Arms spread out for the sun salutation—she seems to embrace the sky above the valleys of the Palatinate Forest… If you are familiar with WHERE ELSE, you are then also familiar with the picture of the yoga lady in white welcoming the travel and regional magazine’s readers at its website. This atmospheric shot was taken by Hans-Georg Merkel, photographer and globetrotter based in the Palatinate region.
Hans-Georg Merkel’s studio is situated just a stone’s throw away from the “Deutsche Tor” (German Gate) of the historical Landau fortress—a central yet hidden location. Walking across a renovated backyard, then up the iron steps of an external ladder you enter the creative playground of the man who during the last 25 years has made a name for himself—but not only as the Palatinate’s visual chronicler.
“Just a few years ago, it looked quite different here in Landau; the process of gentrification does not stop at the borders to small towns,” Hans-Georg Merkel says smiling. He takes a seat at a solid wood table and his eyes wander through his generous photo studio, which could easily be somewhere in New York or London. The hi-tech flash unit is directed at a gigantic background paper role; just a few metres away, a huge camera on a tripod rises up from behind it.
“When I moved here, the rent in Landau was affordable. As a photographer with hardly any money I was able to carry out my work on two floors. Today, there’d be no way to afford it.” But the man born in the Palatinate region was lucky when he decided to stay in his home region. After studying in Darmstadt, most of his fellow students had gone to the big cities of the world, London, New York and Paris. That was not for him, as he wanted to live in a commune, to take care of his young family and to take pictures—full stop. Even though Hans-Georg Merkel did not find a commune in the Palatinate region, he did find a workroom at the school of the former French army barracks. It so happened that in Landau in 1993 something came into being that is today just entering the planning stage in Heidelberg and Mannheim: namely, creative businesses coming to life at vacated conversion areas.