Josefine Raab and Stefan Becht launched the gute aussichten (good perspectives) photography award in 2004. It is now the most prestigious competition for up-and-coming young photographers in Germany. Based at Haardter Schloss castle in Neustadt, the pair seeks the talents of tomorrow and offers them a very good outlook, too—and not just of the surrounding landscape.

What happens when you let the environment choose the content of the photograph? What does nature show us? What stories does water tell? And do we even listen or pay attention? Photographer Jette Held has listened. And paid attention—not only through the viewfinder of her camera. She decided to have nature do the photograph and placed photographic paper in bodies of water: into the cow trough in her hometown of Tanne in the Harz Mountains, into the small Bode river and into the majestic Danube in Vienna. The results are poetic images that have a lot to tell. While the Bode cast dazzling lights onto the paper, the Danube created a picture with more gloomy colours with the photographic paper having been exposed to much more light in the constantly bright city.

A work of art from the Wenn das Waser schreiben könnte… series by Jette Held.

“That’s why I do it,” Josefine says pointing to the photos. “For these new approaches. For questions that no one has ever dealt with before, but whose answers are so meaningful.” She continues to leaf through the book in front of her. It is a catalogue that presents the works of the gute aussichten award winners of the 2022/23 edition. Jette is one of them. “There are treasures every year,” says Josefine. And she always looks forward to unearthing them. Even after 20 years.

Stefan Becht and Josefine Raab sitting in the parlour of Haardter Schloss castle.

She and Stefan launched the gute aussichtenjunge deutsche fotografie (good perspectives—young German photography) competition in 2004 that has taken place at a special venue in Neustadt since 2011: the Haardter Schloss. They are now sitting there, in the light-flooded parlour of the castle. The room has windows on three sides, providing a view from the Haardter Höhe high ground over the sunlit Palatinate, far across the Rhine Rift Valley towards Heidelberg and Mannheim and all the way to the Odenwald mountain range that becomes blurred on the horizon—a good outlook for the residents and for the visitors to the castle. And good perspectives for the young photographers who exhibit their works here.

This is what Josefine wants to achieve with the competition. She wants to create opportunities for the next generation—prospects of a living with and from art. The art historian was part of the board of the Wiesbaden art club for several years. “Our declared aim back then was to promote young artists and offer them a stage,” she says. She organised exhibitions with young artists. But only a few hundred people came to see the works. “The field is very thorny for young artists.”

Photography has often been declared dead. But here I see every year how incredibly alive it is

Josefine Raab

She realised that they needed a new approach: not just an exhibition concept that is tied to one location, but a competition with nationwide impact instead; and where the winners don’t win prize money, but the greatest possible publicity. And she wanted it to be a competition that starts where a safe space for many artists usually ends—at the end of their studies, when “they are still completely true to themselves creating their final study projects and they don’t have to earn any money and prove themselves on the market yet. They are free and can do and express exactly what corresponds to them at that time.”

14 good perspectives. An extensive catalogue presents the works of the gute aussichten award winners every year.

Josefine decided to turn the system upside down. She took Stefan on board as a journalist and PR expert. “Nobody knew what would come of it,” she explains. “But we wanted to start with a bang.” Their motto was to think big, yet start small. Josefine simply called one of the most successful contemporary photographers. Successfully, too. Andreas Gursky liked the project and sat on the competition jury in the first edition in 2004. They managed to attract Ingo Taubhorn, curator of the newly founded Haus der Photographie institution in the Deichtorhallen halls in Hamburg, too. “Finally, in 2005, there were absolute no-name works hanging in the Deichtorhallen halls. That was amazing.” Stefan beams. More than 3,000 visitors came to see the exhibition over a period of ten days. “Some of the photographers who exhibited their works there have made quite a career later on.”

The 2023 award winners have a stage in the Deichtorhallen halls.
Ausstellungsansicht gute aussichten 2021-2023 © Deichtorhallen Hamburg 2023, Foto: Henning Rogge

Since then, an alternating jury has been searching for the most promising talents among graduates in the fields of photography, fine arts and visual communication year after year. The number of award winners varies as much as from 6 to 13 for example. Stefan says that things can sometimes get loud at the jury meetings. “Of course, we don’t always agree. We discuss the suggestions a lot.” Dealing with the works of the young photographers is often also an examination of new points of view. And this is precisely what makes the competition so appealing. “You can witness how photography develops over the years,” Josefine says. Today, the spectrum ranges from analogue photography to artificial intelligence. “Photography has often been declared dead. But here I see every year how incredibly alive it is.” The award has long been proven and is considered the most prestigious competition for young photographers in Germany now. It is funded by advertisements, contributions from participating museums and a grant from the state of Rhineland-Palatinate for the catalogue printing.

The heimspiel exhibition in Neustadt is much more intimate. Photo: Stefan Becht

Josefine and Stefan have come up with a special project for the 20th anniversary in 2024. Five young German and five young Mexican photographers met in Mexico City for the Focus MexicoGermany exhibition to create a piece together. “We had absolutely no idea what the result would be. But the process was incredibly exciting.” Josefine loves creating spaces that give artists the freedom to express themselves; off the beaten track of the art market and beyond the pressure to market themselves and to conform.

Great artistic works are everywhere in the Haardter Schloss castle.

However, it was never planned that the premises of gute aussichten would become so princely. The project was previously based in a backyard office in Frankfurt. During a visit to the Palatinate, Josefine learnt by chance that the Haardter Schloss castle was for rent. “I was curious and needed to check it out.” August Ritter von Clemm, one of the co-founders of BASF, had the castle built at the end of the 19th century. It is located right next to the ruins of the Burg Winzingen fortress. However: “The castle was in a disastrous state,” Josefine reports. The rooms had previously been used as a guesthouse, which later went bankrupt. “There were twelve bathrooms, but no kitchen. Everything was run-down.” They initially gave it a hard pass.

It couldn’t get any more idyllic than in the gardens of Haardter Schloss castle with a view of the ruins of the Burg Winzingen fortress.

But the estate agent persisted and the owner liked the project: in view of the great view, good perspectives would be a perfect fit. After many meetings, they finally came together, both sides agreeing to compromises. “It only worked because we took down our tents for good,” Stefan says. They all moved to the Palatinate: Josefine, and her husband as well as Stefan and gute aussichten.

Old and new façades: Josefine and Stefan have uncovered stories and history in the Haardter Schloss.

“The renovation was a labour of love,” Stefan tells the story. But it was worth it. The new tenants have restored much of the castle’s old charm. Old murals have been uncovered. The pink-coloured carpeting was thrown out, parquet flooring and tiles were refurbished. The ground floor is open to visitors when there is an exhibition in these rooms. “At least one heimspiel (literally: home match) takes place every year” allowing the current award winners to present themselves. There is much more intimacy than in a museum. And, of course, good perspectives.

The anniversary exhibition gute aussichten FOKUS Mexiko–Deutschland opens in the Städtische Galerie Karlsruhe art gallery on Friday, 17 May 2024 at 7 p.m.

On the following day, Saturday, 18 May 2024 at 3 p.m. the gute aussichten heimspiel 14: Auf einen Streich exhibition will be opened mit Sekt & Selters in the Haardter Schloss castle.


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