Born in Bergisch-Gladbach, Germany, Uwe Ommer became fascinated with photography at a young age. Initially sparked by his interest in photographing birds, he received his first camera at age 14 and began experimenting with his limited equipment. By the time Ommer was 18, he had given up on birds, but was improving his skills as a photographer. He began working as an apprentice in a camera shop and soon picked up side projects for local papers, shooting everything from car accidents to weddings, when staff photographers were unavailable.
In 1962, Ommer was awarded the first Deutscher Jugend Photo Preis (German Youth Photo Prize) at Photokina 1962 for his photograph of children playing soccer. The following year, he left for Paris (for only one year to learn French, he insisted) and began working as an assistant to advertising photographer Jean Pierre Ronzel. While Ommer did perfect his French, he never did leave Paris.
In 1966 he opened his own photography studio, primarily shooting fashion and advertising photos for small women’s magazines. Quickly gaining respect for his work in Paris, Ommer began showing in local galleries and eventually published his first book. In 1995, Ommer drastically changed gears and decided to embark on a project unlike anything he had ever done before – a project unlike anything anyone had ever done before. As a personal challenge, he set out the following year to document all types of families on every continent at the turn of the millennium. With a Landrover, Rolleiflex camera, portable studio, one assistant, many maps, many guidebooks (but without a phone, a gps system, any spare parts or a watch) Ommer visited 130 countries in the following four years, interviewing and photographing over 1000 families.
Returning to Paris in 2000, Ommer had a collection of 1 251 photographs illustrating the “family,” in its current and diverse state. Ommer had met and exceeded the tremendous challenge he set forth for himself four years before. He had realized his dream with a collection of photographs proving, despite differences in culture, geography, language or religion, the family remains one of the most remarkable and universal institutions for humans worldwide.
Taschen published the catalog titled 1000 Families in 2000 when the photographs were first exhibited to the public in Cologne, Germany in September at Photokina 2000. Since then, the exhibition has toured the world and has received praise for the scope and beauty of the photographs, and their simple message of commonality.
In 2002, Uwe Ommer was awarded an Honorary Fellowship to the Royal Photographic Society for the impact of his lifetime of work.