Born in Germany in 1964, Reiner Leist emigrated to South Africa in 1988 and then from South Africa to the United States in 1994. His works are ongoing long-term projects that examine the relationship between individual lives and societies, history, landscape and architecture.
For South Africa: Blue Portraits (1993 with an introduction by Wulf Herzogenrath) he interviewed and portrayed 200 participants from 1989 until 1993. It was published by Nazraeli Press on the eve of the first democratic elections in South Africa. Starting in 2009 he re-visited the original participants in the project. The resulting portrait photographs and interviews were published by Jacana Media as Another Country: South Africa New Portraits. It includes black-and-white portraits that are followed by new color portraits of the participants, but also of surviving sons or daughters, a grandson, a new bearer of the office, or the same site. The images are accompanied by edited versions of the conversations. Blue Portraits and Another Country were extensively discussed in the media.
The photographs of Reiner Leist’s Window series offer a perspective on 20 years of New York City life. Since March 1995, he has photographed almost daily the view from the window of his apartment, in an office building on Manhattans 8th Avenue. On the left is pictured the corporate tower One Penn Plaza, across the street from Pennsylvania Station and Madison Square Garden; on the right, the aging New Yorker Hotel; and in the distance, amid countless skyscrapers, the World Trade Center, as it once was, and is today. Leists long-term conceptual study is both a personal diary and an unsuspecting witness to a historical turning point. Today, more than 4,500 photographs have accrued, produced with 8×10 film and two antique large-format cameras. The installation Window was on exhibition at the Museum of Photography in Berlin (2006/2007) and at Julie Saul Gallery in New York (2006) as well as Walter Storms Galerie, Munich (2006, 2009 and 2016) and at the Stadthaus Ulm in 2015. Prestel published Window Eleven Septembers, Leist’s fourth monograph, in conjunction with the Berlin and New York exhibitions. Window was also included in the exhibition Eminent Domain: Contemporary Photography and New York City curated by Stephen Pinson in 2008 for the New York Public Library and Big Picture at the Norton Museum of Art in 2007 and in Notations: Under the Influence of John Cage in 2012.
American Portraits, which pairs portraits of individuals from the present and childhood, was begun in 1995 and published in 2001. It was exhibited at the I.M.Pei Building German Historical Museum (DHM) in Berlin in 2004 and most recently at the Centre Culturel Français in Freiburg, Germany in 2017 in French translation.
Since 2001 Leist has worked on projects in Japan and Vietnam. Numerous exhibitions have been held of his work, including the Fotomuseum München, Stiftung Moritzburg, Halle, Meridian International Center, Washington, D.C., The Norton Museum of Art, Chuo Library, Musashino, Tokyo, IWAB Biennale 2009, Incheon, Korea, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology Gallery, Melbourne, Australia, National Museum of Art, Hanoi, Vietnam, National Museum of Art, Jakarta, Indonesia, the National Historical Museum (DHM), Berlin, Germany and the Johannesburg Art Gallery, South Africa. Leist taught in the Visual Arts Program at MIT, Cambridge, Massachusetts. from 2000 until 2003 and is currently a professor in studio art at Hunter College, The City University of New York.