Portrait of an Artist as an Old Man
"Past, Present, Future" (2017)
This series tells the life of Fritz Dressler (1937-2020), a landscape and architectural photographer who suffered from Alzheimer’s for several years. He also was formerly Professor of Photography and »Moving Images« at the University of the Arts in Bremen. We met on the occasion of a photofestival that took place in the artist village of Worpswede in Northern Germany, where Fritz resided for more than 40 years. He was known for his influential and creative personality that - despite his dementia - had left him a charming and deeply expressive character when I got to know him in 2016. Fritz became my headstrong longterm-documentary’s subject. When he was no longer able to call his illness by its name, he sometimes resignedly acknowledged, »Actually, I don’t know anything anymore.« But his self-awareness – as someone who sees himself as an artist and thus preserves his presence – was still alive until his death: »I am not dead, I’m still walking!«
In my work I am completely committed to the emotional reality of my charismatic protagonist: his intensity, vulnerability and resilience define the portraits of his soul.
Portrait of an Artist as an Old Man erzählt vom letzten Lebensabschnitt des an Alzheimer erkrankten Landschafts- und Architektur-fotografen Fritz Dressler (1937-2020), der auch als Hochschul-Professor für Fotografie unterrichtete. Die über einen Zeitraum von zweieinhalb Jahren fotografierte Schwarzweiß-Serie ist ganz der gefühlten Lebenswirklichkeit und den Emotionen des charismatischen Protagonisten verpflichtet. Angeregt durch die gemeinsam verbrachte Zeit empfand Dressler große Freude und Stolz wieder selbst zu fotografieren: sehnsuchtsvolle Farbbilder seiner unmittelbaren Umgebung, insbesondere Landschafts- und Wolkenbilder, und seine Zitate verleihen ihm als unmittelbar Betroffenem eine Stimme. Intention der Arbeit ist es, einen von Einfühlungsvermögen geprägten gesellschaftlichen Dialog zu inspirieren, welcher mehr Respekt, Teilhabe und Wirkmacht von an Alzheimer und Demenz erkrankten Menschen einfordert.
During the two years I photographed Fritz, he found immense pleasure and pride in falling back on taking pictures himself
— it had a meaning-giving quality for him then.
Fritz never had intellectual inside into my actions and motifs, but he was always my emotional counterpart.
Walking With Fritz, 2017
Adding Fritz’s longing color images of his immediate surroundings, clouds, and above all the landscape he deeply loved
- taken when walking with me or his partner - transforms
Portrait of an Artist as an Old Man
into some kind of collaborative narrative which it has been in so many ways.
©Fritz Dressler (2016-2018)
Find a 31-page-article about the background story with some final images made by Fritz Dressler here:
Voices from Jurors of Photolucida’s TOP 50 Critical Mass 2020, US:
"Stunning series obviously seen through a patient and empathetic eye. Each image feels important to the series, I wouldn’t change a single thing in your submission - rare!"
"I have seen several series of work by artists
focusing on the issue of Alzheimer's and dementia—yours is the most compelling body of work to date. I think the focus of making an extended empathetic and
full portrait of one person, and really engaging with them as a fellow peer as opposed to a photographer to a subject, makes this body of work singular. [...]"
"Hello Mirja - This is a poignant and beautiful series, it is obvious you have invested yourself in this person's story and have spent the time with him needed to produce strong work. [...]" Laura Moya, Director Photolucida
"Great project Mirja, and great sequencing and storytelling. Best of luck!" Madeline Yale Preston
I appreciate the respect and tenderness with which you approached your subject and topic. [...] You and other photographers are humanizing a health reality. [...]"
J. Sybylla Smith
Selected Awards and publications:
2022 European Journal of Life Writing, University of Groningen Press: Portrait of an Artist as an Old Man, https://doi.org/10.21827/ejlw.11.38399
2021 Honorable Mention (series documentary/reportage), 16th Julia Margaret Cameron Award for Women Photographers, US
2020 Critical Mass Top 50, US mirja-maria-thiel
2020 Shortlist Wellcome Photography Prize (Wellcome Trust), UK
2020 Bronze (single, Portrait) Px3 Prix de la Photographie, Paris
2019 Bronze (Editorial/Essay) Moskow International Photo Awards, Russia
2019 "Remarkable Artwork" International Photo Awards Siena SIPA, Italy
2019 Nominee Felix Schoeller Photo Award (Best Work by an Emerging Photographer), Germany
2018 Silver (Portfolio) Tokyo International Foto Awards, TIFA, Japan
2018 Finalist VGH-Fotopreis, Hannover, Germany