Most of the people I know entered 2022 battling fatigue and indifference. The feeling that “nothing matters anyway” seems to seep into conversations with classmates and relatives alike. While it could always be worse, life could also always distinctly be better. During a recent trip to Berlin, I discovered Weltschmerz, a German word that best describes this phenomenon. The term denotes the depression or apathy that is caused by the juxtaposition of the insufficient current state of the world with the ideal or possible state. A painful feeling that is easily reached when considering the COVID-19 pandemic, rapid climate change, inhumane political policies, and the exploitation of workers under capitalist or other economic systems.
Whether one aligns politically left or right many recent events have objectively resulted in the loss of human life, which I think everyone can agree with is ultimately something society should aim to avoid. Extreme weather events like the flooding in West Germany of towns located on the banks of the Ahr is just one catastrophe that is happening more and more frequently. The question then becomes what to do in the face of these issues and how as an individual one can express concern or enact change to avoid succumbing to the black hole of anxiety that quickly forms when considering the future. This is a call that photojournalism has long answered and Leipzig-based photographer soso carries on this tradition.
A newly minted graduate from the Neue Schule für Fotografie in Berlin soso’s work came out of their dissatisfaction with the apolitical and aesthetically focused role of modern photography. Their practice began with the documentation of actions like the occupation and eviction of demonstrators from Hambacher Wald and the Ende Gelände civil disobedience action against the use of coal power in 2018. Soon after, in 2019, soso documented a three-week search and rescue mission in the Mediterranean Sea with Sea-Eye, a non-profit organization that rescues fleeing people from unseaworthy boats. Their graduate show “Bewegt”, which translates to being moved or motivated both physically and emotionally, summarizes their constant documentation of political action in Germany over the last five years. They state that the body of work is “a manifesto against feeling alone, giving up and dystopian fears”, also directly citing Weltschmerz as the feeling that photography helps them battle in our correspondence.
What makes soso’s work so important is the archive that it creates for future generations. The images act as evidence of moments like demonstrations with over 50,000 people and can be held up next to languid world leaders as a counterweight. The camera and photographer work together as historical witnesses, creating a record that hopes to inspire further action. A symbol of refusing to back down, the collection of work gives one goosebumps when viewed together in the gallery. A feeling that mimics the adrenaline of the collective voice when marching together in the street and a genre of photography all too rarely included in a fine art photography context.