"We try to help students to recognize or even find their personality, where photography becomes irrelevant with regard to its commercial applicability."
Starting in the 1970s, a unique departure in photography took place in Germany. A younger generation in various initiatives quickly established a new infrastructure for a different perspective on photography and consciously defined the medium as an independent art form – to this very day. The Werkstatt für Photographie (Workshop for Photography), founded in Berlin by Michael Schmidt in 1976, is one of these innovative models and as an institution was completely unique. That‘s because it offered an openly accessible cultural production and intensified adult education beyond academic hurdles and without access limitations. A special artistic approach emerged from the unconventional dialog between renowned photographers and amateurs, between technical mediation and substantive critique as well as on the basis of documentary approaches. Its special access to reality defined styles for a long time. The Werkstatt für Photographie reached the international level through exhibitions, workshops and courses and established itself as an important location for the transatlantic photographic dialog between Kreuzberg, Germany and America. A unique and pioneering achievement!
In the beginning of the Werkstatt für Photographie, a strict documentary perspective prevailed that was based on the neutral aesthetic of the work of Michael Schmidt and concentrated on the blunt representation of everyday life and reality in a radical denial of common photographic norms. He and the young photographer scene later experimented with new forms of documentary that emphasized the subjective view of the author. They discovered color as an artistic form of expression and developed an independent, artistic authorship with largely unconventional perspectives.
The Werkstatt für Photographie offered anyone who was interested a free space to develop their artistic talents.
In addition to its open, international and communicative character, it was also a successful model for self-empowerment that at the same time was characterized by paradoxes. That‘s because the vocational school set in the local community developed into a lively international network of contemporary photographers. The students were not trained photographers but rather self-taught artists and as such had a freer understanding of the medium than their professional counterparts. Moreover, the majority of teachers had no educational training but were all active in the context of adult education. At that time, there were also no curators for photography in Germany but the Werkstatt für Photographie were already independently hosting exhibitions alternating between unknown and renowned photographers.
C/O Berlin is addressing the history of the Werkstatt für Photographie in the exhibition entitled „Kreuzberg – Amerika“. In the exhibition curated by Thomas Weski and Felix Hoffmann, around 250 objects will be displayed, including some from internationally renowned photographers that have presented in the Werkstatt itself: Robert Adams, Diane Arbus, Lewis Baltz, Larry Clark, William Eggleston, Larry Fink, John Gossage and Stephen Shore. This selection will be placed in a dialog with images from photographers, professors and guests of the Werkstatt such as Gosbert Adler, Friedhelm Denkeler, Wolfgang Eilmes, Thomas Forschuetz, Ulrich Görlich, Ursula Kelm, Wilmar Koenig, Thomas Leuner, Christa Mayer, Eva Maria Ocherbauer, Hildegard Ochse, Gundula Schulze Eldowy, Michael Schmidt, Hermann Stamm, Klaus-Peter Voutta, Manfred Willmann and Ulrich Wüst.
On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Werkstatt für Photographie, C/O Berlin, the Museum Folkwang Essen and the Sprengel Museum Hannover are presenting a joint exhibition project, which for the first time portrays the history, influences and effects of this institution and its key players divided between three stages. Furthermore, the three stages outline the situation of a changing medium, which focuses on independent, artistic authorship encouraged by consciousness of American photography. As such, they’re designing a lively and multi-perspective presentation of photography in the 1970s and 1980s that adds an additional chapter to the history of West German photography of the time beyond that of the Düsseldorf School.
Additional to the exhibition project, a collective cataloge entitled „Werkstatt für Photographie 1976 – 1987“ will be published at the Walther König bookstore-publisher with texts by Florian Ebner, Felix Hoffmann, Inka Schube and Thomas Weski, short texts by Ute Eskildsen, Christine Frisinghelli, Virginia Heckert, Klaus Honnef and Jörg Ludwig as well as artist biographies by Carolin Förster.
Kreuzberg – Amerika
Werkstatt für Photographie 1976 – 1986
December 10, 2016 – February 12, 2017