CV Claus Rottenbacher, born 1965, lives and works in Berlin. Trained as an engineer, he worked as an employed management consultant and independent entrepreneur for several years after his doctorate. Since 2004 he has been working as a photographer on freelance artistic series as well as on commissioned works. His free works focus on socio-political topics such as the handling of power (Prostratio), the significance of European borders (Non Plus Ultra) or migration in the 21st century (Land of Promise). His commissioned works are dedicated to portrait photography of spaces and people.
Claus Rottenbacher and his wife have been travelling to Lampedusa for seventeen years. It began when they brought a film to the tiny island in the Mediterranean. Politically, Lampedusa belongs to Italy. Geographically, however, only 138km off the coast of Tunisia, it belongs to Africa. The "gateway to Europe" is known because of media coverage about its migration flows, often resulting in fatalities on the open sea. What many people do not know is that the fishing island is a popular holiday destination for Italians. During the summer months, large charter planes fly daily. Tourists and refugees hardly come into contact with each other - for them, Lampedusa is only a short stopover on their way to the mainland. In 2015, the former mayor of the island received the Stuttgart Peace Prize for her social interaction with migrants. While the political tone has coarsened in recent years, nothing has changed the perspective of the island fishermen. It remains clear, every person in distress must be rescued. In a boat accident in 2013, not all refugees from Africa could be saved. Of the 545 who began the journey, 366 died. In memory of the dead, Pope Francis gave the parish a cross in 2018. As the crucifix was delivered, wrapped in blue foil and tied tightly, Claus Rottenbacher happened to be nearby and captured the moment.
Unlike his previous series, "Land of Promise" is not photographed analogue, but was shot digitally while travelling on a Vespa in 2018. The spontaneous snapshots transport the viewer to the island and invite them to stay. You feel the heat, smell the sea and enjoy the luxury of nature. The ambiguity of the pictures becomes apparent moments later. But it is precisely this ambiguity that is the hallmark of Rottenbacher's photography. The artist gives viewers time to find their way through the image without being instructive. For him, the photographic works are at best discussed in human terms, not politically. In the "Promised Land", holiday paradise and the promises of Europe, stand face to face: "Truth is legitimate, one must not close their eyes", says the photographer.
Text: Barbara Green, Photo: Meike Kenn