In Memoriam: Rüdiger Nehmzow

Mar 24, 2020
Photographer Spotlight

For the past few months, the photography world has been mourning the loss of one of its most influential, cutting edge professionals. Rüdiger Nehmzow was a widely renowned German photographer, a perfectionist whose embrace of technology was matched only by his desire to pass along his substantial amount of know-how to younger generations. Mr. Nehmzow's untimely death kicked off an outpouring of grief rooted in an appreciation for an individual who was beloved for his personability as much as for his photography.

The Nehmzow family, including sons Ben and Leo
From Mr. Nehmzow's vacation with his family in 2019. On the left is his wife, Marion, and on the right are their two sons, Ben and Leo. 

Mr. Nehmzow is survived by his wife, Marion Schweigert, and their two sons, Ben and Leo. Though he initially began his higher education in a field completely different than photography, the longtime freelancer eventually found his calling, as Marion explains.

Rüdiger already liked photography during his school days. But after getting his high school diploma, he started studying mechanical engineering. He was enthusiastic about technology but quickly realized that this discipline was not the right one for him and decided to train as a photographer in Düsseldorf in 1988. Afterward, he studied communication design and photography at Folkwang University of the Arts in Essen.

In Memoriam Rüdiger Nehmzow images from Mallorca, Spain
An image from Mr. Nehmzow’s work in Mallorca, Spain

During his studies, Rüdiger started working, editing images for Andreas Gursky, as well as assisting other photographers.

To view Mr. Nehmzow’s work is to delight in the stark contrasts of his images. One moment, you’re staring deep into the soul of one of his many portrait subjects, be it Nobel Peace Prize recipient Desmond Tutu or award-winning architect Dominique Perrault.

In Memoriam Rüdiger Nehmzow image of Desmond Tutu

In Memoriam Rüdiger Nehmzow image of Dominique Perrault

The next, you’re gazing wide-eyed at some of the world’s most arresting urban expanses, lovingly captured by a well-traveled man who, as Ansel Adams would put it, knew just where to stand.

In Memoriam Rüdiger Nehmzow work from his shoot in Shanghai, China

In Memoriam Rüdiger Nehmzow work from his shoot in La Paz, Bolivia
Images from Mr. Nehmzow's work in Shanghai, China and La Paz, Bolivia

While earning his photography degree at Folkwang University in Essen, Mr. Nehmzow lived in Düsseldorf. While there, he met Marion, who was drawn to the freelancer’s mix of ambition and geniality. 

I met Rüdiger during his studies at the beginning of 1990 in Düsseldorf. We were both in training and in our mid-20's. He was a very humorous and creative person who always followed his path with great determination. I really liked his humor and enthusiasm. 

It was during this period of his life that Mr. Nehmzow began honing his appreciably versatile skillset, capturing everything from entertainment to entrepreneurs to edifices. Learning of his work history makes it easy to see why Mr. Nehmzow was as comfortable photographing human beings as he was high-rise buildings.

He shot a lot for Düsseldorf city magazines as a theatre photographer. He also had roots in editorial photography and freelanced for more than 20 years for international advertising agencies and companies. His specialties were portrait, corporate, and architectural photography. 

In Memoriam Rüdiger Nehmzow shot of Austrian businessman Paul Achleitner

n Memoriam Rüdiger Nehmzow shot of the Tamina Bridge in Switzerland
Shots of Austrian businessman Paul Achleitner and Switzerland’s Tamina Bridge

He was responsible for several annual reports and image brochures. His clients included The Linde Group, KFW bank, Voith AG, Eon AG, RWE, DB Schenker, and, in the last two years, Holcim Lafarge.

In Memoriam Rüdiger Nehmzow shoots the clouds for The Linde Group in 2009

One of his many highlights was the incredible cloud picture he photographed for The Linde Group in 2009 from an open helicopter over Manaus, Brazil while wearing an oxygen mask. 

You don’t compile a client list that extensive without an elite work ethic. The palpable polish in Mr. Nehmzow’s work is equal parts a product of his engineering background and his unquenchable thirst for knowledge.

Rüdiger spared no effort. He was a perfectionist and only stopped working when he met his own high standards. He read and experimented, researched and fiddled about, and, of course, acquired the best equipment available.

Germans are admired the world over for their efficiency, and Mr. Nehmzow was no exception. The photographer’s approach to his work speaks to another contrast within it: Mr. Nehmzow was one of the first in his field to embrace new technology — he just didn’t feel the need to bring it along come shoot day.

When it came to taking pictures, Rüdiger appeared with minimal gear, which sometimes irritated his clients because they were used to large mountains of technical equipment. He always traveled with just one assistant, or even alone. Rüdiger understood how to achieve a perfect result with the smallest possible effort. 

In Memoriam Rüdiger Nehmzow captures imagery of Cotopaxi, an active stratovolcano near Quito, Ecuador
One of Mr. Nehmzow’s shots of Cotopaxi, an active volcano outside Quito, Ecuador

He was one of the first to work with a Mac. He also had a drum scanner and continued to print by himself for a long time.

An avid skier, cyclist, and foodie, Mr. Nehmzow had nearly as many passions as clients. But chief among those interests was teaching.

For several years, Rüdiger taught photojournalism in PR and corporate communication at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Hanover. It was very important to him to pass on his knowledge and experience to young students.

A large part of Mr. Nehmzow’s legacy lies in the sheer number of people whose lives he impacted, be they former students or faraway observers. Andreas Chudowski was one of those pupils.

Rüdiger showed me how to take professional photos. I owe him so much. To this day, whenever I have a problem, I ask myself: ‘What would Rüdiger do?’ I still cannot believe I can't actually call and ask him anymore. He was the biggest influence on my career and I am very grateful to him. I can't believe that he's no longer with us. 

Though Nils Hendrik Mueller never met Mr. Nehmzow, he is fully aware of his compatriot’s influence in their home country.

He was one of the leading corporate photographers in Germany. Everybody knows his name.

The support Marion and her two sons have received from former companions and collaborators alike speaks to how Mr. Nehmzow will be remembered: as a great photographer, but a better person.

All his friends, colleagues, and clients were very dismayed by his sudden and early death. Many people wrote to me and told me again and again how much they appreciated his calm, friendly, and professional manner and how much they were enthralled by his work.

In Memoriam Rüdiger Nehmzow enjoying himself while on a shoot

Check out more of Rüdiger's work at nehmzow.de.