Review by Katerina Valdivia Bruch
Quoting Susan Sontag in her book On Photography (1977), “All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability“: polaroids are the medium par excellence to enter these doors of privacy and intimacy. This summer, C/O Berlin pays homage to Sibylle Bergemann, one of the most exciting German photographers of the last decade, who died from cancer in November 2010. The solo exhibition Polaroids, presents for the first time 140 polaroids taken by the artist and in them, it reveals part of Bergemann’s private dreams: young girls with red coloured lips starring at the camera, a plastic ballerina turning in front of a mirror, a small rabbit behind a tree, models in romantic costumes or Soviet emblems in a cryptic atmosphere. All these are blurred and dream-like moments of poetic nostalgia, that the photographer caught with her polaroid camera, as a hunter of vanishing moments. Her photographs transport us to timeless spaces, as if the moment could be endless and last forever. The sensitive eye of Sibylle Bergemann captured moments of intimacy, and delicate, symbolic landscapes, such as a man sitting in a tram in East Berlin or a train passing in front of a man somewhere in the streets of Lisbon.
Brought up in former East Berlin, Sibylle Bergemann worked in the editorial department of the East German periodical Das Magazin. Her career as a photographer began in 1966 after she met photographer Arno Fischer, who became both her mentor and her life companion. In 1967, she joined the photographer´s collective Direkt, a group that was linked to documentary photography, concentrating its work on showing things as they were without any make-up or particular staging.
Yet Sibylle Bergemann’s photographs got attention in a mostly editorial setting, due to her regular contributions to the magazine Sibylle, an acclaimed fashion magazine based in East Germany. In fact, working as a fashion photographer in the German Democractic Republic was not an easy task, as most of the photographers had to justify their image selection to the Central Committee. One of the characteristics of her work at this period was her patience and attention to detail. An example of this is the series of photographs about the construction of the Marx-Engels monument behind the Palast der Republik (Palace of the Republic), which she documented between 1975 and 1986.
In 1990, Bergemann was a founding member of Ostkreuz, a photography agency focussing on author photography with a similar model of organisation and cooperative work as the Parisian photo agency Magnum. In 1994, she became member of the Akademie der Künste (German Academy for the Arts). Sibylle Bergemann was a regular collaborator of the magazines Geo, Stern and Spiegel, for which she did commissioned works.
Since 2000, C/O Berlin – International Forum for Visual Dialogues has offered an international platform for photography, design and architecture. It is also a place for discussion on current issues on photography and art criticism. The institution gives young emerging photographers the opportunity to present their work alongside established photography artists, and renowned photographers such as Nan Goldin, Robert Mapplethorpe, Annie Leibovitz and the photo agency Magnum, who have exhibited their work there. The venue, the historical building of the former Postfuhramt (Post Office) in Berlin-Mitte, has been used for contemporary art exhibitions from 1997 until 2011.
2012 will see C/O Berlin move to another location, as the entire building will become a luxurious hotel and appartments. The future location is uncertain, but we hope that they find the appropriate venue and continue showing the best of the world of photography.
Sibylle Bergemann: Polaroids runs until 4 September.
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Courtesy the Estate of Sibylle Bergemann & OSTKREUZ Agentur der Fotografen, Berlin