Home Events Time Travelers: The remarkable exhibition of Petra Gerwers at Leica Galerie Konstanz

Time Travelers: The remarkable exhibition of Petra Gerwers at Leica Galerie Konstanz

Image shows scene from the exhibition of Petra Gerwers at Leica Galerie Konstanz in the summer 2023.
An unusual exhibition that sees a lot of visitors at the moment: Leica Galerie Konstanz is showing the work of Petra Gerwers in Summer 2023. She is somewhat of a newcomer but sees much acclaim.

A portrait in one single photo and yet spanning decades? Impressive proof of the power of a monochrome Leica M? Touching letters in which people come to terms with their past? All this awaits you in the new exhibition at the Leica Galerie Konstanz. The German artist Petra Gerwers is exhibiting her “Time Travelers” series.

It’s an unusual gallery exhibition to say the least. On the walls are not only large-sized photographs, but also letters, most of them handwritten. One of the pictures features an image that we all know, but in a setting that is most unexpected. Others depict people we might never have heard of. A visit to the Leica Galerie Konstanz presents more than one surprise, for sure. Until 7 October, it presents the series “Time Travelers” by German photographer Petra Gerwers.

The concept is comparatively simple; the execution all the more artistic. Petra Gerwers always photographs people through a pane of glass, which reflects an object or a place that is or was important to the person, or that has given his or her life a decisive direction in some other way. In this way, the present complements the past in a single image: The static medium of the photograph, one might say, takes on a strong component of temporal progression.

Petra Gerwers shows not only her images…

But the photographic part is not all. For her project, Petra Gerwers asked the people she had photographed to write a letter to their younger selves. “What would you like to say? What would you like to say to the child you once were, knowing what you know now? How would you protect, encourage, warn, inform that child?” The letters are placed next to the photos, together with a childhood picture of the person. Some are at kindergarten age, some as teenagers. So this time it’s not just about looking, but at least as much about reading. Almost all of these letters are in German, but you can translate them with one of the fabulous new AI tools and your mobile device.

The double portrait of Nick Ut and Kim Phuc is stunning

The most prominent image is undoubtedly a double portrait of Nick Ut and Kim Phuc. While many people do not know Huỳnh Công Út, his iconic photo of the naked girl fleeing from a Vietnamese village after a Napalm attack is in all our collective visual memories. Most Leica users are familiar with the creator of this image, and we were pleased to be able to publish an article by Nick Ut on the website.  Phan Thị Kim Phúc is the girl from this 1972 scene, and she uses the enormous potential of this Pulitzer Prize winning image to this day as a UNESCO peace ambassador. 

Petra Gerwers told me that she was going to meet Nick Ut in London, and she was excited, but for some reason the meeting did not work out. A few days later, Nick Ut told her he was in Hamburg and, to Gerwer’s surprise, Kim Phuc was with him. The result is an image of Kim Phuc standing behind a window, holding the famous 1972 photograph. Nick Ut is mirrored, holding a rangefinder camera (my guess is a Leica). 

Some of Petra Gerwers’ work demands reflection

Other photographs in the exhibition are less obvious. Photographer Ivo von Renner is there with a pensive expression on his face, the window reflecting the model trains that are important to him. Esther Schuler’s face is superimposed on a scene from a subway station (or is it the other way around?). There’s a lot to discover in these images, and that’s one of the best things you could say about any exhibition, isn’t it?

For Petra Gerwers, photography is her second career

Perhaps it is Petra Gerwers’ own biography that made this project possible in the first place. Her self-portrait is also part of the series (a masterful selfie), and the letter shows that she had a troubled childhood. She later worked as a teacher for disabled children. On the evening of the opening, she told me that she had worked hard on her particular approach to men and women. And indeed, there is something very human about these pictures—disturbing and powerful as they are. What is also remarkable is that photography is Gerwers’ second career. Her first exhibition, in Cologne, was less than a year ago. Her husband, Thomas Gerwers, who owns and publishes the prestigious German magazine Profifoto, has greatly motivated her.

The Leica M Monochrom shows all its potential

For most of the images, Petra Gerwers used a monochrome Leica M camera, and she said it was the perfect tool for her project. She told me that the Leica’s unobtrusiveness, combined with its excellent resolution, completely won her over. Indeed, the rather large prints in the gallery exhibition (provided by Whitewall, in my opinion the best lab in Germany) reveal the camera’s potential with their richness of detail. She deliberately avoided using a polariser, which would have been the obvious choice for such a project. On the other hand, she took some images in a complex configuration of background and foreground, reflection and lighting. And Gerwers was meticulous not to intrude on the picture with her own reflection.

All in all, this is an exhibition that takes a little time to absorb and understand. As many of you might not make it to the beautiful Bodensee before October, you can read about Petra Gerwers’ project Time Travelers – My Inner Child and Me on the artists’ website (all in English). All the letters are translated into English in Petra Gerwers’ book, which you can buy here.

And if you happen to be in the area, the exhibition in the Leica Galerie Konstanz, next to the Leica store, is in the beautiful historic centre of Konstanz, a few minutes’ walk from the railway station and harbour. Open until 7 October, Mo-Fr 10-18.30, Sat 9.-30-17. Admission is free.

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  1. Hi Joerg-Peter, thank you very much for putting together this article. Those of us who live far away would not otherwise not know of this very talented photographer. You are very fortunate to have both a Leica Store and a Leica Gallery in your home city. I am envious! Given that the photographs on display were all in black and white, did you consider converting the final photo in the article to black and white? That one in particular has so many layers to consider. All the best, Keith

    • Hi Keith, yes, I do feel fortunate to live in a city with a vibrant cultural life. The Leica Galerie is only a part of it, and there are many other exhibitions, concerts, theatre performances and more. The Leica Store just ten minutes away by bike however can also be a threat… As for your question: It was a deliberate decision to leave all my images in colour in order to clearly set them apart. And I think the difference between the b/w works of art and the 4c real world around them marks exactly the line between art and society.But aesthetically, it would have been interesting for sure, to make this a pure b/w story, I agree! JP

  2. Congratulations, dear Jörg-Peter, on your most interesting report of an unusual photographic exhibition. The last picture is most poignant and thought-provoking. What an amazing outcome. Well done!

    • Thanks, David, for your comment. The pictures not at, but of an exhibition were all shot with my good old first generation Q. I recently came to like the 1:1 aspect when cropping (something I am certainly no fan of, but sometimes it is just sensible). The last image is one I first did not want to show in the article at at all but then I felt that it has a certain depth and openness that made me look twice. Glad to hear it somehow spoke to you as well, David. Best wishes JP

      • Ah, the wonderful original Leica Q. I must take mine out again. Such a wonderful lens at a bargain price.

  3. Dear Jörg-Peter,

    reading this article it seemed to me like a double time travel. The reflection idea is intriguing.
    I’m glad that there are photographers and galleries who are apart with the barbieesque instagram mainstream. It’s not all lost yet.

    • Couldn’t agree more, Dirk. Such artists and galleries have earned all our support. I am glad that I can help the Leica Galerie Konstanz Team a bit with their events where I occasionally contribute the one or the other programme item at the openings. Maybe you can come to the wonderful Bodensee this “autumn” and see the exhibition yourself? And pay a visit to the Leica Store? I would be delighted! JP


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