The subjects in Walter Vogel’s repertoire are very diverse and his style is unmistakable. Whether as an annalist of Germany’s Ruhr district, a globe-trotting travel photographer, a delighted circus-goer, a night-owl travesty photographer, or a lover of espresso coffee – it is easy to recognise Vogel as the chronicler of an era; a classic photo reporter whose experienced eyes and perfect precision produced unforgettable picture motifs.
Vogel is counted among the greats of German reportage photography. His path took him to photography – or, better said, gave him the courage to turn his passion into a career – comparatively late in life. Even though he discovered the medium with his first camera as a youth, he trained professionally and worked for many years as a mechanical engineer in the chemical industry. However, while still an apprentice, back in 1954, the money Vogel earned and saved allowed him to purchase his first Leica IIf. The course of his life took a new professional turn when he was 30 years old, and he started studying photography under Otto Steinert at the Folkwangschule in Essen. Immediately after taking his final exams, he established himself as a freelance photographer. In addition to commercial and fashion commissions, magazine photography became an important cornerstone of his work. When he self-published his first book, For Sale, in 1980, Vogel undertook a new challenge: he not only took the photographs himself, but also wrote the accompanying texts.
The publishing breakthrough came in 1993 with the book, Espresso. This project was also done on Vogel’s own initiative, but his feeling for the subject – long before it became a trend – ensured that he was able to complete a whole series of books about the world of coffee. In addition there have been a diversity of photo books over the years, covering the whole range of his photographic work. With an imagery defined by authenticity, precision, and at times a sublime sense of humour, Vogel is one of the greatest German photographers of the analogue era. His induction into the Leica Hall of Fame is further proof of an appreciation and recognition for a body of work that spans more than five decades.
All images on this page: © Walter Vogel
Find out more about the life and work of Walter Vogel in LFI 8/2019.