East Berlin in the Eighties
Following the spirit of French director Robert Bresson’s maxim “Make visible what, without you, might perhaps never have been seen” between 1984 and 1989 photographer Günter Steffen produced an impressive cycle of work dealing with East Berlin’s Mitte district where he lived and worked. Predominantly in the early morning hours he traversed seemingly untouched and empty streets, squares, backyards, ruins, and locations along the monstrous Berlin Wall. He captured ghostly sceneries with his 35mm camera in grainy and contrasty black-and-white photographs. For him, the resulting images are testimonies of predominant feelings at the time. Helplessness, inner strife, and anger resulted in an end-times mood, which frequently was caused by the loss of friends who had left for the West. The feelings of doom in Steffen’s photographs are contrasted with selected text fragments from the dystopian Soviet novel WE, written by Yevgeny Zamyatin (*1884 Lebedyan, † 1937 Paris) in 1920. This politically explosive precursor to other famous dystopian novels is a nightmarish description of a totalitarian surveillance state. First published abroad by exiles in 1924, the novel had been banned throughout the Eastern Bloc and was allowed to be released in the Soviet Union only in 1988 under the reign of Mikhail Gorbachev.
Günter Steffen was born in Berlin in 1941. He studied physics at Berlin’s Humboldt University. Following his diploma in 1967 he worked as a research assistant. In 1976, Steffen started work as a freelance photographer with a focus on documentary and street photography. He traveled extensively across regions of the former Soviet Union (Central Asia, Caucasus, Aral Sea). Besides realising a number of book projects he also worked on advertising commissions. Today, he lives in Templin (Uckermark). The publication is realized with financial support by Berlin’s Hauptstadtkulturfond.
Nov. 5–Dec. 18, 2021 | Argus Fotokunst, Berlin
Deutsche Welle (English)
radio eins – Günter Jeschonnek interviewed by Marion Brasch
Deutschlandfunk Kultur – Lesart, Frank Dietschreit, 22.1.2022, starting in minute 13.20
Neues Deutschland – Frank Schirrmeister, 28.2.2022 (German)
3sat Kultur 22.3.2022 – German Public Television