Wildlife

Walter Schels grew up with animals. As he says, this shaped his relationship with animals and his photography. Schels' first animal portraits were taken in the mid-1980s: large companies such as VW, Panasonic and Blaupunkt commissioned Schels to take pictures of chimpanzees and dogs for advertising campaigns - often in funny poses and almost always in color. Back then, he secretly photographed his black and white portraits without the art directors noticing. Later, he also photographed animals without a commission until the 2000s.

Schels became famous for his character studies of celebrities such as Andy Warhol, Joseph Beuys and Angela Merkel. Always in front of a white or black studio background, without smiling, looking directly into the camera. Schels does the same with his animal portraits. Removed from their natural environment, sheep, bears, frogs and rabbits become visible as individuals. The viewer has the feeling, which the photographer quite intentionally creates, of entering into a dialog with the animal - whether sheep, bear, frog or rabbit - on an equal footing, so to speak. 

For him, eye contact, says Schels, is the key to accessing the essence of his subject with both human and animal subjects and therefore "the key to a good portrait". But because you can't tell animals to look at the camera, an animal portrait is "a matter of luck". bl

The fact that Schels simply transferred
a convention of representation developed
from the human image to animal photography
is a provocation
Klaus Honnef, photo historian