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Born 1936, is a passionate portraitist and photographic researcher of physiognomy. He has worked with personalities such as Andy Warhol, the Dalai Lama, Yehudi Menuhin or Angela Merkel. Schels, who grew up with cats, dogs, pigs and chickens, has photographed the animals like people: in his studio, using a large-format camera, with great earnestness and a deep desire to capture the very essence of his counterpart with the camera.
Until the 1960s, he worked as a window dresser for large fashion houses in Barcelona, Canada and Geneva. He then went to New York, where his career goal was to become a fashion photographer.
In 1970, Schels returned to Germany and opened a studio. For many years he photographed international campaigns for companies such as PanAm, Lufthansa, L’Oréal, or BMW and fashion spreads and editorial contributions for major magazines.
At the beginning of the 1990s, Schels increasingly devoted himself to his own artistic projects. A key experience for him was an assignment for the magazine “Eltern”: in 1974 he photographed a birth for the magazine.
In photographic series and long-term projects, Schels has devoted himself for many years to observing extreme situations of human existence. He has taken portraits of blind people, artists in a workshop for the disabled, prematurely born children, transsexual youths and hospice patients before and after death.
Walter Schels has lived and worked in Hamburg since 1990. He has published numerous books, his works have been shown in exhibitions at home and abroad and are part of important art collections.
We humans have shared our living space with animals for thousands of years. For us, animals are a source of food, reliable helpers, companions, the subject of stories, myths and images. But what goes on in their heads? Do animals have a psyche, thoughts, feelings like us? How similar are we?
Astonished and strangely touched, we find ourselves confronted with animal faces that remind us of human features. The decadence in the cat’s face, the melancholy in the monkey’s eyes, the attentiveness in the elephant’s gaze. The connections we make are reminiscent of the dialectic of essence and appearance, which was anticipated for humans by the physiognomists of the 18th century and which Schels made the basis of his images of humans and animals.
“At first, I used human portraits as models for my work with animals, but that soon changed. For my portraits of people, I wanted „animal-like“ faces without poses and superfluous smiles, without the implied question: „How do I look?“
Most of the celebrities are experienced in front of a camera. They smile automatically. Part of my work is to photograph that smile away. Animals do not recognize their mirror images and presumably do not worry about their appearance. I found this attitude of self-acceptance most often in the very old – and in babies, who are completely unaware of what they look like.
Yet people and animals are related and animals want to be loved as well. Their well-developed instinct enables them to determine very quickly whether they are liked or not.
Dogs, cats, and many other animals are not the least bit shy about displaying their feelings. Perhaps that is why we sometimes think we recognize a carefully hidden part of our own inner selves in an animal‘s expression.