Timeless and classic: Travel through time with Goethe’s photography exhibit

Black-and-white works of Barbara Klemm and Erich Salomon on display.

Minerwa Tahir August 16, 2014


If there is one word to describe the photos by Barbara Klemm, it would be stunning. Not only is the work remarkably good but the images shock the viewers at first glance.

The works of photographers Barbara Klemm and Erich Salomon, titled ‘Zeitsprung’ which is German for a leap in time, are being displayed at the Goethe Institut till August 21. Andreas Rost, who is himself a photographer, has presented these photos by the renowned artists.

“Oh, that’s just a Brotherhood Kiss,” said German consular attaché David Punzelt, referring to a particularly scandalous photo. “They did that because they knew that that would get them coverage in the papers.” Soviet president Leonid Brezhnev and East Germany State Council chairman Erich Honecker were in the picture. It was a means of making a show of the glue consolidating the Eastern Bloc, explained Punzelt.

As the viewer takes a look, the black-and-white pictures, though historical in nature, become vivid and come to life. Klemm clicked a picture of the fall of the Berlin Wall, marking the re-unification of Germany. It was a powerful work as the colourless picture was so lively. People and symbolism seem to work actively in this picture.

The masterpieces on display were brought to Pakistan by Rost who, according to the cultural centre’s director Dr Manuel Negwer, ‘knows them by heart’. For real, he did. He explained the background and detail of each photo.

Nearly all the pictures by Klemm depicted the political situation in the two parts of divided Germany. “Klemm belonged to West Germany and it was very difficult for a journalist from this part to cover what happens on the other side,” said Rost, pointing to a picture of Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s first speech. “Yet she was skilled enough to take care of the lights and pick a spot from where she could capture the church in the background. It’s almost like a painting: we can’t predict what will happen next.”

Another interesting work hanging on the walls was a picture of the Berlin Wall - the wall that demarcated the borders of East and West Germany. Ironically, a statue of liberty stood adjacent to the wall. “This is the beauty of Klemm’s work,” said Rost. “What makes her unique is that she depicts a story in her pictures.”

Since East Germany was part of the communist Eastern Bloc, media censorship prevailed. Klemm took the pains to show the real picture. Two pictures were displayed side by side. One was that of a posh mall, with a mannequin donning a lavish dress inside a glass case. The other was a picture of schoolchildren wearing disciplined uniforms with a background of tattered houses.

“The first picture is what the socialists wanted to show,” said Punzelt. “Nobody could really buy those pricey clothes.”

Rost nodded. “What Klemm has shown in the second picture is how the socialists prepared a whole generation by making them wear military-like uniforms. This was something they wouldn’t want to show.”

Hidden On Display: Paparazzo sans sensationalism

Coming over to Erich Salomon’s works, Rost said that the paparazzi-like journalist used hidden cameras to unearth the life of politicians and celebrities. However, this paparazzo was devoid of the element of sensationalism. He died at a Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz in 1944, he added.

“He used glass lens cameras without flash,” said Aisha Qayyum, the coordinator for press and culture at the German consulate.

“Erich Salomon was one of the first photojournalists,” said Rost. “He was the first paparazzo who steered away from the fixation of heavy cameras on tripods with the advent of smaller cameras that he often used discreetly.”

According to Rost, Solomon often had to wait for long hours with his camera well-hidden for the right moment to capture. “He often caught politicians off guard as is evident in one of the pictures in which members of a Franco-German delegation are seen nodding off at the end of a tiring session.”

Published in The Express Tribune, August 17th, 2014.


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