Everything’s a Conspiracy:
The Life of Freemason Communities
The lack of information causes myths about masons to circle around. Some people are convinced that the masons rule the world and are plotting a conspiracy, others think that their fraternities are just harmless gatherings of old people. German photographer Juliane Herrmann infiltrated a mason community and showed what the secret society is like from the inside.
Documentary photographer from Cologne, Germany. Studied photography in Dortmund and the Netherlands. For her project Man among Men received the first prize at the contest for young photographers in Germany.
— I’m very intrigued by social phenomena characterized by the preservation and maintenance of ideals and traditions, as you may find in an old pipe shop, a student fraternity or a freemason lodge. I’m fascinated by the persistence of those phenomena in the modern times and how people create their identity within these communities. During my bachelor studies I heard about some student fraternities in Germany. Immediately my interest was caught and I did several projects in student fraternities. At some point one of the students told me about the freemasons and I had no idea who they are nor what they do. So I would just start to research and soon after contacted the lodges in the surrounding cities.
I sent them some emails and to my own surprise they answered very quickly and were open to participating in my project. Of course, it took some time to gain their trust and I had to cooperate with them otherwise they wouldn’t show me anything of their community and the work would stay on the surface. To collaborate with the people was the only way to find ways to show things that are usually invisible or hidden. In the meantime, I have a quite big network of freemasons who support my project, which also makes it easier to connect to freemasons in other countries.
I’m a very curious person and always try to stay open-minded and to overcome my own prejudices. I never had to integrate myself in their community. And because I’m a woman, I never could become a member and that’s why I remain an outsider. I will never fully understand what they do, which also keeps it interesting to me.
I like this position as an intermediary between the outside world and the freemasons. I believe to be curious and to ask open questions is the best way to connect to others. You don’t need to identify with them to do a good work about their community, just stay open-minded and critical about what you see.
I’ve been working on this project for more than four years, and some of the masons became friends of mine. To see more and get deeper inside the community you need their trust. It’s might be easy to get entrance but to get their trust takes a while. Especially the ones who were open to my work, the ones who supported it from the beginning and helped me to get further with it, became friends of mine. To dive as deep as possible into a subject you need to open up yourself, and at some point they might become more than a contact person for you.
Freemasons are mostly very normal people. I couldn’t find anything strange about them. Sure, they dress up in a slightly funny way and they might do strange things from the point of view of an outsider, but for them this is all normal and has a specific reason.
In freemasonry you can find a cross-section of the society. One of the principles is that all members are equal, no matter their social and financial background. From my experience I would say that most members are from the educated classes, which seems natural, thinking about the philosophical background of the community: freemasons work on themselves to become better human beings. The mixture of men in freemasonry varies also depending on the country.
At first I was quite excited what I would experience with the freemasons. But soon after I became quite relaxed, when I realized that the freemasons (at least the ones I know) are harmless, friendly people. I think the ideals they have are very interesting. But because we are not living in a perfect world the freemasons are just normal human beings with good and weak character traits, just like you and me.
In Germany there are just 16,000 freemasons nowadays. This is mainly because of the dark time during the Nazi-Regime, when the freemason lodges were forbidden and many freemasons were brought to concentration camps. During the post-war time freemasonry stayed forbidden in East-Germany and in socialist countries. In general, one can say in countries with a dictatorship, or with a significant influence of the church, freemasonry is still very hidden or even forbidden. Worldwide there are more than six million freemasons nowadays, most of them are practicing in England and the USA, where freemasonry is more like a mass phenomena than a secret society.