Wolfgang Müller found his access to photography whilst travelling. Studying photography at the Dortmund University of Applied Sciences in the class of Arno Fischer, he turned to the countries of the former Soviet Union as the focus of his work. For his graduate project, he spent totally ten month, up to the year 2002, photographing Karat. Himmel über St. Petersburg/ Sky over St. Petersburg. Published as a photo book, his series of photographs about kids between homelessness, drug use and prostitution was shown in museums and galleries in Germany, France, Great Britain, Italy, Russia and the US. Supported by several promotion prizes he was able to finish other photography projects. Actually Wolfgang Müller is living in Berlin and the focus of his work has turned to China. His long time project about Chinese migrant workers, Mingong. Die Suche nach dem Glück/ The Pursuit of Happiness has been recently published as a photo book.
To create Karat. Sky over St. Petersburg, I spent a total of ten month during 2000 and 2002 photographing various groups of children and adolescents in this Russian city of 4 million people. I established contact with them by bringing food and the personal photos I made of them to our meetings. The most important factor, however, was spending enough time with them to generate trust, leading in some cases to true friendships.
The daily existence of these children and adolescents, whose lives revolve around the streets, is marred by violent relations. Lena, 10 years old, who is shown and portrayed in the first two pictures, I sent, is living on roofs and attics. She had left home a year ago because she had troubles with her mother and brother. „When mum screams at me I tell her to shut up. Then we’ll get into a fight. I’m really scared of my brother. Once he beat me with an iron rod so bad that all of my back was black and blue. A year ago they didn’t give me any more food. They told me: "You need stuff? – Earn it yourself." That’s when I left."
The living spaces of most of the children I met consisted of roofs and attics, where they not only have a place to sleep, but can use drugs or earn a living through prostitution without being disturbed. According to a study by the International Labor Organization of the United Nations on working street children, forty percent of the girls and one percent of the boys are working, at least temporarily, as prostitutes. The consumption of drugs seems to be almost a prerequisite to endure life on the street. Most of the children have already tried many different drugs. Because they are cheap, the most popular drugs are glue and shoe polish with brand names like „Karat“, which gives this photo project is title. According to a study by Medicines due Monde, the average age of a glue sniffer is thirteen.
The pictures of this project are meant to go against a media-driven logic based on viewer’s quota and ascending violence. They attempt to portray these children as human subjects engaged in their daily existence. The photos do not celebrate their misery nor do they ask for the viewers tears. These pictures cannot be reduced to simple messages because they are too open-ended and too multilayered. The viewer is invited to explore the various picture planes or to jump back and force among them. Areas of tender color and scenes of intimacy are juxtaposed with brutal reality, often suggested only in the surrounding context, in small details, or in the ambiguity of a gesture. The pictorial language does not try to reinforce the viewer’s stereotypical concepts of street children, but instead gives the viewer the freedom to move inside and between the images in order to form his or her own opinion.
Karat. Himmel über St. Petersburg/ Karat. Sky over St. Petersburg. Published by Vice Versa Verlag, Berlin/ Nazraeli Press, Portland, 2003
Mingong. Die Suche nach dem Glück/ Mingong. The Pursuit of Happiness. Published by Vice Versa Verlag, Berlin, 2012