Merkel’s last day as German Chancellor: live updates – .

Merkel’s last day as German Chancellor: live updates – .

For photographer Herlinde Koelbl, the end of Angela Merkel’s tenure as German Chancellor is not only the end of a political era, it is also the end of one of the oldest art projects in the world. world politics.

Since 1991, Ms. Koelbl has visited Ms. Merkel almost every year to take two portraits for a project, “Traces of Power,” which aimed to understand how politics changes the appearance and character of people.

“She was shy when I first photographed her, and a little awkward,” Ms. Koelbl, 82, recalled in a recent phone interview. “She said, ‘I’m not used to being photographed all the time. I don’t know what to do with my arms and my hands.

The photographer initially chose 15 politicians for the project, including established names like Gerhard Schröder, who became German Chancellor in 1998. Ms Merkel, a former scientist, immediately stood out, especially for her lack of vanity .

For their first photos, Ms Merkel wore no makeup and “didn’t seem to pay attention to what she was wearing”, unlike some of Ms Koelbl’s other babysitters. Fashion “just wasn’t important to her,” Ms. Koelbl said. “For her, what was important was what she did: the work.

As Ms Merkel gained confidence as a politician, she began to relax in front of the camera, Ms Koelbl said. In 1998, she posed for the first time with her hands in the shape of a diamond, which would become a trademark gesture.

Credit…Herlinde Koelbl

Ms Koelbl said she believed there was a simple reason behind her use of the diamond: Pushing her thumbs together forced her shoulders up, making her look engaged. “If you have to stand and listen to speeches for hours on end, you seem very attentive, even when you’re not,” Ms. Koelbl said.

During the project’s first eight years, Ms Koelbl also interviewed Ms Merkel at length, asking her probing questions about her political ambitions, as well as others that seemed more suited to therapy sessions.

In 1993, she asked Ms Merkel how she coped when she felt rejected and if there had been any childhood situations in which she had felt helpless. (Ms Merkel responded by mentioning the day her parents learned of the construction of the Berlin Wall and her mother burst into tears. “I wanted to help them, make them happy again, but I couldn’t,” said she declared.).

Ms Koelbl stopped “Traces of Power” in 1999, but after Ms Merkel became Chancellor in 2005, decided to start photographing her again. Ms Merkel ran out of time for interviews, but agreed to sit down for photos once a year until she leaves office, and the photos have all been published in a book this year.

Credit…Roderick Aichinger for The New York Times

Recent photos show Ms Merkel as the politician so known today: wearing slacks and blazers, gazing calmly into the lens. But Ms Koelbl insists the leader’s appearance has kept changing over the years.

“At first she had very keen eyes,” Ms. Koelbl said, “and now she’s looking at you, but the liveliness is gone. The glow disappeared from his eyes.

Ms Koelbl insisted the change didn’t mean becoming chancellor was a bad thing. “I think that’s part of the tribute you have to pay if you get this job,” she said.


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