Book of the Month: Der Eid/The Oath

Jörg Gläscher

October 18, 2021

How might democracy be visualised? This photo book by the German photographer Jörg Gläscher suggests one possibility.
The Corona crisis, angry citizens, yellow vests, Panama papers, election and corruption scandals: there is no shortage of news items covering the social problems and upheavals currently plaguing democratic countries. Not least, the experience of how to deal with and overcome the Corona pandemic has highlighted both the capabilities and the shortcomings of the various systems of government. Lack of confidence and mistrust in state ministries have caused whole societies to drift apart.

The series produced by Leipzig-based photographer (born 1966) had already been completed before the Corona crisis. However, his book has heightened relevance now and invites us to develop an image of what a democratic state might be. At the same time, the motifs incite us to recognise and question issues of power and society, and, as a result, the relationship between citizens and civil servants. In 2018 and 2019, the photographer travelled to eleven countries on four continents. His pictures were taken in Germany, France. Greece, Iceland, Poland, Hungary, Georgia, India, Indonesia, Zambia and the USA. The selection of countries reflects a complex diversity, and the interconnections between state and society differ significantly among the nations he visited. Furthermore, it is not necessarily the case that the legislative, executive and judiciary, backed by a free press as a fourth power, always stand on equal footing.

What is the state and who embodies it? With this basic question as a starting point, the photographer chose to place state representatives at the heart of his series. Rather than prominent politicians, it is judges, state prosecutors, mayors, correctional and police officers who are being portrayed, within their work environments. Many of the group pictures are reminiscent of historical paintings, conveying seriousness and dignity. However, most of the time, Gläscher presents his protagonists alone: they are rarely relaxed and smiling; more often than not, they are marked by the weight of their office. All of them have made the decision to serve their country. Consequently, the title of his picture series reflects the oath taken by civil servants in almost every nation around the world, and in accordance with the respective constitution and laws of their countries. Alongside these intense portraits, the photographer's repertoire includes significantly more dynamic scenes, such as burning barricades and highly-armed police forces. Quite incidentally, Gläscher also seems to have found a particular soft spot for still lifes, accidentally discovered in offices and boardrooms. These motifs break up the sequence of portraits and, with evident humour, draw the eye once more to the mundaneness of bureaucratic processes.

Democracy is not a fixed state of being: it needs to be experienced and fought for; it is always in movement. Within the diversity of Gläscher's pictures, it is evident that the state should not be seen as something hostile and distant, but should centre around the demands for justice and the common good. Both responsible citizens and passionate public servants are required to make this possible. There are many ways to fulfil the oath – or to ignore it. This is an exciting book that is more timely than ever. (Ulrich Rüter)

Jörg Gläscher: Der Eid / The Oath
With a text by Sonja Zekri. Design: Florian Lamm
216 pages, 115 colour pictures, German/English. 24 x 30 cm
Hartmann Books

All pictures on this page: © 2021 Jörg Gläscher

Jörg Gläscher+-

© Andreas Herzau

...was born in Osnabrück in 1966, and studied at the Academy for Visual Arts Leipzig. He has been a lecturer at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Hanover and at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Berlin. He is the recipient of many awards, and has numerous publications to his credit. Currently living and working in Leipzig, Gläscher has been a member of the LAIF Photo Agency, since 2000. More


Book of the Month: Der Eid/The Oath

Jörg Gläscher