Leni Riefenstahl - Post-war Life and Career - Photography and Final Film

Photography and Final Film

In the 1960s, Riefenstahl became interested in Africa from Hemingway's book and from the photographs of George Rodger. Rodger, who had taken the first photographs of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, refused to help Riefenstahl meet Africans, citing their respective backgrounds. Riefenstahl took up photography, documenting a diverse array of subjects. She traveled many times to Africa to photograph the Nuba tribes in Sudan, with whom she sporadically lived, learning about their culture so she could photograph them more easily. They readily accepted her since they knew nothing of her past. She began a lifelong companionship with her cameraman Horst Kettner, who was 40 years her junior and assisted her with the photographs; they were together from the time she was 60 and he was 20. She was granted Sudanese citizenship for her services to the country, becoming the first foreigner to receive a Sudanese passport.

Her books with photographs of the tribes were published in 1974 and 1976 as The Last of the Nuba and The People of Kau and were both international bestsellers. While heralded by many as outstanding colour photographs, they were harshly criticized by Susan Sontag, who claimed in a review that they were further evidence of Riefenstahl’s “fascist aesthetics”. The Art Director’s Club of Germany awarded Leni a gold medal for the best photographic achievement of 1975. She also sold the pictures to German magazines. She photographed the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich and rock star Mick Jagger and his wife Bianca for the Sunday Times. Years later she photographed Las Vegas entertainers Siegfried and Roy. She befriended Andy Warhol and was a Guest of Honour at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal.

In her later years, Riefenstahl became known for her longevity and physical stamina, although she often suffered considerable pain from old injuries. At age 72, Riefenstahl began pursuing underwater photography after lying about her age to gain certification for scuba diving (she cut 20 years off her age). In 1978, she published a book of her below-water photographs, Korallengärten (Coral Gardens) followed by the 1990 book; Wunder unter Wasser (Wonder under Water). On 22 August 2002, her 100th birthday, Riefenstahl released a film called Impressionen unter Wasser (Underwater Impressions), an idealized documentary of life in the oceans and her first film in over 25 years. At age 100, she was still photographing marine life and gained the distinction of being the world's oldest scuba diver. Riefenstahl was a member of Greenpeace for 8 years.

She survived a helicopter crash in Sudan in 2000 while trying to learn the fates of her Nuba friends during the Sudanese civil war and was airlifted to a Munich hospital.

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