Thomas Wagner is a German documentary photographer with a special interest in Latin America and models of cooperation in regions where the state is absent or weak. He lived in Bogotá from 2010 to 2019. Before that, he lived in Caracas for three years where he covered at first hand life in the badly named socialism of the 21st century. He travelled and reported on various parts of Latin America, as well as countries outside Latin America including the Democratic Republic of Kongo, Serbia and Kosovo. His photographs have been published by various German and international media outlets, including DIE ZEIT, ZEITMagazin and The Miami Herald.

Models of Cooperation

Both in Colombia and in Venezuela, corruption and inequality diminish the quality of life. The state excludes from its services many citizens for being poor or for not sharing a certain political ideology. In the worst case, the government even becomes a threat to the citizen. Think of cases such as the Falsos Positivos in Colombia or the oppression of the opposition protests in Venezuela.

In his work, Wagner has portrayed communities that resist and survive thanks to models of cooperation while dealing with an absent, weak or even threatening state. He understands the term “community” in a broad sense. Several examples: In 2019, Wagner retook a photographic investigation about the Jewish community in Venezuela. The previous year, he visited a marginalized neighborhood in Bogotá and described how underclass Colombians cope with the arrival of thousands of Venezuelan migrants who are even poorer than them. In 2010, he was the first German journalist in visiting the Tower David, a squatted skyscraper in downtown Caracas.

International Cooperation

Before becoming a professional photographer, Wagner worked as an editor and reporter at the Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa) and at the Agence France-Presse (AFP) in Germany, and as the Head of Communications in Colombia for the German government´s development agency, GIZ.

He has a Master’s degree in “International Cooperation and Humanitarian Aid” from the Center for Humanitarian Aid Studies in Valencia, Spain, and a M.A. in Communication and Political Sciences from the Technical University Dresden, Germany. He studied photography in Caracas with the maestro Nelson Garrido. He is a member of the Foreign Press Association in Colombia (APIC) and an alumni of the journalists network.

When the Wall fell

Wagner was born in Bernau, East Germany. He was 13 years old when the Berlin wall fell. One of his vivid memories is of his family crossing the border to West Berlin for the first time. Some young West Berliners approached him and handed him a small plastic bag full of D-Mark-coins. He saved that money to buy his first used analogue camera. He is still thankful to these anonymous helpers.

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