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Persona stripped

Gerhard Kassner's Berlinale Portraits 2003-2010, on display and updated daily at the Hotel Bogota, reveals larger than life personalities sans the façade – the result of only brief encounters.

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Photo by Dirk Michael Deckbar

This month, like every February in the past eight years, photographer Gerhard Kassner will be fulfilling his assignment with the Berlinale: snapping the stars in the midst of their carefully choreographed press junkets, creating a “visual guestbook” of the festival, as Kassner likes to call it.

This year only, the photographer will be showing his past and current work in a two-month exhibition at Hotel Bogota, just off of Ku’Damm. During the festival (Feb 10-19), expect daily updates and the opportunity to see the Man Behind the Camera himself – every night (21-22:00) Kassner will be on hand to discuss his work and the new portraits he took earlier that day.

At Kassner’s retrospective, 35 large scale portraits of celebrities taken at the Berlinale from 2003-2010 are on view: Jack Nicholson, Nicole Kidman, The Rolling Stones, Julianne Moore, Kate Winslet and Madonna, among others. Also featured are indie-crossover actors like Tilda Swinton, Steve Buscemi and Kristin Scott Thomas, as well as big-name directors like Steven Soderberg and Michel Gondry.

Due to the mad press frenzy of the Berlinale, Kassner is only afforded about five minutes with each star before the next one is ushered in. Over the years, this experienced photographer has learned to work quickly when he needs to, and at the Berlinale, he prefers it that way. More than a minute or two of shooting, Kassner says, and “then it gets boring.” This annual photographic ritual is punctuated by the celebrities’ signing their own photographs in a filmed ceremony afterward on the Berlinale red carpet.

Kassner’s Berlinale series is true documentation; this interest in precision is reflected even in the titles of his images, which include a record of the exact time each photograph was taken, down to the second. Kassner often has his subjects look directly into the camera, creating an intimacy and an enduring stillness that belies the ephemeral reality of the snapshot. This direct and constant gaze creates a unique impact, as famous faces we’ve all seen a million times suddenly become unknown and complex. Combining an average size of 80 x 120 cm, a neutral background and direct, frontal lighting, Kassner’s minimalist approach breaks through the pageantry and pomp of the festival. And the celebrities, stripped of their public personas, are revealed as people.