back to previous site


On the death of Andreas Herzau



Hamburg, Schulterblatt, summer 2017: autonomous protesters and police officers engage in an hours-long battle on the street. The riots at the G20 summit in Hamburg are the worst the Hanseatic city has seen since the 1980s. Andreas Herzau has been photographing all day, decides to take a break, goes into his flat, sits down by the open window, pours himself a glass of red wine, smokes a cigarette, the camera next to him. At this moment, a scene takes place on a rooftop opposite, he takes a photo and wins the most important prize for political photography in Germany, the "Rückblende".

The foreword to his book "Moscow" provides something of an explanation for this apparent "luck": "I am forced to be attentive ... to open myself ... and to realise that there is nothing more beautiful than taking photographs - to understand."

It is all the more astonishing that Andreas Herzau was not a "trained" photographer. He approached his later vocation from the other side: trained as a typesetter and typographer at the Tübingen Chronicle, he worked as a production manager at Cantz'sche Druckerei in Stuttgart, did a traineeship at the Hamburg magazine Konkret, became "chief of service" at the Hamburger Rundschau as an editor, before discovering photography for himself as a freelance author. As a political person, he was not content with commissions for newspapers and magazines, but initiated the "Exodus" project together with his colleagues from the Signum group of authors and photographers, the UNHCR and a number of other international NGOs, which was exhibited internationally and published as a book.

For me, however, the photographic work of Andreas and Signum is not the decisive memory of the 1990s, but the "Jour Fixe", which regularly brought together picture editors and photographers in the agency's offices. With the help of a Kodak Carousel projector and reproductions on slide film, work could be presented and discussed in a friendly atmosphere with beer, wine and snacks. I still miss those evenings today.

The community, the togetherness, the social aspect was always very important to Andreas and after the dissolution of Signum, he repeatedly brought together friendly colleagues, whether in Hamburg's Schanzenstraße or later in Bockup in the countryside. He became a co-founder of an informal group that has been meeting for many years at different locations to discuss work, eat together and sometimes even take "communicative sightseeing flights over the Petri dish of visual communication", as Klaus Elle so aptly put it.

Perhaps the decisive encounter for his further photographic work in the 2000s was the invitation from the art magazine ART to discuss the future of photojournalism with Gilles Peress in New York. Andreas used the hours of jet lag to drift through the city, taking photographs, knowing that it was actually impossible to wring unseen images from this city. After his return, aeroplanes crashed into towers, he travelled there again, immediately afterwards and then again in 2002. The large-format book New York, which was published the following year, can be read as a blueprint for everything that followed. Certainly influenced by Peress, but also by William Klein, Andreas sequences his images as a kind of "stream of consciousness". The photos, visually complex, even radical, are cut one after the other, sometimes in colour, sometimes in black and white. In the accompanying text, Christoph Ribbat writes: "Herzau's pictures deal with (...) the nervousness that arises when the city suddenly no longer makes sense. They document the urban melee, the sudden, unavoidable confrontation (...) as harshly as the garish colours that repeatedly interrupt the black and white cycle."

Although the pictures no longer form self-contained, obvious reportages, the works have a political dimension. Andreas saw the street as a stage on which a social play is performed, ambiguous, yet of social relevance. This is continued in the later books Moscow, Germany, Helvetia and Liberia. Germany in particular, whose publication date of 2006 involuntarily brings to mind a media-mystified "summer fairytale", could be read as an abstract reference to the present day. Elisabeth Biondi aptly remarks in the accompanying text: "Cleverly juxtaposing the old and the new, I see the orderly and the obsessively cultivated, the fearsomely clean Germany, the same sad faces of older people who are always worried." And voting AfD, one might add.

My favourite book, however, is Calcutta-Bombay, a road trip. Photographed for a magazine, the viewer realises how extraordinarily confident Andreas Herzau was in using his aesthetic means. Free of any exoticism, one senses the pleasure of the image-maker in appropriating the journey in terms of form and content.

If that were all, it would be a lot. In addition to his photographic work, Andreas Herzau has also become involved in the discourse. He has written texts, given lectures and exhibited internationally. Beyond photography, his great passion was mediation. He has taught at the Haus Busch Journalism Centre in Hagen, at the FH Bielefeld, at the Ostkreuzschule, was a visiting professor in Karlsruhe, a lecturer at the Burg in Halle and for many semesters as a lecturer in Bremen, where he has also recently taught as a deputy professor. He also organised and held workshops with a wide variety of institutions. He was a people person. Andreas loved to debate, defended his position with passion, was never dominant, always friendly, clever and had a sense of humour. So when asked, after he had photographed his most unusual assignment, the election campaign for Hamburg's conservative mayor Ole von Beust in authentic black and white, whether he now had to vote for him, he replied: "He only paid for the photography."

The last big success of his life was to transform the laif agency into a co-operative together with colleagues. Andreas was one of the first board members of the co-operative and was the driving force behind the subsequent establishment of the affiliated laif foundation, another way of strengthening independent photojournalism. Last spring, Andreas was diagnosed with carcinoma. He communicated the diagnosis openly, gave the cancer the name Kurt on Instagram and was optimistic that he would beat it. He didn't make it. Andreas Herzau died in the early days of February at his home in Bockup. I miss him and am very sad.

Peter Bialobrzeski

This obituary was previously published in PHOTONEWS 3/24.

Note from the PHOTONEWS editorial team: Andreas Herzau's estate has been taken over by the F.C. Gundlach Foundation. The photographer and the foundation's managing director Sebastian Lux agreed this in 2023 and have met several times in recent months to process the archive.


published on: