The day after Greece has voted in a general election against austerity politics and to oust ‘the dictatorship of Angela Merkel’ as some Greek voters have proclaimed, the annual price for political photography in Germany, Rückblende 2014, has been awarded in Berlin. The photograph by photojournalist Stefan Boness that won fist prize is a picture of German chancellor Angela Merkel. In the newspaper die tageszeitung, it has been called a manifesto of power (see text and picture below). The piece in die tageszeitung continues to describe Angela Merkel as standing in the midst of uncertainty, occupying a central position: with a clear head, knowledgeable, and keeping her distance. Those attributes, the text continues, are not only characteristics of Angela Merkel, but should be at the core of political photography in order to provide act as a compass in a precise and clear manner. Interestingly, such conceptual photographs are seldom published, and Stefan’s prize-winning picture proves no exception to this rule: it has never appeared in print before it found its rightful place in the Rückblende-exhibition.
Shortly before the prize ceremony, a demonstration by the new force from the street in German politics passed nearby, reminding everybody of the fact that these are disturbing times for political photography and engaged journalism in Germany: The so-called Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West (Pegida), a movement with a Nazi-like ideology that holds weekly and sometimes daily demonstrations shouts as one of their slogans Lügenpresse – the press is lying – as are all those who do not share their anti-Islamist, anti-foreigner and essentially anti-democratic stance. At recent demonstrations in various parts of Germany press-photographers in particular have been threatened. At some point even a wanted-list had been published under the banner Beware-Anti-Fascist Photographers (Achtung Antifa Fotografen) with photos and names of photographers to look out for and target (this list cannot be made public any longer following a court order).
Meanwhile in Greece, chancellor Merkel is often portrayed as an extension of the German Nazi regime of the past – while the newly elected Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras from the leftist anti-austerity party Syriza, falling two seats short of an absolute majority, did not see it as a contradiction to chose as his coalition partner the right wing Independent Greeks (Anal). Tsipras’ first act as prime minister was to lay red roses at the National Resistance Memorial in Kaisariani, a suburb in Athens where 200 communist national resistance fighters were executed by the Nazis on 1 May 1944.
The – real and/or symbolic – power of Angela Merkel might be severely tested in the coming months, within Germany as well as abroad. In such times of uncertainly the moral compass provided by a free press and political photography is more necessary than ever.