Review: Angesichts der Lage/In View of the Situation


Book Reviews, Photobooks

AngesichtsderLage.jpg Featuring photography by Elmar Haardt (on his website it’s the Nord project) and Bernd Kleinheisterkamp (his Siedlung project), Angesichts der Lage/In View of the Situation is a portrait of the same place, a part of the German city of Essen. Previously one of the most eminent industrial places in Germany, if not Europe (home of the Krupp family), Essen has undergone a lot of changes; and while it still is the home of a lot of corporations, it has also developed into a major arts center.

The approaches taken by the two photographers shown in Angesichts der Lage could not be more different (in the following, I am going to drop the English title; but it needs to be stressed that the book is fully bilingual). Kleinheisterkamp’s approach will probably trigger instant recognition: Photographs of apartment buildings, with no people around - it’s got to be a German photographer. But it is useful to drop stereotypes and/or superficial categorizations straight away, since comparing Kleinheisterkamp’s photography with Haardt’s - or rather comparing our own reactions to these very different ways of portraying a place - makes for a very interesting exercise.

Kleinheisterkamp’s images require more of an involvement. You have to study them to see what is going on. The photos of drab apartment buildings do not seem to show a lot of variety until you start looking for the small differences (you can find those types of buildings in all German cities, where after the war a lot of housing was needed very quickly). Some houses were painted in all kinds of different ways; some had balconies added. Clearly, despite their overall drabness, an effort was made to make these environments nicer to live in. What does it feel like to live there?

Haardt’s view is coming from the inside, focusing mostly on portraits of people living in this part of Essen, but also showing some of the apartments (directly or indirectly). If you allow yourself to look at more than just the people, you will see how they have transformed their apartments into individual places (even though a lot of the decorations are run-of-the-mill stuff, for example reproductions of gaudy, cheap paintings).

Haardt’s images, of course, will satisfy those who like to ask Where are the people?, but the full essence of Angesichts der Lage is only to be gained by looking at everything, the apartment buildings with the people missing, and the people sitting in their apartments or on benches outside. It’s a wonderful little book, which, unfortunately, might be a bit hard to get in the US - a book seller specializing in photo books might have a copy.