The photographer Hans-Joachim Ellerbrock began his career working in the field of documentary photography. After studying Visual Communication Design at the University of Fine Arts in Hamburg, he worked for many years for renowned German and international publications such as Stern, Geo, National Geographic, Merian and the New York Times Magazine. In his photo essays, for which he received numerous awards, he portrayed miners in the Ruhr district, shrimpers in North Frisia and the everyday life of the Hell’s Angels, followed the biographical footsteps of German poets and as a travel photographer portrayed life in Bali and Cuba as well as in Venice and his hometown Hamburg, to name just a few.
The exceptional quality of his photographs and the characteristics of his imagery are directly related to the consequent purism Hans-Joachim Ellerbrock adheres to in his work as a street photographer, which doesn’t allow pictures to be posed or manipulated. Due to his method of working and his photographic doctrine, however, he became ever more at odds with an environment that began to change dramatically in the 1990s. For photographers who saw their work in the broadest sense as political and as a means of influencing society, it was an extremely disillusioning experience to witness photography become more and more a mass product, and how even photographic coverage of humanitarian disasters turned into a socio-critical routine of sorts with always the same pictures.
The need for individuality grew in Hans-Joachim Ellerbrock to the same extent that the working conditions in photojournalism changed. He increasingly began realizing his own projects, and eventually discovered a new form of explicit artistic expression through digital image editing, in which he no longer dealt with documenting reality, but entered the world of imagination, magic and surrealism.
During this phase of artistic reorientation, he met the businessman and art collector Christian Zott, who became an important supporter and advisor, and encouraged him to share his art with the public; many of his photographic artworks thus found their way into exhibitions.
In his extensive portfolio, the variety of which this catalogue attempts to portray through a selection of contrasting series, Hans-Joachim Ellerbrock succeeds in bridging the gap between pure street photography and the completely uninhibited use of the creative possibilities the medium offers, from strict purism to artistic picture composition. The transition to photo art wasn’t a caesura, but instead was a consequent development. One photo for example from the series “Venice” portrays a rather lost-looking man at the Lido who is holding a portable radio up to his ear. He’s not posed, so the photo is documental, and yet the composition and visual impression are so amazing that it is without question an artistic interpretation of reality.
In Ellerbrock’s photo collages, on the other hand, purism turns into its opposite, into gaudiness and excessiveness. And yet they are the logical progression of an aesthetic position that now makes use of artistic methods, opening a new window to the wealth of pictures that live in personal memories.
In all the phases of his work, this artist is especially interested in fragments, in the cracks in reality as well as the magic of the moment and on a culture of fleetingness. Hans-Joachim Ellerbrock’s works always portray his exceptional intuition for that one moment in time. In his series “Film Icons” he dissects classic movies and picks one moment out of thousands; he then enhances its iconographic effect, allowing the viewer to revisit the whole scene on the screen of their own memories. In his “Flowers” series, on the other hand, a moment during the cycle of life is so condensed that the viewer involuntarily associates it with what came before and what will follow. And thus the dimension of time – occasionally even lost and irretrievable time – is added to the art of photography, which itself seemingly stands still.
Joachim Ellerbrock has received a number of awards over the years, among them the “Art Director’s Prize,” the “Kodak Photography Book Prize,” and a “World Press Award.” His works have been shown in numerous solo and group exhibitions, among them with his colleagues from the photo agency Bilderberg, of which he was an original founding member.
Hans-Joachim Ellerbrock lives and works in Hamburg, Germany.