At first glance, the following texts differ too widely to give us coherent information about the past existence of art photography in the German Democratic Republic. However, it seems no coincidence that out of all the different possible and considered perspectives these three come together at this time and under these circumstances.
In the past years Wolfgang Kil has attempted several times to get an overview of and to penetrate analytically the connections between developments in the social reality (and surreality) of the GDR and photography. It may be for this reason that he accepts the desire to strike a balance once more unreluctantly, even though he is one of only a few people who have long placed the specific internal developments in an international context - modern as well as post-modern. And he less than ever hides the fact that, in doing this, he proceeds from a position for which a certain moral claim and human interest remain important. Kil has returned to his original field of activity - architecture - which was closed to him during the existence of the GDR. And even though this for now latest text about photography was written for a specific group of photographers it nevertheless depicts a background for very diverse forms of artistic articulation. By striking a general balance he also avoids name-dropping which a number of art dealers seemingly use only to gauge the usefulness of single photographers for the western art market or to use entire branches of artistic evolution to "prove" trends in East German photography or "astonishing" parallels with Western conceptions [of art].If a few photos in that text are classified (not by Kil himself, by the way) then they, too, are abused as pieces of evidence. Accordingly, they should be viewed with caution - and above all they should make you curious.
The photo historian Andreas Krase refuses the common demand to press the complex development processes of a photographic oeuvre into conclusive terms and relations in a different way. 1 He expects the distant (as well as the not-so-distant) reader to follow the detailed description of a single persons life. It is that of a woman who, with her photography, was one of the first [people] to develop and retain her artistic independence against all odds in the Closed Society - Evelyn Richter. He does this with the understanding that with it he also touches a part of his own history as well as part of general history. A part that is all too easily lost in words. At the same time it becomes apparent that the innermost motives for a certain artistic concept can not be explained solely from the characteristics of the social situation in the GDR nor from the friction with ideologic pressures. And last but not least it is a pladoyer for an artistic attitude which in the "New Time" - notwithstanding the honors presently bestowed upon Evelyn Richter - will probably very soon be of historical interest only.
Even if Susanne Klengel does not direct her "view from without" specifically at photography but tries to characterize with her perceptions just that view some important characteristics surface. Interest in the seemingly closed chapter GDR photography is specifically tinged by those characteristics, both from "within" as well as "from without". From "within" this interest has been quite desired or even met with feverish expectation. But enthusiasm for this ambivalent exoticism, the ethno logic point if view [of the interest] as well as the yearning search for the fragments of a lost utopia are painful because they ultimately and matter-of-factly assume the modern Western world as the only standard. 2 And the pain is twofold because most East Germans thought that the Western orientation had long been internalized. But it may be that a new beginning will grow exactly from this mutual insecurity in orientation; an interest that accepts the "other" without constantly having to subordinate it to one`s own values. And this might be helpful in our so vehemently diverging world...
To convey an idea of the scope of photography in East Germany before 1989 the following three more aspects need to be mentioned:
The growing (socially critical) attitude did not remain limited to independent art photography. Even the most conformist press photographers were constantly reminded of "criticism" in their pictures by the mechanisms of censorship and they ended up creati ng that twofold readability - whether they wanted or not. On the one hand the very broad (and nowadays hardly mentioned) area of amateur photography had been made into an instrument - dilettantism "for the good of the people". On the other hand a few very special and stringent documentarists, whose conceptual ideas have been examined very little, grew out of this publicly funded area. And some of the most radical photo artists (e.g. Florschuetz, Leupold) c ould never produce any kind of diploma for their work..
And finally: in the discussion of straight photography usually those artistic concepts are not taken into consideration at all which use photographs as material, make them into photo montages, with or without text... At this time the following texts can only give a first impression of the photography of a "historical space"but it is hoped that it will stir an interest in this topic.
2 Karla Sachse uses "selbst-verstaendlich".
The word "selbstverstaendlich" means "of course", "as a matter of fact".
"Das Selbstverstaendnis" means "ones conception of oneself".