Scarred Snapshots of a Scarred Childhood

Für Mich by Sina Niemeyer is a book about abuse; how it affects the body, the mind, the home, and the family of the victim. This is a book of scarred pictures of a scarred childhood, phototherapy in its rawest form.

© Sina Niemeyer, spread from the book Für Mich

There aren’t many photography books that are dedicated to the photographer, but that’s what happens with Sina Niemeyer’s Für Mich - for me. It’s a book that Niemeyer made for herself. It’s her therapy, it’s her statement, it’s her revenge.

It’s a book that starts with the cover. “You taught me to be a butterfly only so you could break my wings.” The first picture is of Sina, laughing in a rowing boat. This is what childhood should be, this is what childhood wasn’t for Niemeyer. The next picture is of a photograph that has been torn to shreds, but in the midst of the fragments we can see the face of man. He’s smiling but there’s sinister feel to it. Already the sequence has widened the story line. We have a sense of anxiety about what is coming next. “This is where I met you. I had such a happy childhood” reads the text printed on glassine paper laid over a picture of a swimming pool.

The narrative is opening up, touching on our expectations, our background knowledge of predatory men. There’s another picture of him, all scratched out. And in the words that accompany the picture, the emotions, the feelings, the abuse is concealed, blurred by a world of secrets and conspiracy created by this adult male.

© Sina Niemeyer, spread from the book Für Mich

But nothing is pinned down, everything is vague and insinuated. Only the destruction is left in the form of Niemeyer’s ripped, scratched, burned images of the man who destroyed her life. The waste of energy, the resentment, the resentment at the resentment, the what-ifs, even the understanding burdens Niemeyer. What, she asks herself, if she just didn’t care. What, she asks herself, if he had never existed. But exist he did and he crossed lines that are not specified but we see her legs and we see the domestic sites where his behaviour intruded into her perspective of family space and her family life. Nowhere was safe.

“This is where my grandpa cuddled me,” she writes. “You were sitting next to him and I was already scared that you would take the opportunity to touch me. And so you did.” The effect of this is made clear in a text, typewritten now, saying “You did not only destroy my relationship towards men in general, but also my relationship with my Dad and my brothers.” And that’s what the book is about, how this physical, psychological, and sexual intrusion into a young girl’s world, her body, destroyed the life around her. The problem for Niemeyer, as for any victim of abuse, is how to recover from this.

© Sina Niemeyer, spread from the book Für Mich

Für Mich is her attempt in book form. It’s a kind of phototherapy where the places, the spaces, and the people involved in her abuse are laid out. And so are her responses, quiet, unspectacular, non-specific, and all the more moving because of it. Because abuse is non-specific, it’s generic, it tends to a pattern, it exploits psychological weaknesses, it gets into the victim and never leaves.

But perhaps it does, in the burning, the scratching, the cutting of the photographs. In Für Mich, the photographs are fetishes, the destruction of which brings destruction of the bearer of the image. And with that destruction, the past is reset, the what-if-this-hadn’t-happened becomes, if only in the smallest way, a reality. And that is Für Mich, a small but very skilfully edited book which is both insightful and touching.

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Für Mich by Sina Niemeyer

Published by Ceiba Editions in June 2018

English, with translations to German, Italian, Spanish, French

Transparent cover with flaps, softcover, handbound // 96 pages // 19 × 14 × 0.9 cm // €30

BUY HERE

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Sina Niemeyer is a German photojournalist living and working between Hamburg, Hannover and Berlin, Germany. Her interest lies in cultural subjects and social issues linked to the human condition. Follow her on PHmuseum and Instagram.

Colin Pantall is a photographer, writer and lecturer based in Bath, England. His latest book, All Quiet on the Home Front, focuses on family, fatherhood and the landscape. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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