Harrowing scenes: the photographer who documents places of violent crimes

Documentary Photography
This series consisting of 12 photos of sexual assault scenes in Bielefeld, Germany. Each photograph is representative of other crime scenes in public space. (Image credit: Ronja Tomke Otto)

As a photographer and social worker, Ronja Tomke Otto is mindful of social issues – particularly violent crimes that happen in public places. 

Sexual harassment and sexual assault are pervasive issues, affecting one in three women at some point in their lives. To help raise awareness about this topic, Ronja started her project What Remains

"In the majority of the photographs, we can approach them objectively," she explains. "This is a scene we are mostly unfamiliar with and so in the beginning, we have no preconceptions. 

"Some visual details are noticeable but our background knowledge only prevails in familiar scenes. For example, we perceive large trees, waste bins and a small footpath from a neutral perspective. 

Ronja shot this scene with a Fujifilm GFX 50S and GF 63mm f/2.8 R WR lens (Image credit: Ronja Tomke Otto)

The taxi stops and one of my friends pays. Our group splits up at this moment – I go ahead with a friend in the direction of the disco while the others remain with the taxi. On the way there, we are approached by a large group of men asking about our sparklers. Only a few seconds pass and my friend and I are separated from each other. Several men push her in one direction and me in the other. Against my will, I am held, touched, kissed.

Victim of sexual assault

"Everything points to a seemingly tranquil, quiet environment – the evening light making the scene look idyllic, for instance. But while the image might describe a peaceful place, it also shows one where a violent sexual assault occurred. 

"This contrasting nature of the project only becomes clear to the viewer when the victim’s story is heard. That is why I decided to include descriptions in the exhibition of the project.

"These monologues reveal the full story of what previously happened at each location, provoking an emotional reaction and altering the viewer’s perception of the image from one of neutrality to disgust, anger or fear. Seen in their wider context, the photos take on a far more sinister meaning."

Tech details

Fujifilm GFX 50S

(Image credit: Digital Camera Magazine)

Camera: Fujifilm GFX 50S

Lens: Fujifilm GF 63mm F2.8 R WR

1st Image: Aperture: f/11, Shutter speed: 1/60s, ISO: 100, merge of 2 photos 

2nd Image: Aperture: f/8, Shutter speed: 1/30s, ISO: 100, merge of 3 photos

Ronja Tomke Otto Portrait
Ronja Tomke Otto

Ronja Tomke Otto is a photographer and social worker, who focuses on highlighting social issues. German-born Ronja has had her work published in magazines and her photographs displayed in numerous exhibitions. She is passionate about experimenting with digital and analogue photography.

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Kim Bunermann
Technique Editor

Kim is the Technique Editor of Digital Photographer Magazine. She specializes in architecture, still life and product photography and has a Master's degree in Photography and Media with a distinction from the FH Bielefeld University of Applied Sciences in Germany. While studying, Kim came to the UK for an exchange term at the London College of Communication. She settled in the UK and began her career path by joining Future. Kim focuses on tutorials and creative techniques, and particularly enjoys interviewing inspiring photographers who concentrate on a range of fascinating subjects including women in photography, the climate crisis; the planet, its precious creatures and the environment.