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Vladimir, also known as Wowa, wears his uniform’s large cap with pride. The boy is looking into the distance with a shy expression on his face. Equipped with a Leica, the Hamburg photographer Peter Dammann took a second and very similar picture, during his visit to the Kronstadt Sea Cadet Corps: for that second photograph, Wowa was looking directly into the camera. Despite – or maybe because of – that directness, Dammann preferred to use the motif shown here for his exhibitions and publications. Thus, this portrait is found in Das weiße Pferd (The White Horse) -- the comprehensive photo book published last year, covering the lifework of the photographer, who passed away in 2015. This publication offers extensive confirmation of Dammann’s empathic interest in children and youths -- in particular, young people from across Europe and around the world who have yet to experience the brighter side of life. A socially engaged photographer, Dammann repeatedly dealt with injustice towards such children, and their daily fight for survival.

At times, he also revealed moments of confidence, where the images of those portrayed convey hope for a better life. That is how he came to photograph the eleven-year-old Wowa, for a reportage on St. Petersburg sea cadets. It was taken when the boy had just begun his first year at the Kronstadt Sea Cadet Corps. In the mid-nineties, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, St. Petersburg’s former Mayor established the new academy on a fort island, close to the city. It was also intended as a place for so-called problem children, with the aim of offering them prospects for their futures, by means of daily structures and drills. The selection process was tough, so the new cadets were proud to be accepted. Wowa came from Petropavl, a town on the Kazakh-Russian border, 2,200 kilometres from St. Petersburg. “Before he joined the sea cadet academy, Wowa had not even seen a lake, let alone the ocean. He knew nothing about sailing and ships. Nowadays, Wowa can’t imagine doing anything else; he absolutely wants to go to sea,” Damman explained in his reportage – a reportage from which a different child cadet motif earned him the 1998 World Press Photo Award.
As to whether Wowa’s dream for a career at sea was fulfilled, remains to be seen. (Ulrich Rüter)

LFI 01.2021 is presenting a selection of Dammann’s work in the Leica Classic segment.
Image: © Peter Dammann / Fotostiftung Schweiz
Self-portrait in St. Petersburg, 2001

Peter Dammann

...was born in Hamburg on December 25, 1950. He first trained as a film print finisher, then studied Social Pedagogy, and became a social worker. He studied Photography at the Hamburg University of Fine Arts from 1982 to 1989. In 1999, he took up a second residence in Bern, Switzerland, and became a member of the Focus Agency in 2005. His reportages were published in Stern, Mare, Chrismon, the Neue Zürcher newspaper and taz, among others. He received numerous awards and grants. As of 2011, he taught Photographic Image Composition at the School of Design Bern and Biel. Peter Dammann died of a heart attack on March 2, 2015.

Dammann’s estate is cared for by the Fotostiftung Schweiz in Winterthur.
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