Author: Zoltán Jókay


Regularly confronted with grief and death,
pain and suffering,
regularly confronted with ultimate loneliness,
I haven´t learned to believe in God.
But God is a necessity, even if he doesn´t exist.
So we had to invent him.
And if we could believe him as friendly and generous,
that would offer us some of the solace we might need.


There are  truths, the personal truths, or may we call them beliefs that we keep on carrying around with us, because otherwise we would loose direction and would become paralyzed.

Photographs are like Tarot cards: they are the backdrop for your fantasies.

I trust my eyes. But if I take photography as the embodiment of reality, I am going to deceive myself.


To be different, makes you an outsider.

If you merely feel different,
you will make yourself your life miserable.

If your difference is visible,
society will give you a hard time.


Charlotte Salomon was born 1917 in Berlin.
She was transported to Auschwitz on 7 October 1943 and was probably gassed on the same day she arrived there. She was five months pregnant then, only permitted to live 26 years.

She would have stayed anonym as most of the Jews, Sinti and Roma and homosexuals that were murdered by a well-organized Nazi regime and the countless Germans serving them but her extraordinary visual diary remaines as Charlotte Salomon´s trace in time.

I have never encountered a body of work like this: created in the short period of two years, her images breathe the freedom of imperfection without loosing visual quality.
Charlotte Salomon works with paintings overlaid with texts, as it probably wasn´t done this way before. Some of her pieces have the air of modern contemporary artistic comics, others remind me of some of Baselitz paintings. But she always uses a language distinctively hers.

She tells us the story of the time she lived in, and she allows us to sense how she experienced these years of turning from a girl into a young woman. She shares with us her observations of the world of grown ups as if seen through the eyes of a child. We see the life of a bourgeois Jewish family, we see them sitting around in a salon, we see well educated women playing piano and men smoking cigars, we sense family catastrophes and a child’s conflicts with her parents, we see Charlotte studying art, painting flowers and nudes in class, we see the brutal emergence of the Nazis and their immediate influence on Charlottes life, we see her in love and thrown into doubts, as it is when love enters the stage.

Charlotte Salomons tells us about the atmosphere of the times she lived in, she tells us of a life that was destroyed by a force that we tend to hold for inhuman. But it belongs to humanity as the budding love of a young woman.

The world could different as it is, even if we are told we should forget about alternatives because they never will be realized. Charlotte Salomon’s work, as all descriptions of everyday lives and everyday hopes, remind us of that things could and should be different than they are now.

The best website to visit,
to get to know about the life and work of Charlotte Salomon,
and the source of these images
is the “joods historisch museum”.


Without any further information,
this photograph,
is nothing but beautiful form.

Black and white,
almost symmetric,
but not fully,
the hair of the young girl opening like a curtain,
showing a pretty,
earnest looking face,
the roundness of her head
echoed by the shining buttons of her shirt.

But then you will get the information,
that this girl was captured,
and put into an extermination camp,
and somewhere along the way,
she died.
Maybe she was murdered,
or the conditions
she lived in,
killed her.

And then
you might think,
who can torture
this child
how can it be, you might murmur silently,
how can it be,
that you haven´t guessed her
looking at this photograph,
that was taken,
by the prison photographer,
in a moment,
full of terrifying prospects,
and all what we see
a young,
and calm,
human being,
with a almost invisible smile
in her face.

S-21 prison, Phnom Penh, Cambodia,

Unidentified prisoner

Not art but memory.

This is a photograph of my sister. I was a little kid then, as she was too.
In the meanwhile my hair turned grey, and we have grown distant to each other.

Not art but memory. The movement of time engraved into one image.
Innocence, the future still to come, and now that we look at this document of a past moment in our life,
we might realize that the future we were dreaming of in very vague terms never has arrived at our doorstep,
and that the dreams we had then, they were the innocent dreams of our youth,
and now our youth is gone, and our dreams are gone, and doors are closed by an invisible hand.


Sie ist 19 und kommt aus Eritrea. Jetzt wohnt sie hier,
in einem der Blechcontainer wohnt sie,
auf vierzehn Quadratmetern wohnt sie,
sie wohnt zusammen mit fünf anderen Frauen in diesem einen Raum.
Noch nie habe ich sie über eine ihrer Zimmergenossinen reden hören,
aber ich weiß, sie wünscht sich weit weg.

Die junge Frau ist nicht von ihrem Handy zu trennen.
Sie spricht unaufhörlich mit dem, den sie ihren Mann nennt,
„my husband“, sagt sie immer wenn sie von ihm spricht,
er ist jetzt in einem anderen Land,
auf der Flucht wurden sie getrennt.

Und das Schokoladeneis tropft ihr auf die Hand,
weil sie nicht dazu kommt auch nur einmal daran zu schlecken,
weil sie unaufhörlich nur mit ihm spricht.

Morgen darf die junge Frau zum ersten Mal zur Schule in der Stadt,
und heute erzählt sie mir von ihrer Schwester,
um die sie sich sorgen macht seit neuestem,
weil auch sie sich aufgemacht hat auf den Weg nach Europa, über Libyen,
und dann über das Mittelmeer.

Sie erzählt, wie sie selbst in einem Boot saß auf ihrer Flucht,
mit 450 anderen Menschen, und das Boot war leck, und der Motor stank,
und sie trank das Meerwasser, und als sie dann erbrechen musste,
war das Erbrochene ganz gelb.

Und dann zeigt mir die junge Frau,
sie zeigt mir auf dem leuchtenden Rechteck ihres Telefons Bilder von Frauen und Männern,
sie zeigt mir Bilder von Müttern und Kindern, von Jungen und Mädchen, sie zeigt mir Menschen,
die bis vor kurzem noch Träume hatten und jetzt ertrunken irgendwo im Wasser liegen.

Und ich sah die junge Frau an und war ganz ohne Sprache und verstand nicht wirklich etwas
und jetzt am Abend kommt die Traurigkeit und eine Ahnung von dem, was ist,
und eine Ahnung von dem, wie das alles es sein könnte, für diese Frau,
die in diesem Blechcontainer wohnt,
auf ihrem Handy Bilder von Toten und dem Schweigen ihrer Schwester innen drin im Kopf.

I want you to be.

image by
Sibylle Fendt

from „Gärtners Reise“

Life tells many stories, but most of them remain unheard.
/ His hand on her hand, she feels his touch.
And the journey begins, wearing a summer hat,
stopping for short breaks, tomatoes on the table,
sun falling on her face, small clouds up in the sky and above all the fresh air.
/ Everyday moments can be so trivial and yet it is these moments
that are the source of real happiness.
And even if the ground you are standing on seems to be slipping away,
and from one moment to the next it feels like everything has changed,
even then you need to experience the occasional uplifting moment, however short it may be.

Falling Down and Rising Up Again –
that is how Sibylle Fendt named one of her projects.
And there are days, which are hard to stomach – days,
when you really feel like it’s best just to remain in bed or stay put.
But then all could be lost – or so we are made to believe.
Sibylle Fendt takes pictures of people that are emotionally,
mentally or physically damaged but are nevertheless willing to fight.
They are fighting for their health and for an inner equilibrium.

To be ill means you are different.
It means you are unable to function.
Being ill often means you are seen as suffering from a defect.
/ And we, who remain able to function – however much we may be struggling –
look away and try and avoid reading the writing on the wall.
/ But Sibylle Fendt manages to capture what it is we are trying to avoid.
She makes us take a closer look and makes us realise
that those suffering from illness are not as different as we may think.

Gärtners’ Voyage is not a report about the mental and physical decline
of a woman suffering from dementia and it is not a report
about the sometimes indescribable effort
that goes into caring for a person who is increasingly loosing control
of themselves and their bodily functions.
/ What we see is a man and a woman, presumably a couple.
We see the man mowing the lawn and see the woman standing by,
looking somewhat incapable.
We see the man hanging up washing and see him getting the woman dressed.
We see him doing her hair and notice that he is holding her like a child.
/ Something seems out of balance. But we can only presume so, we do not know.
Because photos do not offer extensive information,
they are unable to shed light on the context
and they cannot fully explain what is going on.
They simply depict a given moment.
But sometimes they illustrate more than can be seen at first sight.
That’s it – plain and simple, and yet it can be so much more complex.
/ Often however photos are accompanied by words.
They change our perception of things and images.

The knowledge of Elke Gärtner’s disease is the key
that opens Sibylle Fendt’s work to our wider understanding.
/ Looking shy and introverted, in an empty hall,
which is lit up but still quite dark and shady,
a woman is gazing at the floor.
It may not be cold in this room,
but it looks as if she is shivering nonetheless and holding on to herself for reassurance.
/ Memories disappear, they vanish bit by bit. Places and streets be-come unfamiliar,
as do objects and loved ones. Even the present starts becoming something that is unfamiliar.
/ Nothing is tangible, there is nothing to hold on to, everything seems dislocated.
Life becomes an approxi¬mation and the gaping hole is filled with something
that is known as fear. And this fear starts to spread and multiply.
/That is how it might feel, deep inside. And in situations like this it helps,
if someone is there. /That woman is like a child now and is happy that someone is there.
She senses that she is being touched. That is something that will last.
It helps to deal with the disorientating and fear-ridden loneliness.

So often photographs depict the obvious misfortune of others by showing shocking images.
And in pictures like that it is not ourselves we are looking at – we are not the starving body,
we are not the people, who appear to be so different to ourselves.
The stimulus is overpowering, the distance is too great,
we avert our gaze without really being deeply moved by what we have seen.
/ Sibylle Fendt’s photos, if at all,
only very cautiously depict the everyday hardship that life entails
for people suffering from dementia and their relatives.
/ A plaster on a shinbone, a burn on a hand –
they both hint at the dangers that Elke Gärtner is continuously surrounded by,
because she is no longer able to take care of herself.
/ And so Lothar Gärtner takes responsibility for her,
continuously, re¬lentlessly, 24 hours a day, until – despite all his efforts –
a mishap occurs that cannot be prevented.
/ And all the time it is clear that one of them is going to outlive the other.
But time will pass until then.

And so the two Gärtners set out on their last journey together.
Courageous indeed, but also upsetting.
/ Husband and mobile home become the last anchors of stability in this woman’s life
/ He holds her tight. And long after she has lost the ability to speak,
she writes down a simple sentence on a notepad.
A note that is presumably addressed to him.
The sentence is repeated three times:

I want you to be.

We rarely hear about the kind of love
that is evident in these pictures.
It is very well observed whilst avoiding sentimentality.
It has an element of everyday love about it,
but at the same time it is also something very special.
And that is when we think, this is how things might be and this is real.

Close your eyes and then, open them again.

Looking at photographs, we easily could get the impression that they tell us stories.
Stories about life and death, stories about little moments and big events.
Just by looking at photographs we travel to different continents,
we look in the eyes of strangers, and see catastrophes and poverty.
Photographs fulfill our need to follow up our curiosity,
without being restricted by societies unwritten laws.
We see faces, we see eyes, we see private spaces.
We look and see without the necessity of contact.
We might even experience the illusion of intimacy.
Photographs allow us to see everything we want to see,
without taking any risks.
Many times we use photographs to depict the world as a curiosity cabinet,
populated by humans whom we believe to be different from us and we call them freaks.
Look at the fat one, look at the sick one, look at the poor one,
but we are different, yes we are different.
But we are not.


The old lady in her wheelchair detected the little stone
and asked me to pick it up for her.

She  kept the stone in her hands for a while.
Then she dropped it to the ground.

Smooth little round stone,
I found you in my pocket today.