ConceptEuropeSehnsucht by Barbara Diener

Sehnsucht is a German compound word derived from yearning (das Sehnen) and addiction (die Sucht). But even when considered together these words cannot adequately translate the full meaning. It is a longing for someone or something that cannot be fully defined and will not be found.
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Sehnsucht is a German compound word derived from yearning (das Sehnen) and addiction (die Sucht).

But even when considered together these words cannot adequately translate the full meaning. It is a longing for someone or something that cannot be fully defined and will not be found.

It is hard to define the abstract feeling of comfort one equates with home. Initially motivated by a longing for this feeling, I made these photographs in small towns and rural communities in the United States and Europe that are demographically similar to the town in Germany where I grew up. The focus of this project has shifted to the communities in towns that are maintained despite a disappearing rural lifestyle. My photographs do not merely document but rather translate the ritualistic and spiritual undercurrent of these places into concrete visual representations. The somberness of the inhabitants in these photographs is balanced by the beauty of the landscape, discouraging a one-sided understanding of them. The landscape becomes a character itself and represents the pride in the land I have encountered in my subjects.

These villages are as complex as the sense of rootedness I am searching for and the deliberate linking of disparate subjects (portraits, landscapes, interiors) mirrors this. My attraction to the rural does not only stem from my upbringing. There is a quietude to this environment that strips away distractions and amplifies the inevitable cycles of life. The people in my photographs exist in their own world and this spatial and emotional distance functions as a reminder that these places remain impermeable and the comfort I am searching for is indeed elusive.


Diener was born in 1982 in Germany and received her BFA in photography from the California College of the Arts and MFA in photography from Columbia College Chicago.

Her work has been exhibited at the Griffin Museum of Photography, Winchester, MA, Recession Art, Brooklyn, NY, Lilllstreet Art Center, Chicago, IL, Riverside Art Center, Chicago, IL. Pingyao Photo Festival, China, The Arcade, Chicago, IL, Philadelphia Photo Arts Center, Philadelphia, PA, Darkroom Gallery, Essex Junction, VT and Project Basho, Philadelphia, PA among others.

Diener is a winner of Flash Forward 2013, the recipient of a Follett Fellowship at Columbia College Chicago and was awarded the Albert P. Weisman Award in 2012 and 2013. She is currently working as the Photography Collection Assistant at the Art Institute Chicago. [Official Website]

Motivation and Inspiration

Since I was young I obsessively wanted to capture most moments of my life. Even before I had a camera I would envision what I would photograph if I had one. Finally, for my eighth birthday my grandmother took me to Toys-R-Us and said I could choose one thing from the entire store. All I wanted was a pink point-and-shoot camera. Ever since I have been documenting my life and the people around me.

Whenever my parents took me to an art museum I headed straight to the photography collection, which, in most museums, is still located in the basement. I specifically remember visiting the Art Institute of Chicago when I was ten and now I am extremely humbled and honored to work in the Photography Department at this very museum. I have the privilege to touch and look at the photographs of Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston and Henri Cartier-Bresson, to name a few, that fascinated me all those years ago.

Some of my photographic influences and inspirations include Jim Goldberg and Larry Sultan who I studied under at the California College of the Arts and Paul D’Amato, Dawoud Bey and Kelli Connell who were my professors at Columbia College Chicago.  William Eggleston will continue to be one of my greatest inspirations and most recently I have been motivated by the portraiture and story telling of Ron Jude, Vivian Sassen and Birthe Piontek.

Photography’s ability to transform and visually dissect the world will continuously fascinate and inspire me and will always be a driving force in my artistic practice.

Smoke Savannah Pink Curtain Andrea Alice Tree Tombstone Sun Rays Nun Nancy Lace Curtain Kathy Kathy and Trex George Fireworks Fire Farmhouse Branches Bevin

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