraiture. Artist, politicians and various prominent figures became his main interest that developed into more personal projects. In the last few years he has also produced a series of portraits concerning humans at the beginning and end of their lives that do not fail to evoke a reaction.|
In this work, there are no backgrounds, no references to surroundings, nor any direct connotations or implications. They are straight, direct, bold and honest and the viewer must confront them face to face, literally.
Walter started his interest in photography at the age of fourteen with a box camera his brother gave him. The box camera was later replaced with a Leica, and Walter Schels’ involvement in photography increased. However, the interest remained at hobby level while he received his education in window display in the early fifties. And it was as a window designer that he earned his living in Barcelona, Toronto and Geneva. Nevertheless, photography remained in the background, as well as his interest in painting, and in 1966, at thirty years of age, he decided to got to make the break and set off for New York to become a professional photographer.
Since then his passion for photography drove him on to carve out a long career. In his early days as a photographer he remembers Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Arnold Newman and Diane Arbus as American sources of inspiration, as well as the German fashion photographer F.C. Gundlach. And perhaps traces of the direct boldness of those images from those times can be seen in his work, in particular his recent work.
And it might be the recent work that has received the most public attention. In the last few years he has, amongst other things, produced several major bodies of work in book form and as exhibitions. The book “Animal Portraits” could appeal at several levels. The anthropomorphic element is quite naturally evident and the portraits cause attraction for that alone. But Schels’ interest in physiognomy too becomes apparent as the viewer is drawn into speculation about their characters.
Those lucky enough to attend the ‘Photokina’ fair in Cologne in 2004 had the opportunity to see Walter Schels’ captivating exhibition called ‘Young-Old’ where huge black and white portraits of new born babies were placed immediately beside portraits of old people to show the similarities in expression. Another exhibition that he recently produced, this time together with journalist Beate Lakotta, managed to attract 50,000 visitors over a six-week period in Dresden. The subject matter here was black and white portraits of both the young and old, in the last phase of their lives at a hospice photographed just before and after they died. The results of this project also appear in book form: "Life Before Death. Encounters With The Terminally Ill”, published by the Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt. This unusual, thought-provoking and moving work was understandably awarded the German Photographic Book Prize 2004.
Other awards include the distinguished Hansel-Mieth-Prize for committed reporting and the Federal Consortium of Hospices’ Honorary Artist’s Prize for the joint feature article he made with Beate Lakotta titled “Life Before Death”, published in Der Spiegel in 2003. He was also awarded second prize at the World Press Photo 2004 competition for his portraits, as well as receiving the Lead Award 2003, and a gold medal from the Art Directors Club. The list of exhibitions is long and reflects a prolific and regular output of work.
Walter Schels has used a number of different format cameras but after so many years in the business favours a Hasselblad. To quote him, “It is reliable, practical and handsome to use”. As an illustration to his passion about photography he adds this:“ I seldom leave the house without a camera”. When you look at his achievements and understand his passion and involvement with photography it is not difficult to see why he has been described as the highest-profile portrait photographer in Europe.