"My disability provides new artistic prospects for me"

Interview with Markus Georg Reintgen, Art Photographer

Photography plays a pivotal role in the life of artist Markus Georg Reintgen. He has been in a wheelchair since an accident. Yet this does not prevent him from thoroughly observing and capturing his surroundings. In search of new motifs, the art photographer travels the world.


Photo: Markus Georg Reintgen

Markus Georg Reintgen; © markus georg reintgen

In this interview with REHACARE.com, he explains why the subject of "war" is especially important to him and how his sitting position gives him a brand-new perspective.

Mr. Reintgen, you keep addressing the subject of "war" in your work. Why is that?

Reintgen: On the one hand, this topic seems very abstract. Major events like the Battle of Verdun already happened 100 years ago for instance. This time frame makes them no longer palpable for our society. At the same time, the topic is also very current. Germany is affected by war, for example, due to the Paris terror attacks or the migrant crisis. Everyone talks about the "War on Terror". I have dealt with this subject very early on – in part because it shaped the lives of my grandfathers. It is important for me to take a stand and remind people of the past. Many things are accelerated by previous events, as is the case with the Nazi terror for example. Things can happen faster than you think; things can happen that nobody would then be able to control.

What is the allure of photography for you?

Reintgen: The aspect of temporalization. Photography provides – apart from the existing technical innovations – a dimension that is hard to grasp. You might say I understand things in a more encoded way. I am translating. I am also very interested in the philosophical aspects. There is the aspect of deceleration for example. Working with a camera creates a very special dimension of encountering the world. This has always fascinated me. I have a hard time putting things in words and am better at expressing myself in pictures.
Photo: beach with a wooden barrier at Utah Beach (France)

Work "longest day (utah beach)" from 2007: Wheelchair tracks can be seen in the sand of Utah Beach (France); © markus georg reintgen

How do you typically work?

Reintgen: I work on projects that sometimes run for many years. Many themes keep recurring. I currently have a 6-month project scholarship awarded and funded by the Rhineland-Palatinate state. The subject is Prora, the former KdF (Strength through Joy) beach resort on the island of Rügen, Germany. I have been working on this project since 2008. The goals I have frequently encountered through various types of communication channels have often evolved over time. And then there are fixed concepts like "Normandy" or "Verdun" that don’t require extensive research because they have become part of our collective memory as a synonym for war.

You automatically have a different perspective of the world as a wheelchair user. To what extent does this inspire your choice of motifs?

Reintgen: I try to find interpretations that are inevitably different thanks to my unique perspective. I won’t give you images of bunkers at Normandy that sink into the sand because I am not able to get any closer than the sand dunes. I don’t perceive this as a disadvantage but simply make the best of it. My work contains different elements that have a philosophical or rather metaphorical background.

When it comes to the camera, I see my world differently, thanks to my sitting position of course. I see it from a certain "view from below", which is by no means a worm’s eye view. I assume a type of "intermediate level position" that always leads me to develop a perspective that a standing person is not able to experience. Typically, nobody sits down in the scene. Many artists prefer extremes. They lie down on the ground or use drones to fly over landscapes. I view this as an opportunity and have developed a good eye for things.
Photo: airplane in green and red - in front of it: red people

Work "back in black" from 2008: Some of the images are finished with Photoshop to make contrasts more intense; © markus georg reintgen

If you look around our cultural landscape, how do artists with disabilities fare?

Reintgen: I know from Bea Gellhorn, the CEO of the online art gallery Insider Art, as well as from other colleagues that it is generally a tough environment. At least, you quickly perceive it as such because you often feel the need to fight. I also believe this notion generally applies to artists, regardless of whether they have a disability or not. Historically, being an artist has always been a somewhat precarious situation. Some artists make a quantum leap, but they are few and far between. I am really lucky to live here in the Rhineland-Palatinate. My work is appreciated and supported, as is evident by the aforementioned current scholarship for example.

In your point of view, what needs to be done to make the cultural scene more inclusive?

Reintgen: There is always a need for a more inclusive environment. You can always find fault with a situation. I believe that thanks to the persistent efforts of people like Miss Gellhorn and others who have worked tirelessly on these issues for many years, people’s perceptions will change sooner or later. This is subsequently also reflected in persons with disabilities being able to participate in the cultural scene thanks to scholarships and artist grants. I am very grateful to people like Miss Gellhorn who are committed to helping persons with disabilities participate in the cultural scene and beyond.
Foto: Melanie Günther; Copyright: B. Frommann

© B. Fromman

Melanie Günther
(translated by Elena O'Meara)