Exhibition: ‘East Side Stories. German Photographs 1950s-1980s’ at Kicken Berlin

Exhibition dates: 16th January – 17th April 2010


Sibille Bergemann (German, b. 1941) 'Untitled (Kirsten, Hoppenrade)' 1975


Sibille Bergemann (German, b. 1941)
Untitled (Kirsten, Hoppenrade)
Gelatin silver print



Many thankx to Kicken Berlin for allowing me to publish the photographs in this post. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.



Sibille Bergemann (German, b. 1941) 'Gummlin, Usedom' 1984, printed c. 1988


Sibille Bergemann (German, b. 1941)
Gummlin, Usedom
1984, printed c. 1988
From the series The Monument, 1975-1986
Gelatin silver print
30 x 45cm
© Sibylle Bergemann, Ostkreuz/Courtesy Kicken Berlin


Ute Mahler (German, b. 1949) 'Untitled' from the series 'Living Together' 1973


Ute Mahler (German, b. 1949)
Untitled from the series Living Together
Gelatin silver print, printed c. 1973
30.5 x 45.5cm
© Ute Mahler, Ostkreuz/Courtesy Kicken Berlin



Kicken Berlin will devote its first exhibition of 2010 to a selection of East German photographers. Represented in East Side Stories: German Photographs 1950s-1980s are Ursula Arnold, Sibylle Bergemann, Arno Fischer, Ute und Werner Mahler, Roger Melis, Helga Paris, Evelyn Richter as well as Gundula Schulze Eldowy – committed art photographers who achieved their own modes of expression outside the official aesthetic. F.C. Gundlach’s fashion photography from 1950s and 1960s West Berlin will be on view in the exhibition space Kicken II.

Up until the early 1970s, the cultural officers of the German Democratic Republic viewed photography not as an art medium but rather as a means of providing affirmative and idealised images of life. Personal viewpoints were not welcome. Photography that forcefully “grew out of the self-assigned task of documenting what (one) felt was worth capturing,” as Evelyn Richter put it, had to remain secret.

Arno Fischer (1927-2011) and Evelyn Richter (1930-2021) belong to those who pointed the way toward a subjective-narrative, human-centered photography in the 1950s. Key figures in the East German art photography scene, opinion shapers, and teachers at Leipzig’s Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst / Academy of Visual Arts, they influenced a form of art photography oriented toward the social-documentary “human interest” tradition. Their stance combined social participation with a commitment to critical observation from a personal point of view – as in Fischer’s series Situation Berlin (1953-1960), with its symbolically dense snapshots of the divided city.

Important influences on the development of independent photography in East Germany included the work of the Magnum agency (from 1947 on), Edward Steichen’s exhibition The Family of Man (1955) as well as Robert Frank’s radically subjective street photography.

Pictures of people and portraits are at the exhibition’s core. Ursula Arnold (1929-2012) observed her sometimes melancholy, sometimes odd contemporaries on the streets of Berlin and Leipzig, and on Berlin’s S-Bahn. She gave up working as a photojournalist early in order to avoid having to make concessions to the dictates for enthusiasm imposed from above. Helga Paris (b. 1938) took portraits of rebellious Berliner Jugendliche / Berlin Youths (1981-1982), approaching her subjects with seriousness and thoughtfulness, and concentrating fully on them as individuals. She, too, had the self-professed goal of depicting people authentically in their everyday contexts.

Sibylle Bergemann (1941-2010) made a name for herself as a sensitive portraitist, fashion photographer, and observer of the urban landscape. Das Denkmal / The Monument (1977-1986), her long-term study of the assembly of the Marx-Engels sculpture, appears, with its hovering, headless sculptural fragments to emblematically anticipate the collapse of communism.

In the Berlin of the late 1970s and early 1980s Gundula Schulze Eldowy (b. 1954) found the setting for scenes that are as drastic as they are quotidian in the series Berlin. In einer Hundenacht / Berlin: in a Dog’s Night (1977-1989) and Aktportraits / Nude Portraits (1983-1986), as no other East German photographer before her, she shows with unsparing frankness the loneliness and vulnerability of her subjects but also their dignity and self confidence. Her early photographs reveal an aesthetic and thematic debt to the work of Diane Arbus.

Independent of each other, Ute and Werner Mahler turned their unpretentious gazes on the East German way of life. Ute Mahler (b. 1949) thematised family arrangements and group dynamics in her series Zusammen Leben / Living Together (1972-1986). Werner Mahler (b. 1950) documented a year in the Thuringian village Berka (1977) – and repeated his studies in the late 1990s after reunification. An additional focus of both photographers was fashion photography (published for the most part in the magazine for fashion and culture Sibylle) that offered opportunities for “productively expanding the genre” (Bernd Lindner).

In the 1950s and 1960s in Berlin and Hamburg, F.C. Gundlach achieved a modern way to stage fashion in pictures. A small selection from the great fashion photographer’s oeuvre, F.C. Gundlach, will be on view in the exhibition space Kicken II and coincides with the comprehensive retrospective at the Martin Gropius Bau.

Press release from the Kicken Berlin website [Online] Cited 04/04/2010 no longer available online


Ursula Arnold (German, 1929-2012) 'Berlin, S-Bahn' 1965


Ursula Arnold (German, 1929-2012)
Berlin, S-Bahn
Gelatin silver print


Gundula Schulze Eldowy (German, b. 1954) 'Berlin' 1989


Gundula Schulze Eldowy (German, b. 1954)
Gelatin silver print


Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Berlin, Palast der Republik' 1978


Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Berlin, Palast der Republik
Gelatin silver print


Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Schöneweide, Berlin' 1972


Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Schöneweide, Berlin
Gelatin silver print, printed c. 1972
22.8 x 34cm


Ute Mahler (German, b. 1949) 'Untitled' from the series 'Living Together' 1973


Ute Mahler (German, b. 1949)
Untitled from the series Living Together
Gelatin silver print
© Ute Mahler, Ostkreuz/Courtesy Kicken Berlin


Evelyn Richter. 'Pförtnerin im Rathaus, Leipzig' (Receptionist in the Town Hall, Leipzig), c. 1975


Evelyn Richter (German, 1930-2021)
Pförtnerin im Rathaus, Leipzig (Receptionist in the Town Hall, Leipzig)
c. 1975
Gelatin silver print


Helga Paris (German, b. 1938) 'Pauer' from the series 'Berlin Teenagers' 1982


Helga Paris (German, b. 1938)
Pauer from the series Berlin Teenagers
Gelatin silver print, printed c. 1982
31.7 x 21.1cm
© Helga Paris/Courtesy Kicken Berlin


F.C. Gundlach (German, b. 1926) 'Judy Dent mit Saga-Nerz auf der Avus' 1962


F.C. Gundlach (German, 1926-2021)
Judy Dent mit Saga-Nerz auf der Avus
Vintage gelatin silver print
39.8 x 30cm
© F.C. Gundlach/Courtesy Kicken Berlin



Kicken Berlin
Kaiserdamm 118
14057 Berlin

Tuesday – Friday 2 – 6pm & by appointment

Kicken Berlin website


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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

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