The Wall has been gone for 30 years and curators are using the occasion to shine a light on GDR photography. Here’s what to see this month!
In the wake of celebrations marking the 30th anniversary of the Fall of the Wall, GDR photography is receiving renewed attention. Museums, galleries and exhibition halls are obliging audiences with shows from both West Germans who rushed to document the end of the GDR and photographers who grew up and worked in the socialist republic. One such photographer was Berlin-born Sibylle Bergemann (1941-2010), who contributed to East German periodicals and women’s fashion magazine Sibylle (the GDR’s answer to Vogue). However, it was her black and white photographs of everyday East German life that made her name – and until January 19, a number of these can be found in Gropius Bau’s wonderful group show Walking Through Walls. Among them are gems like “Berliner Mauer, Bernauer Strasse, Berlin” (1990), showing a girl of around 10, hand on hip and head cocked as she stands in front of a section of the Wall, a juxtaposition of youthful innocence set against the remnants of war and conflict.
Another Sibylle photographer on show this month is Christian Borchert (1942-2000) at Galerie Loock in Familienporträts. Anonymously captioned with the professions of the adults and location, the intimate black and white portraits are of East German families photographed in 1983 and again in 1993. Intriguing and unexplained changes – more children, missing parents, changed locations and professions, and fashion too – along with the unspoken but seismic end to the GDR in 1990, draw you into wondering what happened to these families over the intervening 10 years.
A contemporary of Borchert and Bergemann, 81-year-old life-long photographer Helga Paris is being honoured with a retrospective exhibition at the Akademie der Künste: from the faded fashion of drinkers in her series “Berlin Pubs” (1974-5) and her unique document of the achingly trendy-looking literati and artists in Prenzlauer Berg’s underground scene in the 1970s and 1980s to teenagers in the city of Hellersdorf in 1998. But it’s a grid of 12 black and white photos spanning 1981-89 that steal the show. Titled “Self-Portraits”, these represent Paris’ regular exercise of experiencing a “photographic view” of herself to spur her on in her work.
Coming at the GDR from the other side of the Wall, Munich-based photographer Stefan Moses (1928-2018) took his camera east and document the last days of the socialist republic. On show at the Bröhan Museum, A Farewell and a New Start: East German Portraits 1989-90 takes in a manageable number of mainly portraits of people as defined by their professions: “Shepherdess, Priemen” is of a young woman posing with her sheep and dog, the “District conservation Officer, Anklam” wears waders and binoculars, and so on. Most stand in front of a grey curtain, a prop Moses had long used, but which is, perhaps inadvertently, symbolic of the recently dropped iron curtain. Sadly there aren’t exact dates or further descriptions of the photos. Some, like the group shot “Textile technology workers, Leipzig” hint at the oft-untold story of state-sanctioned migration of workers from Vietnam and Mozambique into East Germany. As with all these shows the photographs are provocative and leave enough unsaid to make you want to read, watch and learn more about East Germany.
Helga Paris, Fotografin | Akademie der Künste, Mitte. Through Jan 12.
Walking Through Walls | Martin-Gropius-Bau, Mitte. Through Jan 19.
Familienporträts | Loock Galerie, Mitte. Through Feb 15.
A Farewell and a New Start: East German Portraits 1989-90 | Bröhan-Museum, Charlottenburg. Through Apr 19.