In the early 80’s, while obsessively listening on my record player Lou Reed’s album ‘Berlin’, dreamed of visiting that city, one of the capitals of the world. In the summer of 1990 I finally got it. The wall had fallen only a few months ago. There I realized that Berlin was not one city, but many, intertwined by History and stranded in a dike of countless memories and collective experiences.
Maybe Michael Schmidt (Berlin, 1945-2014) could feel something similar when turning his hometown into one of the great protagonists of his photographs. Born just the year the World War II, with all the trauma and drama his end inflicted
In the ‘losers’, he would initiate an interest in this artistic language in a somewhat curious way: during his work as a West Berlin policeman. This ‘amateur’ approach it would mark his learning, being fundamentally a self-taught person in a constant process of training and improvement.
Obligatory place of passage
In 1976 he founded the Workshop for photography (Taller de Fotografía) en la Volkshochschule de Kreuzberg, running for a whole decade. A space in which the German public was able to see works by contemporary American photographers for the first time, always with a documentary vein, which would influence their own production so much.
In the mid-seventies he began the first series dedicated to his city, focusing his attention on that neighborhood (1969-73), or on ‘Wedding’ (1976-78), always from a objective and documentary point of view. Later he produced an exhibition and a photobook called ‘Waffenruhe’ (Truce), with which he reflected the powerful vision of a Berlin still painfully split in two halves, and already in the last years of the last century he would carry out a series of works, ‘Ein-heit’ (U-ni-dad, 1996) that represented the process of reunification of the two Germanies, and with which he would gradually distance himself from the Berlin environment.
Thus, his later projects will involve the capture of new topics and interests, beyond the urban environment, such as the series focused on the feminine ‘Frauen’ (Women) in 2000, or in the rural space, ‘Irgendwo’ (Somewhere), from 2005. His last proposal would be a reflection on the food industry, ‘Lebensmittel’ (Food), 2012, a worryingly very globalized and current issue.
Now him Reina Sofia Museum presents the
first retrospective dedicated to this photographer after his death, and at the same time the most complete to date in our country. It has been organized by the Foundation for Photography and Media Art with Archive Michael Schmidt, in collaboration with the museum, and is articulated through about 350 images, covering a time period of five decades, together with various documents, publications and archive material that serve to contextualize his work and that give a fairly complete sample of the ways of looking of one of the most referential photographers of post-war German documentary photography. Precisely in that historical environment so traumatic for his country, he was able to draw up a visual record of some of the main areas of contemporary society. Areas initially marked by an interest in the urban spaces of Berlin, to gradually go through other records related to memory and history, the image of women or the validity of the rural and natural in apparent harmony with civilized man.