PHOTOGRAPHY, FLIGHT & EXILE IN COLD WAR GERMANY

A paper from this research will be presented at the Passages of Exile conference, LMU, Munich 9-10 December 2016.

This research examines a selection of photographs drawn from the Imperial War Museum, London and the Stasi archive, the latter re-presented in a photographic series by German contemporary photographer Arwed Messmer, which operate as a sanctioned reparative process for the victims. These photographs, largely taken by unknown photographers, record the passage of exile travelled and experienced by large numbers of refugees escaping from the oppressive regime of the GDR, many of whom were processed by the Marienfelde Refugee Centre in Berlin. These emotive records of loss, despair and fear record the moment of stasis as a state of inbetween-ness, a neither here nor there, reflecting a temporal state of homelessness and unbelonging. The ways in which contemporary artists and art historians now interpret these photographs will be considered alongside an analysis of how emotion, memory and trauma are conveyed through the photographic medium.

 
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CONFERENCE PAPERS

 

Arwed Messmer, using a print, call number BStU MfS HA IX Fo 2180 Bl. 0004. Presentation of an East German family and their West Berlin escape helpers Oliver Mierendorf and Karlheinz Hetschold after a failed smuggling attempt in an Opel Admiral car on September 21, 1973.

Arwed Messmer, using a print, call number BStU MfS HA IX Fo 2180 Bl. 0004. Presentation of an East German family and their West Berlin escape helpers Oliver Mierendorf and Karlheinz Hetschold after a failed smuggling attempt in an Opel Admiral car on September 21, 1973.

Witnessing the Archive: The Stasi, Photography and Escape from the GDR

From 1961 to 1989 the border between East and West Berlin became a focus for extreme surveillance activities by the border guards, the Stasi, the West Germans, the Americans and the British with hundreds of thousands of photographs taken every year. The border authorities recorded each escape attempt from East Germany in notes, sketches and photographs, which were used as evidence by the Stasi and then archived. Among these records are disturbing photographs of unsuccessful attempts, where subjects are forced to re-enact their escape attempts before the camera. This paper examines a selection of these photographs drawn from the Stasi archive by German contemporary photographer Arwed Messmer and other photographic records from London’s Imperial War Museum archive. The paper will consider these photographs both in terms of their use as evidence and as emotive records of oppression, fear and treachery.

Presented at Photography.Ontology.Symposium, University of Sydney, 2-3 June, 2016.

Walker Evans, [Workers Loading Neon "Damaged" Sign into Truck, West Eleventh Street, New York City], 1928-30, Metropolitan museum of art.

Walker Evans, [Workers Loading Neon "Damaged" Sign into Truck, West Eleventh Street, New York City], 1928-30, Metropolitan museum of art.

Damaged: Ruin and Decay in Walker Evans’ Photographs

In an interview in 1974 Walker Evans described photography in terms of its illusive nature as “the thing itself is such a secret and so unapproachable.” He thought of his simple and straightforward photography as an “unconscious phenomenon” that culminated in an amazing accident that arose so convincingly to speak to a generation of Americans. This paper will explore his photographs that imaged the ruin and decay of everyday life in America and what he called the “aesthetically rejected subject”.

Presented at the Centre for Contemporary Photography. Walker Evans: Reading the Magazine Work, 7 October 2016.