Sebastian Bolesch: Welcome to Germany

It’s dark in Eisenhüttenstadt. Only two windows are lit up and they have bars over them. A high fence cuts off the building. Sebastian Bolesch photographed the Zentrale Ausländerbehörde (ZABH) (Central Foreign Ministry) of the State of Brandenburg: an initial holding place for refugees, but also a place where people wait in custody to be deported. Bolesch’s picture earned him second prize in the Rückblende competition – meaning he is now the proud owner of a Leica M with lens, sponsored by Leica Camera AG.

Q: Congratulations on your win. What does this prize mean to you?

A: The prize means a lot to me. In fact, the subject of refugees in Germany is important to me. I believe the German public is very preoccupied with the theme and will continue to be so for a long time in the future.

Q: Why did you decide on this picture? Was it hard to choose just one image?

A: The picture is part of a series that was produced for Zeit Magazin and Zeit Online. Of course, it was tough to choose just one image out of a larger photo reportage. Even so, I thought that this one would work best as an individual picture, without having to explain too much.

Q: The Central Foreign Ministry and its branch offices serve as a first accommodation for refugees, but the building in your winning photo looks more like a prison. What exactly are we seeing in the picture?

A: In the picture we’re seeing the custody station for deportees. A particularity of the ZABH in Eisenhüttenstadt is that the property, a former police barracks, is both initial accommodation for refugees, as well as a place where those awaiting deportation are being held. It’s a small prison where refugees who are due to be deported and who may try to escape are being held.

Q: What role must photography play for subjects such as the issue of refugees?

A: I consider that with such issues, photography should play a very discrete role. The people and their daily lives should stand at the forefront, and not a photographer’s particular signature. In other words, as few photographic effects as possible.

Q: Can pictures make changes for the better?

A: I hope so. I believe that a sensitive report, both the images and the text, can help readers and viewers acquire a better understanding of the problems and suffering of others, and that, as a result, changes for the better can be made little by little.

Q: How did you come to photography?

A: Over 20 years ago I did an internship with the photographer Henning Christoph and his Das Fotoarchiv photo agency in Essen. After that one year of training, it was clear to me that I wanted to earn my living as a photographer. It’s rather hard for me to define my photography, however – maybe it’s best to call it photojournalistic.

Q: The prize you won is a Leica M with a Summarit-M 35 mm f/2.4 ASPH. lens. Had you already photographed with a Leica beforehand?

A: Yes, I used to have an analogue M6 and an M4, and later on I worked with a digital M9. A large part of the pictures from Eisenhüttenstadt were taken with the M9.

Q: What pictures do you want to take with the Leica in the future?

A: I’ll probably head back to the Ukraine quite soon, and I want to use the Leica there. I consider it the ideal reportage camera.

Q: What is the greatest praise you could receive for your pictures?

A: The greatest praise, in fact, is when they get published or when a private person wants a print of one of my pictures.

Thank you for your time, Sebastian!

– Leica Internet Team

Read our interview with Sebastian in its original German. Learn more about his work on his website.

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One comment

  • An interesting reportage about a situation which is shared by many countries, and I’m afraid it will become even bigger in future. The “only two windows are lit up” photo is absolutely strong, one case where a picture doesn’t need words. Kudos to Sebastian. And excellent pictures in his website, I particularly enjoyed the dialog series (N° 5 is special!).

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