Steffen Diemer: A New Sense of Closeness

Steffen Diemer is a documentary photographer working for internationally renowned magazines and companies. Time and again he has paid visits to Afghanistan to document the life conditions of the people there, for some months now with the help of the Leica S2.

Q: Mr. Diemer, since when have you worked as a professional photographer?

A: Only since 2005. Prior to that, I had been active in the advertising industry though, of course, I had been photographing before my decision to become a freelancer. I wanted to do something which has a deeper, more long-lasting meaning and my passion has now become my profession.

Q: You have established your reputation as a photographer in very short time with pictures of the crisis and war theatre of Afghanistan, along with your other works. Why have you returned to that country for years?

A: I have been in Afghanistan since 1998; at that time the Taliban were at the height of their power in Kabul. I made my first photo story, without any assignment, on the profound upheaval caused by the Taliban. Since that time, I have been fascinated by the culture, the politics and, most of all, the people of that country.

Q: By now, you are working for renowned magazines, amongst others …

A: I am working for the German news magazine “Spiegel” and the British newspaper “The Guardian”. I also work with The Cover Story agency that merchandizes my photo stories throughout the world. At the same time, I work for clients from the industrial field.

Q: But still, Afghanistan remains the focus of your work. When were you there last?

A: Four weeks ago. I had once again resumed my work on the long-time documentation concerning the United Nations’ millennium targets that had been set up in 2000. These targets include the reduction of child and maternal mortality, as well as poverty and hunger. From my former travels I know the poverty, especially of children, in Afghanistan. So I have made up my mind to document the impacts, or rather, the missing impacts of the UN targets in the country. Take, for example, Badaghshan in the Northeast of Afghanistan: there the child and maternal mortality has increased steadily and the region is by now among those with the highest rates on the whole planet.

Q: Why is that?

A: The region is fairly out of reach since there are no paved roads. The conditions of life are extremely hard, not only in winter. There is no adequate supply of food and medicine. Under such conditions pregnant women, young mothers and their babies suffer most.

Q: What keeps you coming back to Afghanistan?

A: There are many photographers who stay in Afghanistan for only some days. In that way, you can produce snapshots of the situations only. But I am interested in producing a long-term, contextual documentation on the country, its people and their problems.

Q: Your work is exceptional. It is also exceptional that you are using a Leica S2.

A: Well, I have owned the S2 since July 2010. On my last visit to Afghanistan, I met Uli Gack who is working for ZDF. He said the S2 is almost too precious to take it into a crisis region, but I answered that this Leica camera is ideally suitable for such tasks. It is hardwearing, handy despite its size and at the same time quite inconspicuous for a medium format camera.

Q: Despite the grim conditions your pictures show, they also have a sense of “art”.

A: Thank you for that compliment. In fact, I am trying to capture the atmosphere of situations and to put emphasis on details. In that respect, the S2 performs perfectly. Thanks to the lenses’ enormous depth of focus and their high light level, the atmosphere is shown as it actually was. I am always delighted in how the transition from light to shadow is mastered. And the colours are rendered absolutely true to nature. These features help a great deal to produce authentic, tangible pictures.

Q: Has the camera in some way changed your method of work?

A: Definitely and that is exactly the reason why I would never like to do without the S2. Which does not mean, of course, that I think I did only superficial work with my previous cameras. But since I have been using the S2, I have more opportunity to intensely think over situations and the composition of pictures. And thus, I can, as a photographer, achieve a new closeness, a more direct access to my environment than I had experienced before.

Mr. Diemer, thank you very much!

- Andreas Dippel

Starting February 16, 2011 photographs by Steffen Diemer will be shown in an exhibition at the Kunstverein Worms. Diemer’s Afghanistan photographs will later be shown in Mannheim Castle.

You can see more of Steffen’s work on his website, www.steffendiemer.com.

The original interview is also available in German.