New at laif: Arne Piepke

We are pleased to introduce Arne Piepke as a new laif photographer. Arne is a documentary and portrait photographer from Dortmund and holds a BA in Photography from Dortmund University of Applied Sciences and Arts. In his photo essays, he explores how people develop their identities and are shaped by their communities and histories.

Arne is also a founding member of the DOCKS collective and, together with his four colleagues, has published an insightful long-term project about the flood disaster in the Ahr valley entitled »A year along the banks«.

You can also find out more about our new laif photographer on Instagram starting Monday, December 4, 2023. He will take over the laif account for a week and report on his work.


laif at Instagram


Katja Kemnitz interviewed him:


Traditions in German villages, shooting clubs, re-enactments of wars - many of your series deal directly or indirectly with the question of identity. Have you already found answers?

My interest in traditions has developed over the years. The starting point was my interest in shooting clubs in my home region. I noticed that I was increasingly interested in when people are not in their everyday lives. Instead, they take on roles based on history and community, thereby finding a certain identity away from their everyday lives.

The starting point was usually simple questions such as: What is the origin of these traditions? Why do people identify themselves through history, tradition and community?

I get answers to some questions, but often these only lead to further, more in-depth questions that are difficult to answer. I don’t necessarily want to answer them, but use them as a guide for my work. I find this process enormously exciting and it also leads to changes in my photography.


Does your work always start with a question?

One of my main motivations for dealing with a subject is always based on simple questions – on naive curiosity. With my photography, I want to try to understand the topics, learn about them myself and, in the best case, pass these questions on to the viewers. The simple initial questions can often be answered in conversation with the protagonists. Other questions develop during the process and remain until the end.

In the case of the shooting clubs, the initial questions were: Where does this tradition originate? Where do these military rituals come from? These were easy to answer. Later, I asked myself the question: »How contemporary can a centuries-old tradition actually be, and at what point has a tradition lost its actual essence?«


In an ongoing series, you delve into your own family history. You explore your grandfather's experience in the First World War. Does this personal connection change the way you photograph?

Yes, I definitely notice how my photography changes in the process of this work. I quickly realized that I can’t tell the story I want to tell with my usual visual language. That’s a big challenge for me because I realize how quickly I fall into my usual patterns. One of the main aspects of this work is not knowing, the lack of information and speculating about the questions »What if? What could have been?« I realize how documentary photography reaches its limits here. I try other methods to visualize these gaps and the personal emotionality behind the subject matter. Nevertheless, a clear documentary visual language remains. I hope that this ultimately creates a certain tension that is also comprehensible to the viewer.


When do you consider a photographic work to be complete?

It’s hard to say. There is usually a point at which I no longer feel that initial fascination and no longer have the strong urge to set off to continue photographing. When I feel a bit exhausted with the subject matter. This also happens when I’m really satisfied with my edit and don’t feel like I could add anything essential to the work.

Especially with the reenactments, I noticed at some point that everything was repeating itself. The processes repeated themselves and so did my images. This made me realize that I was slowly coming to the end of this work.


You are a co-founder of the DOCKS Collective. What makes working in the collective special for you?

I am incredibly happy to have this group. DOCKS is first and foremost a safe space for me where I can talk freely about my work, doubts and challenges. We can strengthen each other, motivate each other and also work together. But it can also be a challenge. It’s time-consuming and you always have to work out together where you stand and what goal you want to pursue together next.

Our collective work on the flood disaster in particular made me realize that we should question the egocentric perspective of documentary photography. I can only recommend getting together with people you trust.



Book Arne


Reportages by Arne