Visa (picture agency)

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legal form GmbH
founding 1975
Seat Munich , GermanyGermanyGermany 
management Alfred Bullesbach
Branch Picture agency , photojournalism

The visa Photo GmbH ( own spelling VISA ) is a 1975 founded photo agency in Munich marketed journalistic photography.


Visum was founded in 1975 by the photographers André Gelpke , Gerd Ludwig and Rudi Meisel in Essen . Like Dirk Reinartz , who joined in 1977 , they were graduates of the Folkwang School and pupils of Otto Steinert .

Visum is the first agency in Germany based on the model of Magnum Photos and has become a "pioneer and model for later agency foundings". In contrast to most photo agencies, Visum is an agency founded by photographers that is still owned by photographers today. This distinguishes it from the vast majority of photo agencies that are neither owned nor managed by photographers.

Visum is one of the few German photo agencies still on the market that was founded before 1980 and is Germany's oldest photography agency. Further agencies such as Laif (1981), Bilderberg (1983) and The Photographers Archive (1985) were founded based on the Visa model. Besides Laif, only Visum survived the massive changes brought about by digitization.

The founding of Visum marks the beginning of a new era in German photojournalism after 1945. After the end of World War II, it could no longer build on the great successes of the Weimar period. Most well-known and talented photographers were forced to leave the country by the Nazis. They had started new careers in the USA or Great Britain and did not return to Germany. The resulting gaps were only slowly closing. There were first-class photo reporters Hilmar Pabel, Robert Lebeck and Thomas Höpker, but they were permanently employed by Stern magazine and were therefore limited in their international perception and impact. Others, like Horst Faas, who was awarded two Pulitzer prizes, preferred to pursue their careers abroad or in the service of foreign clients.

A noticeable change only occurred through the work of Otto Steinert, who from 1959 taught photography at the Folkwang School of Design in Essen. He put an emphasis on documentary and journalistic photography. With his work, Steinert shaped generations of young photographers who developed a new awareness of the value of their work. Closely related to this is the terminology used by author photographers. In the past, the photographers were mostly just "picture suppliers" whose names were often not even mentioned, now they see themselves more and more as creatives of equal value to copywriters who made a significant contribution to the success of a print product. This revived what had already developed in the Weimar Republic. Photographers became prominent role models, sometimes stars.

In 1978, Visum relocated its headquarters to Hamburg in order to be physically closer to the clients relevant to the agency, such as Stern, Zeit and Spiegel. Working with numerous leading media from home and abroad, the agency quickly gained international recognition. This is also evidenced by the fact that only the visa photographers Rudi Meisel and Gerd Ludwig from Germany were invited to the top-class “A Day in the Life” projects, which took place between 1981 and 1997.

The success of Visa was also boosted by the general social change of the 1970s and the associated liberalization and modernization of the press landscape. It became more colorful and the focus shifted to images. This trend was further reinforced by the establishment of new magazines such as GEO (1976) and FAZ Magazin (1980). Economic factors also played a role. Advertisers demanded better print quality, which in turn enabled the publication of more high-quality photo reports.

For the first 25 years of the agency, the Visa photographers took pictures exclusively with analog technology. In 2001 the first Visa photographers began to work with digital cameras. Before digitization, as was common in the image rights trade at the time, the physical images were only made available to customers on loan.

The sending of physical images to the agency's customers has been eliminated with digitization, as images are now only transmitted digitally. The analog image archive at Visum was gradually dissolved by 2008. About a million slides and photo prints were returned to the photographers.


Customers of the internationally active picture agency are book publishers , advertising agencies , newspapers and magazines . The image archive can be researched on the agency's website and via the Picturemaxx media network. The agency's image offer is updated daily. Over the years, Visum has built a network of around 100 contract photographers. In addition to the three founders, other personalities of the agency are relevant for photojournalism in Germany. These include Lars Bauernschmitt, former managing director of the company, long-time director of the BVPA and professor at the University of Hanover , Hermann Dornhege, professor at the University of Applied Sciences in Münster , Michael Ebert , university lecturer and executive board member of the German Society for Photography and Rolf Nobel , former professor and founder of the photojournalism and documentary photography course at Hanover University.

With group photographic projects and photo exhibitions, the agency wants to promote the exchange between photographers and the discussion about photography. The agency supports scientific work on photojournalism and some members hold lectures and seminars at journalism schools and universities.

In 2014, the visa photographer Stefan Boness was awarded the photography and caricature competition Rückblende - German Prize for Political Photography and Caricature .

In 2016 Rolf Nobel received the Dr. Erich Salomon Prize of the German Society for Photography for his work as a photographer, teacher, festival and gallery founder .


  • Ammann, Ilona; Grittmann, Elke; Neverla, Irene: (Ed.), Global, Local, Digital - Photojournalism Today. Cologne, 2008
  • Bauernschmitt, Lars; Büllesbach, Alfred: plus49 / VISUM. Göttingen, 2000
  • Bauernschmitt, Lars; Ebert, Michael: Handbook of Photojournalism - History, Forms of Expression, Areas of Application and Practice, dpunkt Verlag, Heidelberg, 2015
  • Büllesbach, Alfred: The professional situation of freelance photo journalists in the Federal Republic of Germany. Master's thesis at the Department of Communication Studies at the Free University of Berlin at the Institute for Journalism, 1992
  • Büllesbach, Alfred; Görg, Horst-Dieter: Photography at Hanomag. People & machines in Hannover-Linden. Edition VISUM published by morisel Verlag, Munich, 2016
  • Büllesbach, Alfred; Klein, Michael: On the Rhine, Sieg and Wied. Boundless views between Bonn, Siegburg and Neuwied. Edition VISUM published by morisel Verlag, Munich, 2014
  • God in Germany. A photo project by VISUM photographers in collaboration with Leica Camera AG. In-house publication by VISUM Foto GmbH, 2006
  • Landmarker: With the camera in: Istanbul. Edition VISUM published by morisel Verlag, Munich, 2015
  • Schledding, Felix Martin: Structures of the selection and utilization of journalistic images by picture agencies. Master's thesis at Faculty III for Media and Design at the University of Hanover, 2017
  • VISUM Fotoreportagen GmbH: VISUM Archive - A picture agency introduces itself. Hamburg, 1991


  • Agence VISA. In: ZOOM - Le Magazine de l'image. Numero Special: La Photographie Allemande, 1978, p. 34ff
  • The photographers from VISUM. Portrait with very different heads. In: ART / WORK, No. 1/1982, p. 15ff
  • Head images. Portrait photography at VISUM. In: VISUELL No. 1/2018, p. 6ff
  • Schumann, Jochem: Four men see the world with camera eyes. In: Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung , October 21, 1978, p. 03/06 (Essen)
  • Spaeth, Andreas: From elite group to service provider. In: Medium Magazin , No. 6/1996, pp. 70ff
  • Solve issues together. In: PHOTO FILM, 56/1977, p. 52ff
  • Veni, vidi, VISA. In: DIA Magazin, No. 3/1998, p. 34ff
  • VISUM: from HH to H, to the photographers. In: PICTORIAL, No. 5/2015, p. 15
  • VISA - Georg Fischer. In: Photo Revue, No. 7/1978, 72f
  • VISUM - agency for photo design and photo journalism. In: PIAG-Report, No. 2/1980, p. 29
  • VISUM - with attention to detail. In: Photo Technik International. No. 05/2002, p. 62ff
  • Learn from professionals. VISUM Photo School Hamburg. In: ProfiFoto , No. 10/2011, p. 8

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Book author Alfred Büllesbach Retrieved October 4, 2018
  2. Photography with Rudi Meisel
  3. Visum - The group sees more - Portrait of a photography agency In: Die Zeit : ZEIT Magazin, September 15, 1978, Peter Sagel, pp. 30–35, accessed on October 9, 2018
  4. a b (September 2, 2010): Press release: VISUM Images reloaded
  5. a b Visa moves to Hanover In: Freelens , July 27, 2015, accessed on September 17, 2018
  6. WAZ Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, No. 245 of October 21, 1978, Jochen Schumann, "Successful quartet calls itself 'Visum'"
  7. ^ The oldest German photo agency, Visum, is moving from Hamburg to Hanover In: Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung , August 21, 2015, accessed on September 17, 2018
  8. Der Spiegel: Obituary for AP war photographer Horst Faas
  9. Where is the picture market in 2018? Federal Association of Professional Image Providers (BVPA), February 22, 2018, accessed on February 4, 2020 .
  10. ^ HsH - Faculty III: Prof. Lars Bauernschmitt
  11. MSD - Münster School of Design: Prof. Dipl.-Des. Hermann Dornhege
  12. Information Service Science: New photojournalism course from winter semester 2008/09 in Magdeburg
  13. Lecturer in the photojournalism and documentary photography course
  14. German Society for Photography: Press release October 5th, 2018 - DGPh members elected the executive board in Cologne
  15. ^ - University of Hanover: Professor Rolf Nobel in retirement
  16. VISUM photographer wins photo competition
  17. ^ German Society for Photography: Prof. Rolf Nobel receives the Dr. Erich Salomon Prize 2016 from the DGPh
  18. ^ University of Hanover: Prof. Rolf Nobel receives the Dr. Erich Salomon Prize 2016 from the DGPh