Rudolf Schäfer | Reproduktion
July 16 – August 28, 2021
Opening: Thursday, July 15, 2021, 7 – 9 pm
40 years after Rudolf Schäfer photographed Reproduktion, his large-scale study of East German society, LOOCK is pleased to present the body of work for the first time since it was initially exhibited in 1984. In the aftermath of the show at Galerie Sophienstraße 8, Schäfer rose to critical and popular acclaim, not only within the former German Democratic Republic but internationally as well. Because the 44 images have not been shown in their entirety since then, the exhibition at LOOCK closes a crucial gap within the reception of German photographic history.
Divided into the five chapters—Kriegsspuren, Totengesichter, Porträts, Stadtbild and Generation—the images paint a subtle picture of society that deviated from the cultural policy promoted by the state party. Among other things, Schäfer photographed the emptiness and decay of East Berlin‘s urban topography, groups of young people and the recently deceased. All of these themes relate to questions of impermanence and the nature of time. Schäfer’s compositional restraint and the technical precision of his large format camera create an ‘imagined objectivity’—an impression suggesting that he has a mere documentary interest in his subjects. However, despite being firmly connected to specific places and dates, Schäfer’s impartial depiction transfers the motifs into a sphere, in which their analysis is not predetermined by their temporal or spatial qualities. His unsentimental yet dignified imagery is a means to an end: death, destruction and generational change—they all take on a more static aura to allow for a focused meditation on the essence of things.
The title Reproduktion is not only a reference to the fact that Schäfer is keenly aware of the limitations inherent to his photographic process, regardless of how elaborate it might be. Considering the societal context at the time, Reproduktion also implies the Marxist-Leninist term ‘extended reproduction’ opening up a much more political reading of the work. Schäfer adopts the language propagated by the state to level an ironic critique at the system. In doing so, images that appear calm on a visual level carry a potentially destabilizing layer of meaning within them. If taking photographs is about more than just accumulating the capital of reality, could the people and objects being depicted possibly transcend the status quo, too? Schäfer’s images refuse to provide a definite answer to this question. More importantly, he poses it by appropriating and subverting ideologically sanctioned terminology. Thus, Reproduktion is exemplary for how photographers in the GDR were negotiating between individual artistic expression and appeasing the state authorities.
Over the course of the past two years, Rudolf Schäfer has produced a new portfolio of Platinum Palladium prints for this show. The only other existent set of the entire work is held by the collection of the Academy of Fine Arts Leipzig.
This exhibition is presented by LOOCK, kindly supported by NEUSTART KULTUR Stiftung Kunstfonds and part of BERLIN PHOTO WEEK 2021. Reproduktion will be accompanied by an exhibition catalog and an artist talk.