Herlinde Koelbl - Photographer

written on 03/12/2020
by Heidrun Strobl

Herlinde Koelbl and her approach towards Art and Science

Herlinde Koelbl is one of the most famous German photographers. Born in 1937 in Lindau she first studied fashion design.

When she was 37, a friend introduced her to photography. As a pure autodidact she took the leap into the world of international recognised photographers.

Her focus is on long-term studies of people, their living spaces and favourite things. She dedicates between two to almost 30 years to a cycle.

The first project she became famous for was  “das deutsche Wohnzimmer” (the German living room). 

A classic of German history in photography. For this she took pictures of people of different social classes in their living rooms. Years later she pushed it further and it became the look into their Schlafzimmer (bedrooms).

Her most famous long-term model is probably Angela Merkel. For 29 years now she has been taking a portrait of her every year.

These pictures are collected in the cycle “Spuren der Macht” (traces of power). Have a look ! You will come across other famous politicians.

The study deals with how holding a political office changes people.

There are so many other books and projects by her. Titles such as Jewish portraits, Fluesterpost, Targets and Hair being just a few of them.

To photograph somebody is always a dialogue too.

She sees herself not only as a photographer but as a photo reporter as well. By having a good conversation with the people she photographs, she allows them time to unwind, open up and feel comfortable with her..

Her recently finished cycle may gain particular interest here at the JRC. In this project she puts in the foreground the playfulness and the fascination that drives every researcher.

For more than 5 years she has portrayed 60 of the world’s most famous scientists. This also includes this year’s Nobel prize winners for Chemistry Emmanuelle Charpentier.

She asked her subjects to write downthe quintessence of their research in form of a formula, quote or philosophy on their hand.

The result of this extraordinary study is called “Faszination Wissenschaft” (fascination of science). You can visit this exhibition during a virtual tour of the “Brandenburgischer Akademie der Wissenschaften”.

I also can highly recommend listening to an interview with her. You can find it in the SWR Mediathek. Unfortunately it is only available in German.

She is an incredibly bright woman. When you listen to her, you do no longer feel afraid of aging. 


Have look to her exhibition called Targets: