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Do not refreeze

July 27, 2007

After few weeks of a blogging fast and lack of any writing… I’d like to return back to the exhibition “Do not Refreeze. Photography behind the Berlin Wall.” It will be touring the UK during the next months and it showcases the -unknown so far to West- work of a group of innovative and subversive photographers working in East Germany for more than 40 years after the War.

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Crop (above) from the relevant article published in Black & White Photography (Issue 72, May 2007) . At top a photograph by Gundula Schulze Eldowy. She photographed a neighborhood of Berlin documenting a community’s permanent melancholia; as she put it “they had lost their ability to dream.” The photography of the era offers a dynamic, critical and democratic documentery of the human and social condition during the socialist regime and through political change. Although, these photographers are coming from different backgrounds, they have created a superb photographic reality which highlighted an ideological and emotional conflict.

As shown in our previous post, the GDR authorities were aware of the power of the image and were highly tuned to pass their messages, for example censoring and manipulating a public photo in order to reinforce their normative image of happy people and social consensus.

However, the curator Matthew Shaul (who was fundamental in the conception and materialisation of this exhibition) has posed this intriguing question: How did such an extraordinary visual work, with its obviously subversive and critical character, came into being in a society that was not going to allow any opposition? In other words, how did the authorities fail to see that photography could be constructed to turn against them?

And he answers this question: “Because photography wasn’t considered to be art.”

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Crop from a photograph by Sybille Bergemann, Hoppenrade, 1975

The general perception of photography at that time was vague with no written definitions of what should be or should do, escaping any perception of dangerous or critical potential. Notably, photographers after graduation were to become general members of the Artists Union, but without being in a separate section no official supervision and control was excerted. So unlike, let’s say, painting, literature, theatre and other arts, photography enjoyed a comparative freedom and even a public promotion or at least without official interference, despite its dynamic critical stance (B&W Photography 72/2007).

More information about the touring days and venues here

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