An odyssey of European portraits | Carsten Sander

German photographer Carsten Sander speaks to TEODOR RELJIC ahead of a visit to Malta during the first week of September, where he will be taking portraits of locals as part of the Faces of Europe project, an 80-day, EU-wide photographic road trip through which Sander will attempt to capture the eclectic variety of the Union’s citizenry from his mobile studio

Carsten Sander and his team sourcing portraits for the Faces of Europe project at the Estonian capital of Tallinn
Carsten Sander and his team sourcing portraits for the Faces of Europe project at the Estonian capital of Tallinn

First off, could you tell us a little bit about your personal trajectory as a photographer? What were some of the most important milestones of your career, and what are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned along the way?

I can’t say that there were certain moments that made me realise that I would become a photographer. It is and was much more about the mix of meeting special personalities, design, architecture and travel. It’s less of a lesson than an ongoing experience in self-reflection, which flows back positively into the work process.

How would you say the Faces of Europe project reflects your history as a photographer, and your aesthetic approach? Why was it natural for you to take on a project of this kind?

The idea for this project is actually a logical continuation of my previous work ‘Heimat’, which I had done in Germany. That project was more about the inner conflict of the German self-image, whereas this one is about representing the wide emotional spectrum, and the inherent strength, of the citizens of Europe.

How has the project changed in the wake of the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic?

We drove 5,000km detours, did some COVID tests, canceled flights from special guests who wanted to accompany us on our trip in stages, and stood at border controls for a long time at night. Since then, I have to say that my team and I have come to love and appreciate open borders. We found the closed variety to be particularly strange.

The idea for this project is actually a logical continuation of my previous work ‘Heimat’, which I had done in Germany
The idea for this project is actually a logical continuation of my previous work ‘Heimat’, which I had done in Germany

You will be visiting Malta in the coming days. What are your hopes and aspirations for Malta’s own contribution to this wide-ranging EU project?

We hope for support with the various selection of interesting people who stand for Malta. Then there are the people that we will select intuitively, in the hopes of creating an interesting and complete ‘Malta mix’.

How would you describe the realities that artistic photographers like yourself face in your native Germany? What are some of the key challenges that they face, and what would you change about the scene in general?

Artists are experiencing a hard time during these very particular times, and not just in Germany. Continuity is certainly a big issue right now. Orders and sales have been rendered irregular, while studio and apartment rents remain regularly expected. The possibility of a universal basic income should certainly be considered in light of all this. Otherwise, art and culture is doomed to die out slowly.

What’s next for you?

Cyprus!

Faces of Europe is a cultural-political project initiated by Düsseldorf-based photographer Carsten Sander in cooperation with the German Federal Foreign Office
Faces of Europe is a cultural-political project initiated by Düsseldorf-based photographer Carsten Sander in cooperation with the German Federal Foreign Office

About the project

Faces of Europe is a cultural-political project initiated by Düsseldorf-based photographer Carsten Sander in cooperation with the German Federal Foreign Office.

In 80 days through Europe: an extraordinary journey takes German photo artist Carsten Sander through all EU member states. In his new project Faces of Europe, he draws a modern and colorful picture of European citizens.

Through the eye of his lens we see not only one, but one thousand faces of the European Union - an impressive demonstration of European sentiment and an opus about peaceful coexistence and cooperation. Through his portraits, Carsten Sander presents one union, enormous diversity united in tolerance and shared values. A beautiful idea of unity and uniqueness.

The importance of the project

The European idea is one of peace, shared values and prosperity. However, to many this idea seems to lose its appeal. Growing nationalism criticism of the EU and its institutions are the results. This project aims to be a counterweight to the political-administrative aspect of the European Union, which is proportionally overrepresented in the media. Instead, it centers in a contemporary way on the humanity, emotionality, and visionary power of the European idea. Faces of Europe is a special photo project, which will be realized over a period of three months across Europe, from Rome to Riga, from Dublin to Bilbao. The artist Carsten Sander travels with his Faces of Europe-mobile home in EU-blue and collects portraits, interviews and videos of special Europeans of all walks of life at his stops along the way.

Unsurprisingly, the COVID-19 pandemic has also impacted directly on the project, as it has all our lives. One thousand faces of the EU were to be portrayed, 27 countries to be visited – but the moment the mobile studio was ready to go coincided with the beginning of a lockdown in most EU member states.  The first photos of this exhibition were taken of citizens from all EU member states living in Berlin. Finally, in mid-June, Sander was able to start his tour throughout the EU and will now, picture by picture, expand the exhibition with further portraits.

Faces of Europe forms part of the cultural programme of the German presidency of the Council of the European Union. For more information on the project, visit: https://www.facesofeurope.eu/. To find out more about Carsten Sander, visit: https://carstensander.com/

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