BERLIN, Germany (September 30, 2023) – The Ostkreuzschule für Fotografie in Berlin is a renowned academy for documentary and artistic photography. Leo Söllner, a recent graduate who grew up in Ansbach-Hennenbach, "next door" to United States Army Garrison (USAG) Ansbach's Urlas Kaserne, featured the military installation and its inhabitants in his graduation project.
To graduate from this prestigious school, students are required to develop a graduate portfolio of photographs with the ambition of being selected for the desirable annual graduation exhibition. Söllner's work made the cut and became part of the photo exhibition by the graduating class of 22 students at Konnekt Gallery Berlin. His exhibition portfolio, which can be viewed at https://www.jahrgangsiebzehn.de/projekte/leo-sollner, introduces him as "a photographer who focuses on the relationship between people and their living conditions, social ties and local environments."
Developing a photo portfolio and coming up with a unique and publicly interesting theme is a challenging undertaking. Recalling his experiences peering through the Army fenceline as a child but never having been inside, Söllner formulated the idea of a series of photographs centering around "peeking over the fence" of the U.S. military installation in Ansbach, home to the American neighbors he grew up next to.
USAG Ansbach supported this project by granting Söllner insights into various aspects of life in the military community. With the help of the Public Affairs office, Söllner spent many hours attending events, shooting countless photos with his sophisticated analog camera, and contemplating desirable photographic objects in and around the U.S. military community footprint.
During a visit to Ansbach Middle High School, Söllner was introduced to the Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps (JROTC) program. He observed the students' training sessions and got to know the group of students. He recognized the ambivalence as they appeared to be typical teenagers on the one hand and the transformation they went through once they donned the uniform of a JROTC student. Söllner focused on the artistic contrasts he saw in the students as he accompanied them during their daily lives at school and JROTC training. He became fascinated with the transformation of the students' perspectives and the change of atmosphere he witnessed and subsequently captured in his photographs.
In consequence, Leo formulated a title for the series of photos that he contributed to the graduate exhibition:
"Nothing's Solid, Nothing's Permanent" is a portrait of Lauren, aged 15. She lives with her family on a U.S. military base close to my hometown, Ansbach, Germany. The project sheds light on her life as a military child, as well as the uncertainties of growing up in this challenging environment during a major period of personal transition.
Söllner was highly appreciative of the opportunity to gain this artistic insight into military life: "It was such an extraordinary experience and such an unknown territory for me despite the physical proximity to the base throughout my entire life."
To show his appreciation, Leo invited the USAG Ansbach Public Affairs team to the vernissage of the photo exhibition. It was held on September 30 in Berlin and attended by several hundred photography professionals and enthusiasts.
The exposé of the exhibition describes it: "With different styles, techniques, and themes, our works move in a broad spectrum between documentary and artistic photography and deal with current socio-political issues as well as intimate stories. Our final exhibition was developed, produced, and financed jointly by us as a group project; it was curated by the lecturers Peter Bialobrzeski, Sibylle Fendt, Ina Schoenenburg, and Göran Gnaudschun."
The curators of Ostkreuzschule explained the exhibition as "the result is a great variety of different conceptual, aesthetic and formal approaches."
In conversations with visitors during the vernissage, it became apparent how interesting and exotic the artistic perspective into the life of the U.S. military community is for the general public. One spectator said, "I am so surprised that these pictures were taken right here in Germany. And the different aspects of the photos - showing a regular teenager here and then the transformation into the image of a young soldier is amazing."
Typically, around 3,000 spectators visit the exhibition over the two week exhibition. The works are also published in an exhibition catalog and individually designed photo books for publication.
For Söllner, the exhibition is the culmination of his photography career so far. Still, it's just the beginning for this promising photographer. He plans to expand the selection of works by two additional focus areas with the final goal of showing his photographs as a comprehensive exhibition of "Life inside the fence" at a location in the city of Ansbach next year and within the "fence" of USAG Ansbach.
The U.S. Army Garrison Ansbach military community is located in the Franconian region of Bavaria and is spread across six sites and nine kasernes dispersed around the city of Ansbach and the village of Illesheim. Today, Ansbach is home to the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade, the community's largest tenant unit, as well as the 7th Engineer Brigade, 5th Battalion, 4th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, and 1st Battalion, 57th Air Defense Artillery Regiment. The garrison takes pride in supporting more than 8,500 Soldiers, civilians, and family members working and living in the Ansbach area.
For more news from U.S. Army Garrison Ansbach, visit: https://www.army.mil/FranconianNews or https://www.facebook.com/usagansbachcommunity/