Scholz replaces Merkel as Federal Chancellor: Live updates

For the photographer Herlinde Koelbl, the end of Angela Merkel’s term of office as Federal Chancellor is not only the end of a political era, but also the end of one of the oldest art projects in world politics.

Ms. Kölbl has been visiting Ms. Merkel almost every year since 1991 to take two portraits for the “Traces of Power” project, which aims to understand how politics changes the appearance and character of people.

“She was shy when I first photographed her and a bit clumsy,” recalls Ms. Koelbl, 82, in a recent telephone interview. “She said to me, ‘I’m not used to being photographed all the time. I don’t know what to do with my arms and hands. ‘”

The photographer initially selected 15 politicians for the project, including established names such as Gerhard Schröder, who became Federal Chancellor in 1998. Ms. Merkel, a former scientist, stood out not least because of her lack of vanity.

For her early photos, Ms. Merkel wore no make-up and “didn’t seem to care what she was wearing,” in contrast to some of Ms. Koelbl’s other models. Fashion was “just not important to her,” says Ms. Koelbl. “What she did was important to her: the work.”

As Ms. Merkel gained self-confidence as a politician, she began to relax in front of the camera, said Ms. Kölbl. In 1998, she first posed with her hands in a diamond shape – something that would become a trademark.

Credit…Herlinde Koelbl

Ms. Koelbl said she thought there was a simple reason for using the diamond: the squeezing of her thumbs forced her shoulders up, which made her look engaged. “If you have to listen to speeches for hours, you look very attentive, even if you are not,” says Ms. Koelbl.

During the first eight years of the project, Ms. Kölbl also interviewed Ms. Merkel in detail and asked deep questions about her political ambitions and others that seemed more suitable for therapy sessions.

In 1993 she asked Ms. Merkel how she dealt with the feeling of rejection and whether there were situations in her childhood in which she felt powerless. (Ms. Merkel replies by referring to the day her parents found out about the building of the wall and her mother burst into tears. “I wanted to help them, make them happy again, but I couldn’t,” she said).

In 1999 Ms. Koelbl stopped “Traces of Power”, but after Ms. Merkel became Chancellor in 2005, she decided to photograph her again. Ms. Merkel ran out of time for interviews, but agreed to sit down for photos once a year until she left, and the photos were all published in one book this year.

Credit…Roderick Aichinger for the New York Times

The current photos show Ms. Merkel as the politician who is so well known today: in pants and blazer, calmly staring into the lens. But Ms. Koelbl insists that the look of the Führer has changed constantly over the years.

“In the beginning she had very lively eyes,” says Ms. Kölbl, “and now she’s looking at you, but the liveliness is gone. The glow disappeared in her eyes. “

Ms. Koelbl emphasized that the move is not a bad thing to become Chancellor. “I think that’s only part of the toll you’ll have to pay in getting this job,” she said.


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