Chronicles of post-war Germany through photographs

  • Arundhati Chatterjee, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: May 11, 2015 18:37 IST

We were surprised to learn from veteran German photographer, Helga Paris, 77, over an e-mail interaction, that in early 20th century Europe, women were allowed to study photography, but not to pursue arts.

A self-trained photographer, Paris, who has extensively shot everyday life in Germany and the now —dissolved state of German Democratic Republic(GDR)— over the past six decades, tells us how photography could not be taken up professionally by women. "It was considered a craft and not an art. Actually, it was one of the few professions where women in Europe could work independently," she adds.

A retrospective in Mumbai, titled Selected Photographs: Helga Paris, will showcase 126 photographs shot by the artist between 1968 and 1997. Her works have widely been known for their stark yet simple documentation of post-war Germany. It will be underway till July 31 Max Mueller Bhavan, Kala Ghoda.

Aus: Mullfahrer, 1974: From Trash Collectors: Silbergelatineabzug 30.8x20.6cm

Winsstraube mit Taube, 1970er-Jahre Winsstrasse with Pigeon, 1970s; Silbergelatineabzug 26x38.5cm

Ahrenshoop, 1984; Silbergelatineabzug 25x37.6 cm

Looking back at her journey, Paris recounts, "I never attended photography classes. In 1967, I started taking pictures of my children, like a lot of mothers do. When a friend of mine, a film director, saw some of my photographs, he encouraged me to make a profession of it."

The photographer has lived through the infamous Cold War, and interestingly, her photographs give us a glimpse into GDR and the Soviet Union, states that were dissolved two decades ago. From portraits of rebellious teenagers in pubs to smog-filled cityscapes and scrapyards, she has captured the monotony of life remarkably.

However, Paris admits it was never her intention to create portraits of post-war Germany. She says, "You have to know that, especially in the GDR, the damage was visible throughout. Old buildings didn't get renovated; there were still bullet holes in the facades. People I knew had experienced the war. The buildings and the faces of people were just telling their stories, and in a way, this is the story of post-war Germany."

Explaining the importance of Paris' work, the curator of the show, Jana Duda, talks about her way of working. "She was one of the few photographers living in GDR, who worked as an independent artist. She rarely worked on commissions for the authoritarian state or its mass media organs, and was usually driven by her own interest. The audience will get to see uncompromising, but beautiful images that give us a peek into German history," says Duda.

(The show is on till July 31, at Gallery MMB, Max Mueller Bhawan, Mumbai, Kala Ghoda, from 11 am to 7 pm)

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