Previous exhibitions

11 May – 31 October 2012, Bezirkskrankenhaus Kufstein
13 April - 30 April 2010, Stadtbibliothek Herrenberg
12 October - 11 November 2009, Städtisches Klinikum Solingen
6 October - 3 November 2008, Universityclinic city of Luebeck
21 June - 25 July 2008, Techniker Krankenkasse in Hamburg
16 May - 19 June 2008, Hühnerposten in Hamburg
10 November - 28 November 2007, Zollernhof in Berlin

Further exhibitions are planned.


Anyone who contemplates the photographic works of art on these pages will not take long to realize: Each universal clinical picture also entails the portrait of a life. As patients, we are given a diagnosis, but we are not the diagnosis - instead, we are human beings with fears, hopes, desires. A particular diagnosis may have been made thousands or millions of times. But each individual deals with that diagnosis differently. While Jenny may give vent to her anger, Joe may withdraw, and others may push the disease to the back of their minds as good as they can and rather devote themselves to more pleasant matters.

It is not by accident that the “Portraits” are presented as triptychs: The left image represents the domain of “Yesterday”, the feelings we had upon receiving the diagnosis. The right image is about “Today”, life with or after the disease. And in the middle, there is the human being, the individual’s portrait. All three of the images may have one thing in common: They resonate not only the sorrows and fears that overwhelm us when being diagnosed with a serious disease, but also the courage and the strength and the will to live.

The images presented here have already been exhibited in large and small cities since 2007 - at Zollernhof in Berlin, at Techniker Krankenkasse in Hamburg, in the library of the Swabian town of Herrenberg, in hospitals at Lübeck, Solingen and Kufstein. During this time, we at GSK developed new medicines and vaccines which help relieve suffering and provide people with a new perspective on their lives. Our efforts in this respect are as timeless as Götz Schwan’s photographic art.

Initially, the “portraits of life” exhibition was intended as an internal project for GSK employees. And it actually helped many of us at GSK to invigorate our relation to patients and remind us for whom we do our work. At the same time, we noted that the “Portraits” can create a much broader socially relevant impetus. An impetus to remind all of us how easy it is for each one of us to be converted to a patient - and how important it is that, as patients, we have access to the best and most effective therapies, vaccinations and treatments.


Exhibition opening speech of Bishop Dr. Huber

- Chair of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany -
Exhibition opening speech in the Zollernhof, Berlin on November 12, 2007

"Disease is an emergency of human dignity ..." pdf Download   Speech_Bishop_Huber.pdf (31KB)


Foreword by Wolfgang Behnken

Disease. The suffering is kept hidden and nearly doesn’t play a role at all in public pictures. Too much realism could destroy our wellbeing.

Our picture of ourselves in the media is full of vitality, joy of life and the belief in the invulnerability of our body. Health and fitness are highly regarded and sought-after in our society and they are an entry ticket to fortune, power, reputation and influence.

On the contrary, disease is weakness and it has no face. This instantaneously changes when we look into the eyes of a loved one who is forced by fate to stay in sickbed – or when we get sick ourselves. We quickly and painfully have to learn that weakness is part of our human existence.

Neither for the employees of the pharmaceutical industry has the patient a face. He or she is a symptom, a diagnosis, an unknown creature. GlaxoSmithKline and Götz Schwan can take credit for providing us with faces for the diseases.

Asthma is no longer just a disease of the respiratory tract but it is also the face and fate of Janine Schmechel, who does not need to fear suffocation anymore. She can now happily enjoy jogging in her free time.

Leukemia is the face of Alissa, who at the age of four worried her parents with her cry for help “Mommy, my legs can hardly carry me anymore”. The diagnosis leukemia hung like a sword of Damocles above the family. Today, Alissa can enjoy the untroubled life of an adolescent girl.

It must be a great feeling for GSK employees to see who they work for. And they can be proud when therapy helps leading a painless, self-determined life.

Even though the photos reflect severe forms of suffering Götz Schwan was able to show Portraits of Life that are encouraging. Photos that are balanced on the thin line between kitsch and insincere consternation on the one side and real sympathy on the other. They never fall into the abyss of false metaphors. Photos that, in the form of a triptych, empathetically and unpretentiously tell the stories of people. Stories that give us courage and that ease our fear should we someday also be faced with an uncomfortable diagnosis.

Conclusion: GSK had a great idea and Götz Schwan did a great job of realizing it.

Wolfgang Behnken
Art Director, Funk und Behnken
Hamburg, November 2007


Acknowledgement by Götz Schwan

Götz Schwan

I have been working on the “Portraits of Life” for more than a year now and they got me to far-flung places of Germany. I got to know people and I learned about fates that have enriched my life a lot. Therefore, I would like to thank all those people that I was allowed to take pictures of, people that trusted me and that let me so close to themselves.

The illustrated stories were actually intended for a permanent, internal exhibition for GSK employees only. They should show who the employees work for day by day. But then we learned about the enthralling and fiery stories behind the scenes.

With the help of the initiative by Dr. Thomas Werner I am now able to share these stories with a broad audience. I am very happy about that and I thank the management of GlaxoSmithKline and particularly Claudia Kubacki for their confidence and their support. I would also like to thank my assistant Nils Muhl and the team of officethirtysix for the creative and constructive cooperation.

Götz Schwan


CV Götz Schwan

Götz Schwan, born in 1960, started his career as an assistant to Volker Krieger and Reinhart Wolf. He made a name of himself through photo articles for magazines such as Stern, MAX or ROLLING STONE and he shot international advertising campaigns. Now, photo articles with and about authentic people “from the street“ are his favorite themes; his expertly staged portrait photography is unique. Götz Schwan lives in Schleswig-Holstein. He is married and has four children.