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Source Photographic Review - Back Issue Archive - Issue 27 Summer 2001 - Book Review Page - Fotografien 1991-1995 by Laurenz Berges - Book Review by Paul Tebbs.

Fotografien 1991-1995 by Laurenz Berges
Book Review by Paul Tebbs

Source - Issue 27 - Summer - 2001 - Click for Contents

Issue 27 Summer 2001
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Fotografien 1991-1995 by Laurenz Berges
Published by: Schirmer/Mosel
ISBN: 3-88814-931-2
Price: £24.95

Just beyond the pristinely white sentry box that is Checkpoint Charlie, two black and white images face each other. Elevated some thirty feet above the ground, one is a soldier representing the West and the other a soldier representing the East. As a memorial to Germany's tragic division it is a strangely anaesthetic commemoration. The soldiers' faces are simultaneously too individual and too generic. They are too clean. Too modern. The dirty weight of history fails to adhere to their impassive military expressions. The past is politely registered, but neutralised, by the tensionless staging of their aloft encounter. Commerce and tourism scurry about unhindered. At night, the soldiers disappear in the upper gloom.

The process of historical healing and forgetting moves at variable speeds. Material reality offering the least intransigence to the process. 0ffending statues erected by defeated conquerors can easily be removed. Buildings can be demolished. Laurenz Berges's publication Fotografien L991 1995, reveals the more intimate spaces of the occupier. Spaces that could easily have been overlooked. The photographs are of the interiors of deserted Russian barracks in former East Germany. The book opens with a quote from a Russian soldier, "Russia is my home, Germany my Paradise".Perleberg 1992
Perleberg 1992  

The rooms pictured have only imaginable institutional functions. There are rarely objects or features to identify their use. Occasionally there is a washbasin or a couch, or what appears to be a serving hatch. Berges focuses on doorways, windows, walls, and a variety of makeshift constructions made of veneered chipboard. Around these features, the texture, colour, and markings of the various surfaces carry a subtle visual drama. The human presence has long been gone and the rooms manifest tittle compulsion to tell their stories. The footprints in the floor dust are probably the photographer's. There is barely any graffiti. The individual has been lost to the anonymity of collective infrastructural wear. A superpower has withdrawn with its obedient men, leaving an oddly fragile world of improvised male domesticity.

As a former pupil of the Kunstakademie in Dusseldorf, under the tutelage of Bernd Becher, it is unsurprising to find a strong format concern in these images. But the disinterested austerity of the frame is assuaged by the natural tight it captures. A perversely gentle humanity is allowed to generate amid the sagging floral wallpaper and bare wooden floors.

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