Björn Steinz is currently being featured as part of the Czech Press Photo exhibition held at the National Museum! The Czech Press Photo is an annual photography competition showcasing winning photographs, selected pieces from the 26th collection, and the winning piece of the Prague Grant. For those of you who don’t know, The Prague Grant known informally as the “Mayors Grant”, is a year-long creative scholarship. The grant is a testimony to current transformations of Prague as a city and society. 

This years’ CPP exhibition represents something truly unique- The Pandemic. The 2020 competition categories included: News, Reportage, Everyday Life, Art and Culture, Sport, Portrait, Man and the Environment. We asked Björn to give us insight into his works that are on display.

What pieces of work are featured? Why these pieces specifically? 
There are 4 images featured in the Czech Press Photo exhibition from a series I called “un·vor·her·seh·bar” (German) which translated to English means “unpredictable” and it’s a “visual essay” about fear, love, and loss. This series is about my parents and is the most personal work I’ve ever done. My father had a stroke in January and was supposed to come home after rehab for home care. I left Prague on the 11th of  March last year and two days later the borders of Czech and Germany were closed. I stayed for 2 months to help my mother with nursing my father at home. That was the first time in 27 years that I lived in the place where I had grown up. The Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent restrictions made everything a lot more complicated. The camera became a therapeutic tool for me to cope with the situation and I documented the last months of my father’s life and my parents being together. He left us a few weeks later after further health complications that were unrelated to the virus.

What are you currently working on? 
Two weeks ago, I received a grant for a new project I will begin this summer about the border areas in-between the Czech Republic and Germany – the “Sudetenland”. I am a German citizen who has been living in the Czech Republic for the last 27 years while the roots of my family history from my fathers’ side are in Teplice where he was born. He was forced to leave as a 4-year-old child in 1946 when most Sudeten Germans had to leave Czechoslovakia. I am tracking my familys’ history in the archives and will include that history in a documentary about the area in today’s world.

How has the pandemic affected your profession as a photographer?
The pandemic changed my professional life a lot, as for everybody else during the last year. A  photographer can not just work from a home office and for a while, the restrictions for traveling and meeting people made it impossible to work as I did before. Later down the line, there were no assignments anymore. Everything was completely “locked down”.

How has COVID-19 brought out your creativity in approach to personal, and AAU course-related, photography?
I started to think about new ideas and concepts which I am personally interested in and I will start “when all this is over”. I also dived very deeply into my archive by scanning negatives from the time when photography was still “analog”. My first job as a photographer was for the local newspaper in my hometown, Oberursel, which published 3 times a week – I worked for them from 1988 until 1994. I photographed around 20,000 negatives that had never been edited and put into a different context other than pure visualization such as “handshakes” or the “opening of the carnival season”. For me, it is now a documentary about Germany in the ’90s, my youth, and how we all changed. The images are such a pleasure to look at, you won’t find a single smartphone or massive flat-screen TV… just life uninterrupted. The work should be completed and edited by next year for a book and exhibition in my hometown. Furthermore, I am planning to continue my work about 5 different Roma settlements in east Slovakia and the work about the refugee child “Elvis” in Bosnia.

By means of teaching it was a very heavy change for all of us at AAU – students and teachers. In Documentary Photography, we created “The Ballad Of Quarantine” to showcase works and it has been running since March 2020. By now we have 420 images online plus all finals. The work presented reflects a very special time, paying homage to all the changes that the virus brought to us. All of this is from the perspective of AAU students who documented their lives wherever they were throughout the pandemic. This is a huge treasure in my opinion and we hope we do something with this, ideally a book or at least a catalog and an exhibition!

You can check out Björn’s personal works through his archive or via Instagram.