Volker Hinz by Wolfgang Wesener

©wowe / Volker Hinz, 1985

The great narrative of Volker Hinz’ pictures is about people.

“People want to see people” was his maxim. This, first and foremost, is what his photos are about. Even when no people are depicted in his work, their traces can be seen. The varied street signs at a crossroads can say as much about a country as a dancing crowd at a concert. Roadkill lying in the street can stir as many ideas as the image of a blind singer looking in a mirror.

There is a story in every photograph by Volker Hinz — sometimes several stories at once. His pictures are always filled to the brim with gestures, with lines, with movement, with glints of light. It is as if they want to explode from their very frames. From these, the observer is always keenly aware that the story behind the picture is still going on. Thus is curiosity born. He saw this as his primary function as a reporter and as an artist.

He always saw pictures as a means of communication, a medium for the sharing of oneself. This is why when his career began in the early 1970s, he would often send postcards from his voyages in distant lands to his mother and his sister. The writing on these postcards was often pithy: a simple “Greetings from...” or “I’m doing well.” Nothing more was needed; the picture on the postcard was the message. Later he would acquire postcards and photo books from every museum, building an extensive collection, and always on the lookout for inspiring subjects.

He looked to pictures to be stimulated and entertained, and he made his photographs for the stimulation and entertainment of others. His pictures are always made with a wink. There is always thought behind his photographs, and they always tell stories — both his own and those of his subjects. Bernd Graff described this quality as “Doppelblickig (double viewed)” in the SZ.

Volker Hinz was one of the best photographers and people-watchers in all of Germany. He collected views of the old Bundesrepublik, always seeing them in ways nobody else could. It was never disrespectful, sarcastic, or derogatory, even though he sometimes called his photographs “Böse Bilder (wicked pictures).”

Chancellor Helmut Kohl pictured between the rear ends of horses — that is more funny and touching than it is vicious, so that you almost feel sorry for the subject. You feel a similar kind of empathy on seeing Yves Saint Laurent laying flat on the floor and peering (cheerfully but almost anxiously) through a hole in the decoration so that he can follow the public reaction to his runway show.

The breadth of Volker Hinz’s oeuvre is immense. The gamut runs from still-lifes to portraits of politicians and captains of industry, poets and thinkers, athletes and artists, fashion designers and media-makers — the profession did not really matter. The sole criterion: Volker was drawn only to those whom he could respect. He always wanted to learn. As Peter-Matthias Gaede said in his eulogy, “He was a collector of people, but not a paparazzo.”

His reading was as eclectic as his work. He preferred society papers and fashion magazines, from which he tore piles of pages. These formed the kernels of his own pictures. The gesture of a hand, the turn of a head, the position of a leg; all provided inspiration for his next portraits. Even as a rank beginner earning no money in the profession, he would frequent newstands or go to the Amerikahaus to find inspiration. Here he could find the international magazines, and he was eager to see what other photographers depicted. “You have to read your fathers” was a favorite saying of Volker’s. And so, during his career of more than 40 years as a photographer, he created an enormous visual library in his mind, a giant school of vision, which he updated continuously with unceasing interest in the work of fellow photographers, until the end of his life. Photography for him was more than a passion; it was an obsession. “The world is photographed,” he once said in an interview, “You do not have to show anything anymore, and you cannot do anything against the constant creation of pictures. The flattening of reality goes with it.” Against this background, he tried to place his own, subjective image of the world. "You have to be obsessed with what you do. And I am". That was Volker Hinz. One of Germany’s best, and truly exceptional photographer.