Fragments of history

5. March 1997 – 29. March 1997

Ute Döring (DE), Ralf Hoedt (DE)

Theme of Focus: ARCHITECTURE 1997

The relationship between architecture and photography is as old as the history of the photograph itself. The earliest photographic image by Nicéphore Niépce fixed the view from his studio window and depicted the roofscape of his residence in Gras/St. Loup de Varenne. Because of the long exposure times at the beginning of photography, the static structures of brick, stone and plaster offered themselves as ideal objects for the new medium and led to the fact that no people are to be found in the first photographs of urban situations. Their existence literally disappeared in the lens or only appeared as a shadow or a trace in the picture. The time was not yet technically ripe for the all-important moment, and the photographers’ self-image was still oriented toward the long term. They wanted to document, to capture the traces of time and transience, but above all to serve as archivists of the objective gaze. From the beginning, photographers made it their task to record a sinking world and save it from oblivion.
This set in motion a dynamic of the gaze that tried to see everything and did not let the camera eye close even to so-called ugly things. Photography kept discovering new subjects and thus aestheticized the most diverse appearances of the world. In the final analysis, everything became equal, because it was worthy of being photographed in the true sense of the word. With the help of photography, seeing became a collecting activity and reality became an accumulation of found objects.

In the tradition of the photographer as archivist, Ralf Hoedt documents urban fringes of various Central European cities, taken in the period from 1950 to 1970. The titles of the photographs further reinforce Hoedt’s collecting activity, as they are composed and schematized in a manner similar to archival codes: Contact sheet number, image number, emulsion number, date, and location provide pure facts as signatures rather than subjective interpretation. The strictness of this order is also continued in the choice of illumination, which determines the images throughout. It is a neutral, shadowless and diffuse light that surrounds the buildings and makes them, as it were, models of themselves. The mood of the images imagines desolation and abandonment; only a few people inhabit these peripheral ensembles, even though their traces are omnipresent. Almost universally, these are photos of places without a specific or even with an ugly character; they are documents of spaces that could actually be described as empty spaces if they were not used. Hoedt reinforces this impression by deliberately directing his gaze to the intersections of built-up and vacant spaces, focusing it on the space in between. It is precisely in the field of tension that he documents photographically, which spans between the defined cubatures and the greened areas or areas that have been developed for traffic purposes, that he discovers those problem zones of modern urban planning that characterize the appearance of numerous urban areas. Even if Hoedt does not want to illustrate a polemic against modern urban design with his photographs, he nevertheless makes visible those intellectual failures that have led to the criticism of it. On another level, the same photographs document the pathos or the faith in the future of that time and illustrate the dialectical principle of history, which is difficult to escape.

It is precisely into this field of tension that Ute Döring stabs with her pictures. Confronted with the monumental construction of a seaside resort for 20,000 people, she began to explore this site photographically over a period of years. The partly six-storey building front, which was to extend for five kilometres along the Baltic coast, was built between 1936 and 1939 according to plans by Clemens Klotz and was intended to be the largest seaside resort in the world. Centrally controlled by the party, people were to be recuperated and steeled for the tasks ahead during their holidays according to an ideological grid. With this in mind, the extensive building complex was designed as a functional building for mass tourism, developed according to factual-modern and functional criteria. With the outbreak of the war, construction of the National Socialist prestige object was stopped and the complex was taken over by the German People’s Army after 1945. On the one hand, the army demolished parts of the complex or adapted areas of the existing structure and used it as a training centre and recreation home until the so-called Wende. With their departure, the complex imploded on a symbolic level and became visible as a monument or memorial. The history of two totalitarian regimes stuck to the place and made dealing with it complex, especially because of its size. On the one hand, Ute Döring’s pictures document the current state of the site, show its decay and overformation, but on the other hand they convey a certain irritation coupled with fascination towards this phenomenon. Although the ravages of time gnaw away at the structural appearance and create that melancholy ruin aesthetic – which was a fixed component of the design concept in Nazi architecture – the structure of the National Socialist regime lies behind this appearance. Photography fails to show this, which is why the space of Ute Döring’s writing is opened up.
Arno Ritter

Translated with (free version)