Johannes Reinhart on bringing Sapiland to Indian Photo Festival

All images from Sapiland © Johannes Reinhart

The German-born, Australia-based photographer talks through his project highlighting our paradoxical relationships with nature today

Can you talk about the ideas behind Sapiland – and the process of making it 

As with much of my personal work, including Sapiland, I go out and take photos of what I react to emotionally. Being a farmer’s son, nature and sustainability played a big part in our daily lives, as we practically lived off the land. Growing up on the outskirts of a German village, we were surrounded by nature on one side, with just a few houses between us and the start of the village. As time went on, a few houses turned into more and more houses. Now 40 years on, it’s full of houses and on the other side there’s a sports centre, where nature used to be.

As I got older, I started travelling and saw sights that made my little country boy’s heart bleed. All I could do was to photograph some of this absurdity. It didn’t take long for me to see that I was already working on a series, so I kept photographing this human footprint on nature for eight years with my cynical eye, before editing it into a cohesive body of work.

How does Sapiland fit into your wider practice? 

Sapiland is documenting the world around me. It’s staying true to some traditional principles of documentary photography that influenced me when I was young. I think most of my projects are also little worlds I escape to, or inhabit for a while.

To me photography is an unspoken language where you can communicate without the use of words. And like in most art forms, it has the potential to reach the conscious and the subconscious. So in my opinion, it doesn’t really matter which form of photography is used – or if you use a brush, or a chisel or a pen. As long as you can express yourself freely and get in touch with yourself, it’s a win. If other people get something out of it, that’s the icing on the cake.

You’re interested in existentialism – can you explain this a little?

After many years of photographing what I emotionally react to, and finding out what goes on in my subconscious, I have figured out that most of my themes deal with some sort of existentialism. I didn’t have the easiest of upbringings, even though I come from a stable family, and I guess part of my internal self is questioning: am I even allowed to be here?

As such, existentialist themes come very naturally as they are part of my inner psyche. It therefore shows up in my photography projects, as I try to be honest with myself and because I photograph what I react to. Thus, themes like family, religion, alienation, beauty and searching come to the surface, as they are all things that I have dealt with (or am dealing with) in my life.

“Photography is an unspoken language where you can communicate without the use of words… And like in most art forms, it has the potential to reach the conscious and the subconscious”

How did you become involved in the Indian Photo Festival – and where does Sapiland fit in the programme? 

 I found out about the Indian Photo Festival many years ago, through the Head On Photo Festival in Australia. In 2016 I submitted my series Heaven and Earth and was lucky to be selected and exhibited at IPF which unfortunately, I couldn’t attend. I continued to submit and was lucky to be selected again for the last edition. This time I made sure that I was able to finally visit in person. My time at the festival was extraordinary. I was very well looked after and met some wonderful people and found the exhibitions beautifully curated. On top of that I fell in love with India.

There were many themes presented at the festival, and many unique viewpoints. A number of the exhibitions centred on nature and what humans do with it. I feel that Sapiland fits in well as it is important that more of us realise that we only have one planet.

What are you working on currently? Will Sapiland lead to any related work?

 For now, Sapiland is finished. That doesn’t mean that I won’t take pictures of the human footprint when I see it, but I am actively working on putting together another project I shot over many years. I’m also working on putting together my projects from the last 15 years into a slideshow format. I recently presented this to my family and friends as a test run, showing my photography in a more holistic way and explaining the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’. I am thinking of maybe extending this and hiring a cinema to show my work to a wider audience.

Indian Photo Festival is at various venues across Hyderabad until 7 January 2024