Kreis Ahrweiler · Maximilian Mann and Aliona Kardash tell us what the five young photographers around the "Docks Collective" experienced in the weeks after the flood on the river Ahr and how their winning picture was taken.
They work as a collective - and that is not the only thing that makes the quintet of Maximilian Mann and Aliona Kardash special. Under the name "Docks Collective", the five photograph worldwide for established magazines and newspapers such as the Washington Post, Die Zeit, Spiegel and Stern. Most recently, they won the prestigious "Flashback Prize for Political Photography and Caricature" with a picture of the flood showing a lifeboat searching for survivors on the night of 15-16 July.
At the time of the disaster, in July last year, all five members of Docks Collective happened to be in Germany at the same time. Otherwise, their work takes the studied photographers to remote parts of the world like Iran or Siberia. "We quickly realised that something big was happening," says Mann. So they all immediately set off in the direction of the Ahr valley, and accommodation in the Eifel with acquaintances was also quickly found. They also agreed that they wanted to work consistently as a collective on this very special project. None of the pictures from the series about the flood in the Ahr valley bears an individual photo credit, not even the prize-winning picture. They also agreed that they had to define a common visual language for the project. Mann recalls: "Normally we already photograph very differently, but for the flood project we agreed on a uniform style." And Aliona Kardash adds, "We wanted a calm visual language and distance from fast, ordinary reporting."
Visited and photographed the entire Ahr valley in teams of two
It also fits with this point that they stayed on location for 14 days at once during the first phase of the flood. In teams of two, they tried to cover the entire Ahr valley. At that time, they did not have a specific client. In the end, however, Zeit magazine bought a number of pictures for a special edition. The pictures show exhausted helpers, a couple on the balcony of their ruined home still being washed by the water, a pile of rubbish from above or a muddy brown bathtub next to a pile of equally dirty clothes. The pictures thus reflect completely different phases of the catastrophe. Mann says: "It is totally important to us that we were not only on site for a few days. Especially when other press representatives are no longer there, we want to continue." And so it happens that he is going to the Ahr valley again this weekend. "If anyone wants to tell us an interesting story, they are welcome to contact us.“
Kardash is missing this revisit because she is currently researching for a new project in her hometown Tomsk in Siberia. But she can tell you exactly how the winning photo was taken, because she was there: "It was the first night after the flood and we were actually already super tired. We were driving through the vineyards, it must have been around 10pm, and that's when we saw the bright lights out of the corner of our eyes." She speculated that the boat, which had just passed through Dernau, had been searching for other survivors in the process. "Just before that, we had been talking to a man who had just been rescued from the roof not long before. He had been sending out SOS signals with his mobile phone light."
Climate change is also addressed in other photo projects by the collective
The Russian-born photographer can even draw a positive experience for herself from her experiences on the Ahr: "I've only lived in Germany for three years, but somehow I've come a little closer to the people, the Germans, through this project." And so she talks about how it impressed her that helpers and residents came together in the supply tents who otherwise would not have met. For Mann, whose work deals with climate change in many different ways, the Ahr disaster pays off in another way: "Now all the people see that climate change has also arrived in Germany."
Her work can now be seen all over the world. For example, it was also chosen by Time Magazine as one of the top 100 images from 2021. The fact that their picture, because they do not reveal the authorship until the end of the conversation, is now so visible makes them proud. But above all, Mann and Kardash, representing the collective, are happy that they can "make a small difference" with their work. And the photographic work on the Ahr is not yet finished for the five of them - a book project is currently in the initial planning phase. (Original text: Raphaela Sabel / Translation: Mareike Graepel)