Best Work by an Emerging Photographer | Nominee

Mirja Maria Thiel

Schwanewede/OT Leuchtenburg / DE

Portrait of an Artist as an Old Man


This series tells the life of Fritz Dressler (b. 1937), a landscape and architectural photographer who has suffered from Alzheimer’s for several years. Dressler was formerly a Professor of Photography and »Moving Images« at the University of the Arts in Bremen. Before the onset of his dementia, Dressler resided in the artist village of Worpswede for more than 40 years. He was known for his influential and creative personality. Meanwhile, he is no longer able to call his illness by its name, but can only resignedly acknowledge, »Actually, I don’t know anything anymore.« But his self-awareness – as someone who sees himself as an artist and thus preserves his presence – is still alive: »I am not dead, I’m still moving!« In my free work, which began in September 2016, I am completely committed to the emotional reality of the charismatic protagonist: his intensity, vulnerability and resilience define the portraits of his soul.


Mirja Maria Thiel, born in Hamburg, Germany in 1971, studied American, English and German Literature and Linguistics at the Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg, Germany. She finished her studies with a Master’s thesis exploring the "Grotesque Worldview and Mythical Consciousness in Selected Works of American Poetress Sylvia Plath". Thereafter she worked for the literary publishing houses’ editorial departments at Suhrkamp and Schöffling & Co as well as for the image editorial department of the World Wide Fund for Nature, all situated in Frankfurt a. M.

From 2006 until 2010 she lived with her family in the countryside between Appenzell and St. Gallen in Switzerland. In the years defined by motherhood she wrote a non fiction book about dressage and bitless riding education framing the ideas of her riding teacher that was published at Georg Olms Press, Hildesheim, Germany in 2007/2010.

The experience of motherhood has intensified her enduring interest in storytelling as a means of rising to challenge, living with change and empathising with humanity’s vulnerability. Since 2014 Mirja has been a student on the degree program (B.A.) „Photojournalism and Documentary Photography“ at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Hannover, Germany. Next to local photojournalism Mirja works primarily on personal long-term documentary projects. She lives with her husband and their three children close to Bremen in Northern Germany.

"Portrait of an Artist as an Old Man" was finalist at Portraits-Hellerau Photography Award 2018, VGH-Preis 2018 and was awarded Silver in the portfolio-personal category at Tokyo International Photo Awards 2018.