To create Karat, Sky over St. Petersburg, I spent a total of ten months during 2000–02 photographing various groups of children and adolescents in this Russian city of four million people. I established contact with them by bringing food and the personal photos I had 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 street, is marred by violence. Although most of them have escaped the senseless beatings and negligence of chronically drunk parents, or the regimented abuse of institutions, the course of their lives on the street is hardly any less violent.
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 exhibition its title. According to a study by Médicines du Monde, the average age of a glue-sniffer is thirteen.
Excerpt from his essay in the FOTOFEST2006 catalogue
WOLFGANG MÜLLER Karat, Sky over St. Petersburg
After years of change and decline, St. Petersburg celebrated its 300th anniversary by renovating its historical center to display its stunning churches, museums and palaces. But the image Müller presents is in stark contrast to the poverty found not far away in the backyards of the Nevskij Prospect, the main shopping street, and behind the huge advertising boards that conceal empty lots. Here, littered with syringes, is the entrance to a different world. Wolfgang Müller’s photographs tell the stories of children who live above the city’s streets on the roofs and in attics of abandoned buildings. Here they can sleep, take drugs, and make money from prostitution without being apprehended. Many have escaped from apathetic parents or decaying orphanages, but the desolation of their situation is tempered with the warmth of the small family units they have formed.
Before embracing photography, Wolfgang Müller was involved in many different pursuits. After spending many years of active participation in social movements, last as a tool maker, he finally looked for an introduction into the world of art. While studying photography at the Dortmund Fachhochschule, the countries of the old Sowjetunion became the focus of his work. For his graduate project he gave up his apartment in Dortmund and spent the next 10 months, up to the year 2002, photographing the work in this exhibition Karat. Sky over St. Petersburg. This work was published as a photography book and was shown in museums and galleries in Germany, France, Great Britain, Italy and the USA. Supported by the BFF- price 2002, the Wüstenrot- price 2003 and the VG Bild-Kunst 2004 he was able to finish in the meantime photo-projects in Siberia and at the Russian- Chinese Amur border region. Wolfgang Müller is a member of the photography agency OSTKREUZ and today lives and works in Berlin.
Fotomuseum im Muenchner Stadtmuseum, 10 years of Documentary Photography Promotion Prizes of the Wuestenrot Foundation, July 07, 2006 – August, 28, 2006, Muenchen, Germany, www.stadtmuseum-online.de
Stadtgalerie im Elbeforum Brunsbuettel, Faces.SIBIR, Documentary Photography Promotion Prizes 2003/ 2004, Wuestenrot Foundation, September 4, 2006 – October 8, 2006, Brunsbuettel, Germany, www.stadtgalerie-brunsbuettel.de