Dirk Reinartz
Life and Work

The very best thing about light, however, is its other side - the shadow. For me, probably even more important than the light itself.

Dirk Reinartz 1994

Dirk Reinartz's career began in the early seventies when, still a student of photography with Otto Steinert at the Folkwangschule in Essen, he started working for stern. From 1971 to 1977, Dirk Reinartz photographed extensive reportages for the Hamburg-based magazine and quickly became known as a creative image author with a concise visual language with photo spreads from Greenland, Indonesia or the USA, but also with sensitive documentary shots and portraits rich in contrast.

In 1977, Dirk Reinartz left stern and joined the young agency VISUM. Founded in 1975 by three of his fellow students from the Folkwangschule für Gestaltung in Essen, André Gelpke, Gerd Ludwig and Rudi Meisel, the agency was clearly more social documentary-oriented than the big news magazine, and Dirk Reinartz now concentrated largely on social issues and aspects of people's everyday lives in Germany. He attentively followed the traces that the division of Germany and reunification left in people's everyday lives. His critical eye is evident in many photo spreads, which he continued to publish in stern and Merian, but above all in ZEITmagazin and art.

After moving to Buxtehude near Hamburg in 1982, his documentary photography and magazine publications were increasingly joined by extensive series of free works in black and white, but also in colour. For years he pursued questions and visual typologies, which he published as excellent illustrated books, mainly with Steidl in Göttingen. In Kein schöner Land (1989), Besonderes Kennzeichen: Deutsch (1990), Deutschland durch die Bank (1997) or Innere Angelegenheiten (2003) but also in Bismarck: Vom Verrat der Denkmäler (1991), his fine sense of historical context as well as his pointed humour are evident, with which he takes a look at the peculiarities of Germany and the Germans and makes them visible to the viewer. Reinartz was interested in examining a German identity with all its fractures and contradictions, its historical anchoring and its reorientation after 1989. He was interested in mental states and sensitivities, socio-political developments and cultural peculiarities of the FRG, and the situation in the GDR and German-German relations were also repeatedly the subject of his photographic work. In the publications, his reportage photography developed an independent narrative level parallel to the text, conveying supplementary content-related information.

His continued intensive travel activities - with a brief interruption in the years after 1978 - were reflected in the illustrated books Die Reise nach Pommern in Bildern (1987), Bismarck in Armerica (2000) and, posthumously compiled by Karin Reinartz from his originals, New York 1974 (2007).

Particularly noteworthy is Dirk Reinartz's series of works totenstill, published as a book in 1994 and exhibited many times worldwide. With a large number of photographs of the sites of Nazi concentration camps, totenstill is a typological examination of the theme of mass murder using the architectural relics of the camps and today's memorials in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, France, the Czech Republic and Poland. Reinartz photographed these places as silent yet speaking architectures, as deserted sites that as such evoke the painfully absent. With his silent photographs of desolate camp ruins and minimal artefacts of the events between 1939 and 1945, he traces the reverberations of the Holocaust. His series of works conveys a sense of the unimaginable horror of this immense crime, the murder of more than 6 million Jews and other persecuted people.

Dirk Reinartz's pictorial language is characterised by an often architectural pictorial structure, the conscious use of contrasts and the recurring use of image sections, some of which can be traced back to his student days with Otto Steinert. These formal design principles also characterise his intensive engagement with Richard Serra's steel sculptures and installations, for which he not only documented installation views but also the production process in foundries and steelworks all over the world from 1983 onwards.

From 1998 until his early death in 2004, Dirk Reinartz taught as a professor of photography at the Muthesius University of Art and Design in Kiel.

Dirk Reinartz's extensive archive is jointly preserved by the F.C. Gundlach Foundation and the Deutsche Fotothek Dresden. The jointly conceived archive of photographers at the Deutsche Fotothek shows online more than 2,000 already digitised motifs from his oeuvre.


  • 15 September 1947: born in Aachen

  • 1965 to 1968: apprenticeship as a photographer at Foto-Preim in Aachen

  • 1968 to 1971: studied photography at the Folkwangschule with Prof. Otto Steinert in Essen

  • 1970: awarded 1st prize in the stern competition"Jugend fotografiert Forschung"; travels to Japan with the stern photographer Eberhard Seeliger

  • 1971 to 1977: photo reporter at stern in Hamburg

  • 1975: appointed to the GDL (Society of German Photographers)

  • since 1977: member of the VISUM photo agency

  • 1978: appointed to the DGPh (German Society for Photography)

  • since 1978: no travels abroad for several years - the focus of his work during this period is on German social, cultural and historical topics

  • since 1982: freelance photographer in Buxtehude

  • since 1994: cooperation with Galerie m in Bochum

  • since 1998: Professor of Photography at the Muthesius University of Art and Design in Kiel

  • 27 March 2004: died in Berlin

Publications / Selection

  • The Journey to Pomerania in Pictures, Text: Christian Graf von Krockow, DVA, Stuttgart 1987

  • No Beautiful Country, Steidl Verlag, Göttingen 1989

  • Pictures of a Journey - Heinrich Heine in Italy, Text: Fritz J. Raddatz, C.J. Bucher, Munich 1989

  • Special features: German, Text: Wolfram Runkel, Steidl Publishing House, Göttingen 1990

  • Bismarck: On the Betrayal of Monuments, Text: Christian Graf von Krockow, Steidl Verlag, Göttingen 1991

  • Afangar (together with Richard Serra), Steidl Verlag, Göttingen 1991

  • Artists, Steidl Publishing House, Göttingen 1992

  • totenstill, text: Christian Graf von Krockow, Steidl Publishing House, Göttingen 1994

  • Brick Gothic in Northern Germany, Wienand Verlag, Cologne 1996

  • La Mormaire (together with Richard Serra), Richter Verlag, Düsseldorf 1997

  • Germany through the Bank, Steidl Verlag, Göttingen 1997

  • Bismarck in America, Steidl Verlag, Göttingen 2000

  • Richard Serra - Torqued Spirals, Toruses and Spheres, accompanying the exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery New York, Steidl Verlag, Göttingen 2001

  • Gebrannte Erde - The Sculptural Work of Günter Grass, Steidl Verlag, Göttingen 2002

  • Inner Affairs, Steidl Publishing House, Göttingen 2003

  • Richard Serra - Dirk's Pod, Steidl Verlag, Göttingen 2004

  • Te Tuhirangi Contour, Steidl Verlag, Göttingen 2005

  • New York 1974, Steidl Verlag, Göttingen 2007

  • Hamburg - St. Georg 1981, Steidl Publishing House, Göttingen 2010

Solo Exhibitions / Selection

  • 1975: New Yorker, Gallery at the Neupforte Aachen

  • 1977: With and without commission, Staatliche Landesbildstelle Hamburg

  • 1978: Dirk Reinartz / VISUM, Photogalerie Lichtblick Dortmund

  • 1986: New Home. A Small Town, e.g. Buxtehude, Goethe Institutes in Dundee, Umea, Zagreb, Glasgow, Thessaloniki, Athens, Singapore, Tokyo etc.

  • 1989: No Beautiful Country, Art Collection of the University of Göttingen

  • 1992: Artists, VISUM Gallery Hamburg

  • 1994: totenstill, Galerie m Bochum, further stations until 2000 at Goethe Institute São Paulo, National Gallery Warsaw, Saarland Museum Saarbrücken, Neue Nationalgalerie Berlin, Museum voor Fotografie Antwerpen, Scalo Gallery New York, Konsthall Malmö a.o.O.

  • 2003: Inner Affairs, Martin-Gropius-Bau Berlin

  • 2006: Dirk Reinartz - Bismarck and Bismarck in America, Galerie m Bochum

  • 2010: Dirk Reinartz - Photographs, Suermondt-Ludwig Museum Aachen

  • 2011: Dirk Reinartz - dead silent, Goethe Institute Paris

Group Exhibitions / Selection

  • 1975: Star Photographers, Workshop for Photography, VHS Kreuzberg

  • 1979: Photography made in Germany 1919-1975 - The GDL Photographers, Munich City Museum

  • 1985: Contemporary German Photographers, Museum of Photography Braunschweig

  • 1988: Self Portraits, PPS. Gallery F.C. Gundlach Hamburg

  • 1991: Otto Steinert and Pupils, Museum Folkwang Essen

  • 1996: The German Eye, Deichtorhallen Hamburg

  • 2007: Silence. Dirk Reinartz and students, PaK Glückstadt, with further stations in Kiel, Stuttgart, Berlin, Wolfsburg, Buxtehude

  • 2013: CONCRETE. Photography and Architecture, Fotomuseum Winterthur