East Germany vintage photos capture youth passion along with restlessness

Photography coming from the German Democratic Republic, or East Germany, has received limited exposure within the art world — not least due to the strict limitations imposed by the former authoritarian state.

A brand-new collection of images, first shown at the 2019 Rencontres d’Arles photography festival within the south of France by curator Sonia Voss, shines a light on the works of which emerged coming from the GDR within the last decade before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

“The decade preceding the fall of the wall can be a very interesting one for the arts in Germany because there was a brand-new generation of which had not witnessed the founding of the GDR,” Voss said in a phone interview.

“These were young people who were very detached coming from political ideas, nevertheless somehow just as tired along with furious about the constraints of which they were living with, which made them more likely to break the norms or push the limits compared to previous generations.”

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Ute Mahler, Berlin, Winfried Glatzeder, Robert along with Philipp, 1982, coming from the “Living together” series.

within the “Restless Bodies” series, Voss explores how the body was at the center of these artists’ creativity. Photographing one’s own body, Voss explained, was an act of affirmation along with resistance in a society of which discouraged individuality along with was suspicious of the arts. along with by photographing others, the artists were able to provide lasting documents of East German realities.

Such was the case with Ute Mahler, one of the artists featured within the exhibition, whose “Living Together” comprises family portraits taken in Leipzig. within the exhibition’s notes, she explains: “I wanted to get a peek behind the façade of the official rhetoric of optimism. I looked for what was real in people’s private lives.” w

Similarly, Christiane Eisler’s photos of Leipzig’s punk community offer a glimpse into a private world.

Christiane Eisler, Mita along with Jana, Berlin punk girls in Leipzig, 1983.

Christiane Eisler, Mita along with Jana, Berlin punk girls in Leipzig, 1983. Credit: Christiane Eisler / transit/www.transit.de/Christiane Eisler / transit

“She followed them everywhere for a quite long time. This specific was a community of which was very strongly under repression coming from Stasi. These are very melancholic portraits because of the tension between the rage along with the despair, which was omnipresent within the GDR,” Voss said.

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Sibylle Bergemann, Heike, Berlin, 1988 (Allerleirauh).

Fashion photographer Sibylle Bergemann was commissioned by common magazines, nevertheless also captured underground fashion scenes.

“She created a group with young designers who made clothes with whatever they could find, to develop a style of which you could not see in stores. They made a lot of illegal shows, which were extremely successful, along with Sibylle documented many of them,” Voss explained.

Manfred Paul, Verena -- Geburt 3, [Verena -- Birth 3], 1977.

Manfred Paul, Verena — Geburt 3, [Verena — Birth 3], 1977.

While Manfred Paul can be primarily known for a series of photographs of Berlin’s courtyards, the series focuses on the portraits he shot of his wife as she gave birth to their first son. With their intimacy, they offer a radical contrast to the social discourse seen elsewhere.

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York der Knoefel, coming from the Schlachthaus series [Slaughterhouse], 1986-1988.

Self-taught photographer York der Knoefel spent two years documenting a Berlin slaughterhouse. “He saw This specific as a metaphor for the human condition along with sacrifice for society,” Voss said.

“To go with the portraits, he created an installation made out of zinc-coated plates which formed a labyrinth. He can be a typical example of how a young person who did not receive a standard education truly pushed the limits of photography.”

Rudolf Schäfer, Der ewige Schlaf -- visages de morts [The Eternal Sleep -- Faces of the dead], 1981.

Rudolf Schäfer, Der ewige Schlaf — visages de morts [The Eternal Sleep — Faces of the dead], 1981.

The striking portraits taken by artist Rudolf Schäfer are coming from a morgue at the Charité Hospital in East Berlin.

“I put This specific series in within the same section of the exhibition as some other portraits, because for me This specific was like a quest for the ultimate essence of an individual. When you’re a corpse you’re not a social thing anymore, you’re not a part of society, you’re just yourself down to the essence of your being,” said Voss.

Top image: Gundula Schulze Eldowy, Berlin, 1987, coming from the “Berlin on a dog’s night” series.

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