Status quo
in West Berlin:

Michael Schmidt (1945 – 2014)

Photograph by Michael Schmidt, silver gelatin paper, 90 x 68,5 cm
© Stiftung für Fotografie und Medienkunst mit Archiv Michael Schmidt

This black-and-white photograph was shot through a bespattered glass pane. There is a black streak down the middle, perhaps a remnant of paint or of a torn-off sticker. Hazily discernible in the background are two telephone booths on the left and a white delivery van with text in front of a block of flats on the right.

Some young photographers in the 1970s worked independently, without commercial commissions, and with a radical, subjective view. It was the birth of auteur photography, and Michael Schmidt (*1945) was in from the start. At his “Werkstatt für Photographie” he taught and influenced many photographers in Berlin, importing New Topographics to Germany – a style on a quest for new themes that discovered the urban margins and seemingly unspectacular locations.

Schmidt’s series “Truce” impressively conveyed the atmosphere in West Berlin at that time. The title was a conscious choice. The Cold War weaponry may have been silent, but there was no peace. Even if things were quiet in the divided city, there was tension in the air and a sense of waiting, and Schmidt captured that in his photographs. He was fascinated by the grey zones between nature and architecture, the deserted squares, and diffuse views – like here through the smears on a window pane.

The 42 photographs in the series include portraits of anonymised youngsters. They are trying to find their identity and, just like the city, they are in a state of transition. This, then, is much more than a portrait of the urban environment. “Truce” captures the feel of life on the west side of the Wall.

from the series: Waffenruhe ("Truce")
1985 – 87
Silver gelatin paper
90 x 68,5 cm
Acquired with budgetary funding from Berlinische Galerie, 2000

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