Raucous, flamboyantly dressed punks, hippies, and kissing couples in a sea of Trabi cars, confrontational banners and demonstrators at Alexanderplatz in East Berlin, shadowy figures and drunks at festivals and neighborhood bars, law-abiding citizens waiting patiently at stops: Harald Hauswald’s gaze is authentic and tender.
His images radiate a sympathy for the objects and people he photographs, preserving their dignity and setting them apart from the surrounding madness and decay.
The photographer shows the monotony and slowness of life in East Germany, bearing witness to an insular and isolated world shortly before its downfall.
In contrast to the West’s prevalent images of the GDR as a country defined by the socialist state and the Free German Youth organization, by the Berlin Wall and barbed wire, by marches and military parades, Hauswald’s photographs offer unique and revealing insight into everyday socialist life, showing the evolving cityscape of East Berlin and the activities of opposition groups, artists, and youth subcultures.
Morbid and anarchic: Hauswald's photography from his home district of Prenzlauer Berg in Berlin, 1985.
The fact that Hauswald himself moved in these circles ensured that he was always present in his photographs, for he was a participant and not merely an observer.
On his wide-ranging travels through East Berlin and to obscure spots in East Germany in the 1970s and ’80s, he laid bare the contrast between everyday life in decrepit cities and the inner emptiness concealed behind the laboriously constructed façade of the communist state.
His black-and-white photographs alternate between an enchanted, playful intimacy and a sharply satirical, dispassionate gaze.
For twenty-eight days, two months, and twenty-six days, the “anti-fascist protection barrier” known as the Berlin Wall divided the city and its inhabitants into East and West.
This exhibition documents the social and political lives of people in East Germany and shows the challenges arising during the shift to a reunified Germany.
As a co-founder of the photographers’ agency OSTKREUZ, Hauswald is one of the most important German figures in the history of photography. His works are invaluable, forming as they do a visual record of the history of a divided Germany.
Not only Prenzlauer Berg: Two teenagers shoot in 1984, Radebeul, Saxony, with an air rifle on the Elbe.
The Ostkreuz Association for Photography is working to ensure the conservation of over 7,500 of his rolls of film by the end of 2020.
6,000 individual images will be digitalized as part of a major project funded by the Federal Foundation for the Study of Communist Dictatorship in East Germany.
This show is Harald Hauswald’s first retrospective. It shows roughly 250 photographs taken between the late 1970s and the mid-1990s, including a large number of previously unpublished images. His images are placed in dialogue with the contents of the file kept on him by the East German secret police, the Stasi.
No other East German photographer was monitored as closely as he was. The contents of the file were contributed by around forty informants (or “unofficial collaborators”) between 1977 and 1989 under the code name “Radfahrer” (cyclist).
In 1985, the Stasi issued an internal warrant for Hauswald’s arrest on the grounds of anti-state activities, violating exchange-control regulations, acting as an agent, and passing on unclassified information.
Hauswald was a single father and at times, his daughter was removed from his custody. This exhibition is the first to juxtapose references to contemporary history, photography, and work.
And then it was all over: Volkspolizist in a breakthrough of the Berlin Wall, 1989, photographed by Harald Hauswald.
The exhibition is curated by Felix Hoffmann (C/O Berlin) in cooperation with Ute Mahler and Laura Benz (Ostkreuz).
A catalogue published by Steidl Verlag accompanies the exhibition.