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January 22, 2017

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Exploring Germany’s contribution to photo arts

THE current photographic exhibition, “Made in Germany” at the Shanghai Center of Photography, gives local art lovers a glimpse at classic images dating back to the 1850s. The some 120 photos on display show Germany’s role in the historic development of photographic art, as well as its advancements in techniques and hardware. Germany’s Leica and Zeiss, for example, are among the oldest and most respected names in photographic equipment in the world.

A condensed version of a touring show by Kicken Berlin gallery, “Made in Germany” surveys images taken by some of the most noted German photographers. There are photos of landmark architectures in Berlin by Leopold Ahrendts; and poetic images highlighting soft-focus lens by Heinrich Kuhn, which are very often compared to the Impressionist oil paintings.

A series of close-up shots of magnified plant specimens by Karl Blossfeldt covers almost a whole wall in the main exhibition hall, showing the prevailing objective views German photographers had taken to study the world between 1920s and 1930s. Things took a sudden detour onto a path of subjectivity in the postwar era, exemplified by works by the group Fotoform.

Photos taken in West and East Germany during the 1970s and 1980s present a huge contrast. East German photographers turned their lenses to daily life and portraits of acquaintances, while West Germans were devoted to documenting their cities and landscapes.

What can’t be missed in the history of German photography is the era when the Bauhaus catapulted to fame. The design school influenced architecture and industrial design, as well as photographic art. At Bauhaus, Hungarian artist Laszlo Moholy-Nagy exploited a wider potential in photography for expression, which later steered the Bauhaus design ideology to Constructivism. There are also works by German-born Dutch artist Paul Citroen, featuring his early experiments with photo-montage.

“Bauhaus is such an important collective for the 20th century... We still use Bauhaus typeface, a lot basic Bauhaus industrial designs,” said Karen Smith, curator of the art center.

“What these pictures capture is something of that spirit — having fun in some of the experiments they were doing.

“It’s a very comprehensive series,” she added.

“Made in Germany,” running through April 2, kicks off the photographic art center’s 2017 exhibition season, which is sponsored by Italian fashion house Bottega Venetta.


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