Herlinde Koelbl’s photographic portraits of Angela Merkel examine the impact of two decades in power

German photographer Herlinde Koelbl has captured the chancellor in arresting black and white portraits for the Traces of Power series, presented in a new Taschen book marking the end of her long tenure in office.

2 December 2021

This evening, Angela Merkel’s leaving ceremony will take place as she steps down after 16 years in office and hands over power as German Chancellor to Olaf Sholz. Just in time to mark the end of this era, Taschen has released a new photobook, Herlinde Koelbl. Angela Merkel. Portraits 1991–2021, from renowned German photographer Herlinde Koelbl who photographed Merkel over the two decades.

The images for the photographer’s Traces of Power series, some surprisingly playful and warm for portraits of a political leader – especially one with the firmness, vigour and reserve of Merkel – were taken year after year. In a symmetrical series, they show a headshot and a three-quarter-length shot on a plain white background every time. The long-term photo study aims to show how power has changed the Chancellor, and the ways in which she’s stayed the same since adopting leadership. Koelbl has photographed other politicians and business leaders in the same fashion for the series, giving no instructions so that the participants’ body language is candid. This way, the photographer aims to demonstrate how assuming power can change one’s physical stature and body language.

A recipient of the Dr. Erich Salomon Award and the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, Koelbl is renowned and successful in her own right, so the photobook is the amalgamation of what can be described as not one, but two female powerhouses. Koelbl and Merkel may share what is “one of the most unusual relationships in modern politics,” as the Guardian described. Koelbl’s practice can perhaps be characterised by her long-term photographic projects, often produced alongside interviews and videos projects. Having published over a dozen books of photography, like the recent Fascination of Science, 2021, the book is one of her many mammoth projects. The book is available to buy online.

GalleryHerlinde Koelbl: Angela Merkel. Courtesy of Taschen.

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Herlinde Koelbl: Angela Merkel. Courtesy of Taschen.

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About the Author

Dalia Al-Dujaili

Dalia is a freelance writer, producer and editor based in London. She’s currently the digital editor of Azeema, and the editor-in-chief of The Road to Nowhere Magazine. Previously, she was news writer at It’s Nice That, after graduating in English Literature from The University of Edinburgh.

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