Dean O'Brien's Blog

352mc Professional Photographic Practice: Researching the work of Wolfgang Mueller

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My search for inspiring photographers is never ending.  Those who stand out from the rest.  Last month  I came across the work of Berlin photographer Wolfgang Mueller.

Wolfgang Mueller has documented a number of projects after continuously travelling throughout Eastern Europe.  In 1998 he followed the story of a ten year old pimp called Sanya from Odessa and then in the period 2000-2001 he went t to St. Petersburg where for nine months he documented children and youths living on the streets.

The ‘Sky over St.Petersburg’ project was the one which appealed to me most, and yet equally, the one I found most disturbing.  It tells the stories of children and youths who live in roofs and attics, five or six floors above the city streets where they hope to find a kind of home.  They sleep, take drugs in relative safety and make money from prostitution.  In his book ‘Karat’ (‘Karat’ is the brand name of a shoe polish containing solvents that many of them inhale) which documents the ‘Sky over St.Petersburg’ project, I found that the images pulled you into a strange unfamiliar place almost uncomfortable.

Although the UK does have its problems with similar issues, it is not deemed socially acceptable.  Here, passers by show no care or concern.  Street kids are common place, often abandoned by their alcoholic parents.  Drugs and prostitution are a form of coping and surviving for these street kids.

Looking at the work of Wolfgang made me realise the importance of living the lives of your subjects.  Almost becoming who ‘they’ are.  This enabled him to tell a more honest story and document a more truthful account of their lives.  He stated that ‘I established contact with them by bringing food and the personal photos I made of them to our meetings. The most important factor, however, was spending enough time with them to generate trust, leading in some cases to true friendships’.

Over the past eight months I have continued to work very closely with my own subjects in Ukraine.  The images are now starting to develop into something a lot more personal than could be first seen in some of the earlier shots taken.

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Written by Dean O'Brien

February 20, 2012 at 11:38 pm

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