Every year, at 11 minutes past 11 on the 11th day of the 11th month, the city of Cologne in Germany declares the “fifth season”, also known as the carnival season, officially open. From that point (other than a brief suspension over the advent period) until the crescendo of the season on Rose Monday, which falls two days before Ash Wednesday during Easter, the people of Cologne take to the streets masqueraded, for a series of parades, balls and stage shows.
For over 100 years a proud pillar of the carnival has been The Blaue Funken (The Blue Sparks), or as they’re officially known, the Kölner Sparks Artillery blue white from 1870 eV which is the second oldest corps in the carnival. While on a fishing trip in British Colombia, Canada, journalist Stefan Willeke met Horst Schwiperich, an avid member of The Blue Sparks in a chance encounter at the airport. This coincidence inspired Stefan – who wasn’t a fan of the carnival – to learn more about why Horst, a man who “hates alcohol, crowds and excess” loves it so much. To accompany the story appearing in its February 2018 issue, Zeit Magazin commissioned German photographer, Nikita Teryoshin, to capture this fascinating man and his passion for the Cologne Carnival.
Nikita spent three days shadowing Horst and The Blue Sparks, visiting the society’s various shows in Cologne and its neighbouring towns and villages. The series showcases the corps in all its glory, captured in Nikita’s signature high flash documentary style. Members are shown playing trumpets while marching, limbering up before performances and snapping each other in their somewhat pompous uniforms. Consisting of several jackets, epaulettes, a belt, trousers, boots, a cape, a sabre and a three-cornered hat, The Blue Sparks get-up is the focal point of Nikita’s series, dominating every scene.
“During the carnival season Horst was extremely busy so I was lucky he found some time early on Sunday morning to take me to a private fishing club next to his house, to take some pictures at this important place,” Nikita explains. 30 years previously, Horst suffered an anxiety disorder, which he now traces back to an anaesthesia medicine he was given during an operation. As a result, he struggled to ever be alone until one fishing trip when he took to the banks of the lake and spent three days in isolation. “Suddenly, his fears disappeared and never came back,” describes Nikita. This intimate moment shaped the story with an image of Horst gazing out over the lake with his signature cape and hat on, gracing the issue’s cover.
This solemn yet poignant image allowed Nikita to portray the two sides of Horst that he had come to know, even in such a short time. “For me, it was important to show the melancholic side, the story of his fears and his retreat at the lake but also his passion and desire for the carnival.” Alongside the lively and somewhat overwhelming images of The Blue Sparks, Horst’s portrait by the lake provides the perfect juxtaposition, allowing Nikita to tell one man’s personal connection to both a place, a group of people and an event.
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