Journeys to the Ends of the Earth

Photographs by Michael Runkel

Himba girl, Namibia. Photo: Michael Runkel


March 15 till July 1, 2018

Guided tours by the artist:
Sunday, April 22 and 29, 2018, at 2 and 4 p.m. each day

Michael Runkel has been traveling the world for 30 years, from the glaciers of the far north to the ice fields of the Antarctic, from blazing deserts to steaming equatorial jungles, from remote islands of the South Pacific to the thronging metropolises of Europe. The Nuremberg native hadn't planned to spend his life seeing the whole world. But the more trips Michael Runkel took, the more he realized that many of the most beautiful, most interesting, most exciting places were off the beaten track – places that were scarcely known, still generally unheard of, sometimes remote and relatively hard to reach, whether because they lay at the farthest corners of the earth or because they were in politically unstable regions – and thus seldom saw a visit from outsiders.

Michael Runkel has been roaming every country of the globe since 1988, visiting more than 1000 of what he counts as the world’s 1285 regions. According to Nomad Mania, a listing of extreme travelers, he now counts as one of the ten most-traveled people in the world. But for this photographer, traveling covers not just geography, but time: "Traveling over the past few decades, I've noticed how ecological, technical, political and economic developments have drastically changed our world – for better and for worse. Just to take one example, our oceans are desperately overfished, which has cost countless people their livings," he reports. On the other hand, he's noticed some amazingly positive developments elsewhere, especially in Asia. After returning from his first trip to India in 1991, he was firmly convinced that humanity was finished. The misery there was overwhelming. Immense numbers of people were living in horrifying conditions, from catastrophic sanitation to sometimes murderous overcrowding. But he's been back to India seven times since then, and has seen things gradually change for the better: "I won't say the situation in the subcontinent isn't still hard, but on every trip I've seen less suffering and poverty, and in many places significantly better living conditions."

He tells of similarly encouraging developments in many other countries – except for those in Africa. Apart from a few regions, he feels the situation there has deteriorated over the past few decades. Civil war and ethnic conflict, ecological catastrophe, population growth and omnipresent corruption have interfered too much with progress there. "Not least of all, exploitation by local elites has played a crucial role. And those people's position is being reinforced not just by industrialized western nations, but also by China, in the way they lay waste African countries' natural resources without enabling the majority of people to share in the profits."

The exhibition takes visitors along many different pathways to a vast range of places. These coincide with the seven "Destinations" that have already laid out the framework for Runkel's recently released photo volume, Meine Reisen an die Enden der Welt. Geschichten eines Globetrotters – "My Travels to the Ends of the Earth. Tales of a Globetrotter." They offer an awe-inspiring range of breathtaking impressions: Everlasting Ice. Adrenaline. Stranded. Settled. Swallowed Up by the Sands. Going East. And not least of all, Ever Upwards. He's talking about destinations like the roof of the world, endless deserts, deep jungle, unique natural phenomena and cultural heritages, worlds of lonely ice or islands – and also some of the planet's most dangerous places.

A special area of the exhibition is dedicated to the people the globetrotting photographer has met on his numerous journeys. His portraits are a visual plea to respect and wonder at the beauty of the earth and the diversity of its cultures.

Michael Runkel, born in Nuremberg in 1969, discovered his passion for distant lands as a boy, reading Karl May's adventure novels – a literary mainstay of many German childhoods. His collection of more than 1.8 million photographs portrays destinations, people, traditional life styles, archeological digs, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and the animals and plants of many countries. He works as a free-lance travel photographer, and has photographed every country on earth. His photos can be seen in travel guides, daily papers, magazines, advertising and a wide range of international media. Major names include the New York Times, National Geographic Traveler, Conde Nast, Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, Penguin Books and many more. This past January, he was named one of the top five photographers in the Travel category by an independent jury of experts for PhotoShelter, an international Web platform for photographic professionals.

Michael Runkel's recently released photo volume, Meine Reisen an die Enden der Welt. Geschichten eines Globetrotters, is available (in German only, for the moment) for EUR 35 at the museum shop and in good book stores.