For an assignment that’s very delicate in nature like photographing kids who are refugees from war-torn countries, the photographer and her collaborators need to be on the same page at all times. This is the kind of work that’s best done by people who have worked together on similar projects, people who can create the intimate shots needed to effectively tell this story without stepping on anyone’s toes. Otterstadt, Germany-based photographer Anne Ackermann linked up again with Linda Tutmann, who brought the German photographer on board for a shoot about refugees trying to get into German universities.
I was asked to do the shoot by a long-time writer colleague/friend, Linda Tutmann, who’s a Berlin-based author. We had previously worked on reportages in Uganda and Malawi together. She was in charge of the whole magazine, anything from concept to content production, for DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service). We met in Hamburg and worked on the story together for two days.
The refugee-led initiative helps immigrants who are currently preparing for university. Having worked with Linda on longer stories in far away and more exotic destinations like Malawi and Uganda meant that we already knew each other and that we could rely on the quality of work of the other.
Anne is more used to the kind of work that sees her mostly interacting with people and getting shots of them. While there are plenty of portraiture examples from this assignment, it also provided a different kind of ask for Anne: still life photography. Of course, each object had a compelling story behind it, so it wasn’t a particularly out-of-the-box request for someone like Anne.
This was my first-time shooting kind of a product photography, if you will, but I really liked it. I am much more a portrait and reportage photographer and love to interact with people, but I quite enjoyed myself. The keychain of a lost friend, a mother’s scarf, a cousin’s bracelet—the emotional value of objects that carry memories of times long lost moved me.
The objects I had to photograph carried a story and they had meaning in the narrative. They mattered for our story. I am very story driven, so for me it was almost natural to treat the objects to just the same importance as I treated the other elements of the story.
You’ll notice the kids’ smiling faces and sunny disposition, a stark contrast from the circumstances they fled in their home countries. Anne noticed that the students weren’t averse to discussing the intolerable conditions they left behind and was highly complimentary of their work ethic and demeanors. She did note, however, that photographing children in a school is much, much different than getting imagery of people stuck in a refugee camp.
The students were amazing! I had a hard time combining the horrible war and destruction in their home countries that they must have witnessed with the competent and positive young students I had in front of me. Of course, they opened up to us about the challenges, but I still was very impressed with them. They will go really far in life, I believe.
I have worked pretty extensively on subject matters around migration not only in Germany but also in Southern Europe and Africa. So I am not unfamiliar with stories of hardship, losing one’s home and loved ones. However, I think meeting these young students in the nice surrounding of a nice urban university made this assignment very different from the ones where I was shooting in refugee camps or crowded reception centers.
The big takeaway for Anne is the fact that these kids are incredibly grateful for the opportunity at a better life and are going to take full advantage of their new outlooks. Kudos, then, to DAAD and the people behind it for helping people who had no control over a terrible situation find a legitimate path forward to happiness.
Thanks to the great projects of the DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) who was the client for this job, the youth really receive excellent opportunities and integration into the university education sector in German, and it really seemed to work out in this case, which is obviously great and makes me happy. So, I think as for a takeaway from this specific assignment I was moved by how much education opportunities really contribute to feeling as part of a community and having a positive outlook on the future.
Writer: Linda Tutmann
See more of Anne’s work at anneackermann.com.
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