It’s dark in Eisenhüttenstadt. Only two windows are lit up and they have bars over them. A high fence cuts off the building. Sebastian Bolesch photographed the Zentrale Ausländerbehörde (ZABH) (Central Foreign Ministry) of the State of Brandenburg: an initial holding place for refugees, but also a place where people wait in custody to be deported. Bolesch’s picture earned him second prize in the Rückblende competition – meaning he is now the proud owner of a Leica M with lens, sponsored by Leica Camera AG.
Q: Congratulations on your win. What does this prize mean to you?
A: The prize means a lot to me. In fact, the subject of refugees in Germany is important to me. I believe the German public is very preoccupied with the theme and will continue to be so for a long time in the future.
Q: Why did you decide on this picture? Was it hard to choose just one image?
A: The picture is part of a series that was produced for Zeit Magazin and Zeit Online. Of course, it was tough to choose just one image out of a larger photo reportage. Even so, I thought that this one would work best as an individual picture, without having to explain too much.
Q: The Central Foreign Ministry and its branch offices serve as a first accommodation for refugees, but the building in your winning photo looks more like a prison. What exactly are we seeing in the picture?
A: In the picture we’re seeing the custody station for deportees. A particularity of the ZABH in Eisenhüttenstadt is that the property, a former police barracks, is both initial accommodation for refugees, as well as a place where those awaiting deportation are being held. It’s a small prison where refugees who are due to be deported and who may try to escape are being held.
Q: What role must photography play for subjects such as the issue of refugees?
A: I consider that with such issues, photography should play a very discrete role. The people and their daily lives should stand at the forefront, and not a photographer’s particular signature. In other words, as few photographic effects as possible.
Q: Can pictures make changes for the better?
A: I hope so. I believe that a sensitive report, both the images and the text, can help readers and viewers acquire a better understanding of the problems and suffering of others, and that, as a result, changes for the better can be made little by little.
Q: How did you come to photography?
A: Over 20 years ago I did an internship with the photographer Henning Christoph and his Das Fotoarchiv photo agency in Essen. After that one year of training, it was clear to me that I wanted to earn my living as a photographer. It’s rather hard for me to define my photography, however – maybe it’s best to call it photojournalistic.
Q: The prize you won is a Leica M with a Summarit-M 35 mm f/2.4 ASPH. lens. Had you already photographed with a Leica beforehand?
A: Yes, I used to have an analogue M6 and an M4, and later on I worked with a digital M9. A large part of the pictures from Eisenhüttenstadt were taken with the M9.
Q: What pictures do you want to take with the Leica in the future?
A: I’ll probably head back to the Ukraine quite soon, and I want to use the Leica there. I consider it the ideal reportage camera.
Q: What is the greatest praise you could receive for your pictures?
A: The greatest praise, in fact, is when they get published or when a private person wants a print of one of my pictures.
Thank you for your time, Sebastian!
– Leica Internet Team
Read our interview with Sebastian in its original German. Learn more about his work on his website.