Retrato: Berlin - Pictures of a Changing City

Berlin is a city whose character has been defined by change. When the Berlin Wall fell twenty years ago, two entirely different worlds came crashing together, creating a complex and challenging new identity for the city.

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Photo by Jessica Phelps

Through constant cultural reinvention, the Berlin arts scene has been characterized by an intense curiosity, engaging with the constantly shifting and folding landscape. Retrato: Berlin is a compelling example of this atmosphere, a collection of photographs from Berlin-based photographers, ranging in style from real life documentary to conceptual staged photographs and a plethora of combinations in between.

The gulf between the spartan, decaying architecture of old East Berlin and the pace of construction and renovation in the West is a theme that lingers through many of the photographs. A focus on the way people live under this contrast provides a humanizing angle to the exhibit.

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Photo by Jessica Phelps

In Frank Hulsbomer’s series, for example, washed out and neglected buildings dominate the foreground, but a glimpse of one colourful German flag hoisted in the background adds a sense of human movement to the scene, without explicitly revealing the faces of or facts about the people living in the area.

Photographs from Bridgette Waldach’s series -“Visualisation in Red: Injections of Reality” - feature German actress Fritzi Haberlandt, a Berliner herself, in what appears to be the tattered loft of an empty building. The tattered wallpaper and crumbling ceiling are contrasted with the impression of daylight outside this static scene. In one photograph, Haberlandt, in bright red, stares out into the light. In another, she gazes questioningly at the abandoned space she inhabits.

Reflecting on the changes the city has undergone in a more personal tone, Wiebke Looper contributes a photographic history of her home and the changes it witnesses in its surrounding cityscape, from a home once filled with family life until it was eventually demolished.

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Photo by Jessica Phelps

Another photographer, Christian Rothmann, sets about interrupting the normalcy of scenes of urban life around landmarks and monuments in the city. He captures regular banal scenes you might find among anyone’s happy holiday snaps and adds an unexpected element to grab your attention, to make you reexamine the people in the photo and their environment.

Perhaps one of the most interesting series in the exhibition, Daniela Comani’s “A Happy Marriage” takes a completely different turn. The artist photographs scenes in the life of a married couple – but plays with the illusion to suggest the flexible bounds of identity. The result is an appropriately ambiguous message to reflect on as Berlin’s intriguing progression since reunification came back into focus this year.

As a whole the exhibit leaves you with textures of despair and decay, a sense of acceptance of change, and an appreciation for the work of photographers willing to actively consider and interrogate the spaces they live in.

Retrato: Berlin
October 15 - December 27
Free entry
Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes
Parque Forestal
Metro Bellas Artes

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