Top Secret: Images from the Stasi Archives, by Simon Menner.
Publisher Hatje Cantz writes: First publication of pictures from the archives of the Stasi, the East German secret police
Almost 300,000 people worked for the East German secret police, per capita far more than were employed by agencies such as the CIA or the KGB. Not quite fifty years after the Berlin Wall was built, Simon Menner (*1978 in Emmendingen) discovered spectacular photographs in the Stasi archives that document the agency's surveillance work. Formerly secret, highly official photographs show officers and employees putting on professional uniforms, gluing on fake beards, or signaling to each other with their hands. Today, the sight of them is almost ridiculous, although the laughter sticks in the viewer's throat. This publication can be regarded as a visual processing of German history and an examination of current surveillance issues, yet it is extremely amusing at the same time. The fact that the doors of the opposite side--the British or German intelligence services, for example--remained closed to the artist lends the theme an explosive force as well as a tinge of absurdity.
Simon Menner has one of the most peculiar portfolios i've ever encountered. Snipers hidden among the trees, soldiers posing with corpses, Boobytraps and "Unconventional Warfare Devices and Techniques" from the 1960s, weapons used to murder people, views of WWI from both sides of the conflict, etc. Even the photos of Happy People have been selected for some very dark reason.
The Ministerium für Staatssicherheit (Department of State Security) of the former German Democratic Republic was one of the largest surveillance apparatuses in history and its record of citizens' intimate life was thorough and sinister. The story and practices of the Stasi have been fairly well documented. Until this book however, we still lacked a clear visual account of the methods, tactics and props used by the spying agents.
The publication presents a selection of images documenting many of the Stasi operations: the spying accoutrement of Stasi personnel, the techniques employed to shadow or arrest a suspect, the signs used to convey secret messages, the packages sent via mail and confiscated by the secret police, etc.
The most baffling photos were taken during seminars in which Stasi employees learnt the art of disguise.
The props are amateurish, the poses are awkward and the result is grotesque beyond words. Yet, the intentions were serious: repression, control, surveillance.
The award for most disturbing photos go to Polaroids of unmade beds, (Western-made) coffee machines and rows of shoes. The photos were taken by Stasi agents when they secretly searched peoples' houses on the hunt for evidence they might be betraying the communist state. Photos of the rooms and furniture were taken upon arrival and used by the agents to be able afterwards to put everything back as if nothing had been touched.
The photos below were taken at the birthday party of a high-ranking Stasi official. The party guests were asked to come dressed as members of demographic groups under Stasi surveillance such as athletes, dancers, academics, peace activists, and religious figures.
Spies of the western Allied Forces photographed Stasi spies and Stasi spies photographed their Western counterparts. "Sometimes they met, both sides were absolutely aware that the other side was there, but nevertheless both sides took photos, showing that both East and West lived in pretty much the same state of mind," the artist explained. So far, however, Menner hasn't been granted access to the correspondent photos from the British or Federal German secret services.
I love the necklace, very Tatty Devine!
Post-Industrial Stories is an attempt by photographers Ioana Cîrlig and Marin Raica to document the remains of communist industrialisation in central and eastern Romania. Decades ago, these areas were attracting workers from all around Europe but the collapse of Ceauşescu regime left local communities to their own devices and the mining towns are now fighting unemployment and poverty.
Cîrlig and Raica spend several months in each town, visiting the area, talking to ex-workers and their families, looking through archives, experiencing as much as they can what the local communitites are living.
I discovered the photo series through Anti-Utopias. Its author and curator, Sabin Bors kindly put me in contact with the photographers. I've emailed them a couple of questions about the work and the result is below...
Hi Ioana! Why have you started the project? Has no one documented those post-industrial areas before?
We started the project because of a growing fascination with Romania's industrial areas. Travelling the country we realised many communities face the same problems. In communism it was all about building, expanding huge industrial sites, urbanising. After '89 it was all about closing the mines and factories, tearing them down, removing everything valuable. The two opposing trends left the landscape with surreal-looking ghost towns.
I find your photos very moving. Most photo series documenting post-industrial areas focus on decaying buildings. You also give your attention to the people who have remained there. How much preparation does the project require? Do you contact people in advance or do you just turn up unannounced and start photographing?
We contact people before going to a new place but most of the people we photograph we meet "on the field". A few days ago we met a man on the street. He checked out our project's website, liked what we did and ended up helping us a lot around his city, introducing us to people, showing us around and explaining a lot of what's going on. This is one of the fun, exciting parts of what we do, you never know where you're day is going to take you.
Could you comment on some of these images? Explain us what or who they are? what is the story behind these images?
I took this one in Copsa Mica, a place known in the 80's for the carbon black pollution. Since 1993 that factory was closed and everything of real value has been sold by the "investors". In this kind of almost-torn-down industrial site metal scavengers try to make a living, looking for iron in what's left after the luquidators/buyers remove everything of real value. They risk serious accidents and, in most places, being arrested for trespassing and theft.
This is a factory worker from a small factory in Southern Romania. It's the kind of place that struggles to survive with less employees that in the "good days".
Rovinari still has lots of industrial activity. It's a mining town with a big coal quarry. It also has one of the largest power plants in Europe.
This is Cristina, a girl that performed at the end of the Junior Prom in Criscior. Until 2007 the small town of Criscior was surrounded by gold mines. The young people in the area have very few job options. Most of them leave for bigger towns and countries in western Europe. The Crisan highschool teaches mechanics and tourism.
This is one of the buidings in the Petrila mining site. Petrila is one of 3 coal mines that are going to be closed until 2018. Valea Jiului has 7 coal mines working at the moment.
A tv is on a "manele" station in the living room of a family from Copsa Mica. The young girl in the backround watched the station a lot and tried to learn how to dance like the performers in the video. Her brother wanted to be a manele singer. The girls in the videos mostly wear sexy outfits and dance arround the male lead-singer. The lyrics are about love, money, enemies who want the money, girls who want the money etc.
This is an office from an old factory in the Criscior area. About 1200 people used to build mining equipment here. Now the factory has 120 workers that build, refurbish and repair rolling stock.
How are people coping now that the industrial sites (and thus source of work and livelihood) has closed? Are they moving to bigger cities in search of any kind of job? Are they learning new skills in order to work in other contexts?
Many young people leave, mostly for Western Europe. Right now we are in a small town in Western Romania, Anina. The coal mine here was closed in 2006. Since then no new jobs were created in the area and the situation is quite scarry. The town is surrounded by forest so some of the young people work with wood. People say the town is being held together with the money made by women who work in Austria, Germany and Italy taking care of elderly or sick people. They joke about the men being "happy widowers".
Why have you chosen to work in wide format film?
We have 2 reasons to love medium format. Unlike with digital, we take more time to think before taking a picture. We are both compulsive shooters, when we find a situation we like, we go wild. Film helps us tame the instinct to take 100 pictures of the same pretty tree. The second and more important reason is image quality: the coulours, depth of field, the volume objects have etc.
How/where do you get the archive photos? The ones in the Journal section of your website?
The old photos we post in the Journal section are mostly from personal collections. People invite us in their homes and we ask to take a look in their photo drawer.
How much is the rest of the country aware of the situation in these post-industrial town? Is the State doing anything to help these areas?
The situation of industrialised areas is very common in our country. They receive the status of "underpriviledged" areas. This could attract potential investors because of the lower taxes. The sistem is to corrupted to change anything. Romania doesn't have a long-term plan to relaunch and support the reconversion of industrial areas. Maybe it has one on paper but most of these areas are completely abandoned.
What are the next stops on the journey of Post-Industrial Stories?
We are in the middle of a round-the-country road-trip. For five weeks we are travelling to mostly monoindustrial areas, about 3000 km. Next year we will move to Petrila, a small mining town in the heart of Romania's coal exploitation area, Valea Jiului. We plan to live there for about 8 months. Then, we move to Anina, a small town that used to have a coal mine and a power plant.
Thank you Ioana!
The Science Museum in London has recently inaugurated a new Media Space. I was expecting it to be filled with photos of super computers and distant planets. Instead, i found Only in England, a retrospective of Tony Ray-Jones' photos curated by Martin Parr. Which is completely fine by me as i'd rather spend an afternoon looking at eccentric English ladies than at moons around Jupiter (no disrespect to satellites.)
In the late 1960s, Tony Ray-Jones traveled across his country in a VW camper to document the leisure and pleasures of the English. He was a man who lived by his own rules. One of them was to never take a boring photo. There are dozens of images in the exhibition and none of them is remotely insipid. It's easy to see why the photographer had such an impact on Parr's work: he had a taste for the quietly humorous, the compassionate detail, the ironic narrative.
Ray-Jones died of leukaemia in 1972. He was only 30 but in his short career, he invented a new way of looking at society.
A black and white photo series by Martin Parr, The Non-Conformists, is also part of Only in England. The work follows the religious life of the Methodist and Baptist communities in and around Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire. Shot in the mid-1970s, just after Parr graduated from art school, the photos have a gentleness i wasn't expecting from Parr.
Only in England: Photographs by Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr is a the Science Museum until 16 March 2014.
Last week (or maybe it was the week before) i was in Hamburg for the Reeperbahm festival. As soon as the symposium i participated to ended, i walked to the other end of the city to see the Santiago Sierra show. Only that i went to Deichtorhallen -one of my favourite centers for contemporary art and photography- to discover that Sierra was actually in another exhibition space a few metro stops away and that i had to book in advance to see the show. Well, i was Deichtorhallen, they have a nice bar, an über friendly staff (i should add that i found everyone i spoke to in Hamburg to be extraordinarily helpful and welcoming) and a photography show. I love a good photo show. And so i stayed.
VisualLeader 2013, The Best of Magazines And Internet displays the works of the nominees and winners of last year's LeadAwards, Germany's most prestigious print and online media award. Photo reports, fashion shoots, advertisement, blogs, etc. The lot! That made for a great afternoon so without further ado and in no particular order...
Photos taken by Benny Lam for the Hong Kong-based social welfare group Society for Community Organization highlight the housing crisis in one of Asia's richest cities. The apartments photographed are just four feet by seven feet. According to the South China Morning Post, an estimated 280,000 families are currently living in those shoebox apartments, which are essentially regular-sized (for Hong Kong) flats that have been divided into usually four smaller units (source).
Paolo Pellegrin photographed life in the U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo. Together with journalist Tim Golden, he traveled to the place that Obama promised to abolish. Yet, terror suspects are still being held without charge in the military detention camp. Pellegrin's photos were submitted to the scrutiny (or rather censorship) of the military press office. He had to delete approximately a third of his photos.
Life's a Blast is a series of photos that Linda Forsell took in Israel and Palestine from 2008 to 2010.
A print ad campaign for The Standard hotel featuring an image from Erwin Wurm's series of Instructions on How to Be Politically Incorrect.
Everyone's favourite: 'salarymen' who fell asleep in the gutter in their suit and polished shoes.
I got a surprising (to me at least) request from the guard while i was taking photos in the gallery. He told me that i would have to either stop taking pictures or go back to the ticket office and buy a 'photo license' that cost 2 euros. That was new to me. No more laughable excuse, just "go and get the right to take photos."
VisualLeader 2013, The Best of Magazines And Internet runs until 13 October at Deichtorhallen The House of Photography in Hamburg. Deichtorhallen has a photo set on flickr.
I haven't seen that many exciting exhibitions in London over the past few weeks. I was however, bowled over by the photos of Philip-Lorca diCorcia at the David Zwirner Gallery. The East of Eden series brings side by side biblical references and the American dream gone sour. East of Eden is named after John Steinbeck's 1952 novel, contains direct references to the book of Genesis and is inspired by the collapse of the economy as well as the political climate of the United States towards the end of the Bush era.
"It was really about the loss of innocence I think the whole world went through when the financial crisis started," diCorcia explains. "The financial crisis was the beginning of an economic crisis that led to a political crisis. It took two administrations to learn that the war on Iraq was based on a lie, that Saddam Hussein didn't work together with Al-Qaida, and that Afghanistan was an impossible country to transform. Now we have natural disasters that we never could have imagined before. And then there are all those people with no homes. I did feel some compulsion to respond. I never respond directly. But I had a distinct motivation for the conceptualization of the imagery."
The only photo in the gallery that is not likely to throw you into a melancholy state is the one with the two placid white dogs watching porn in a Hamptons home. They were actually looking at much tamer images. 'I rarely manipulate photographs after they are taken,' said diCorcia, 'but in this case the dogs were watching Bambi. I put in the porn later.'
The lady in Iolanda is the artist's mother-in-law. She is either staring at her own reflection or looking at the sky outside, waiting for the tornado forecast on tv.
The tempting Serpent from the Garden of Eden is symbolized by the stripper gliding up and down a pole.
Everything has a meaning and purpose in diCorcia's photos. One man is wearing a red jumper, the other a blue one, while a pregnant woman looks at them from the door. Cain and Abel are locked in reluctant embrace before one kills the other. They also represent U.S. politics and more precisely the Democrat/Republican relationship.
UPDATE: David Zwirner will host a talk by Martin Barnes, Senior Curator of Photographs at the V&A, about the artist's work, 19 October 2013, 11 AM, RSVP to +44 (0)203 538 3165.
Last Launch. Discovery, Endeavour, Atlantis, by photographer Dan Winters.
Publisher University of Texas Press writes: Americans have been driven to explore beyond the horizon ever since the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. In the twentieth century, that drive took us to the moon and inspired dreams of setting foot on other planets and voyaging among the stars. The vehicle we built to launch those far journeys was the space shuttle--Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour. This fleet of reusable spacecraft was designed to be our taxi to earth orbit, where we would board spaceships heading for strange new worlds. While the shuttle program never accomplished that goal, its 135 missions sent more than 350 people on a courageous journey into the unknown.
Last Launch is a stunning photographic tribute to America's space shuttle program. Dan Winters was one of only a handful of photographers to whom NASA gave close-range access to photograph the last launches of Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour. Positioning automatically controlled cameras at strategic points around the launch pad--some as close as seven hundred feet--he recorded images of take-offs that capture the incredible power and transcendent beauty of the blast that sends the shuttle hurtling into space. Winters also takes us on a visual tour of the shuttle as a marvel of technology--from the crew spaces with their complex instrumentation, to the massive engines that propelled the shuttle, to the enormous vehicle assembly building where the shuttles were prepared for flight.
Dan Winters has a passion that's completely alien to me: he is fascinated by the NASA space program. U.S. space exploration never made me dream nor even bat an eyelid. Yet, when i read a 3 line-long review of his book in a free men's magazine in London, i knew i needed to get a review copy. Because i might not be into astronauts and giant leaps for mankind but photography is something i respond to. And Last Launch is all about that: jaw dropping images of engineering marvels and explosive lift off. Even the black and sepia archive photos (not by Winters) that illustrate the introduction texts are magnificent.
Speaking of introduction! The photo book starts with a series of essays. One by the photographer who tells of a long love for space adventures that started as a kid watching the Apollo 11 launch broacast live on the family's new tv set on July 16, 1969. The second essay was written by Al Reinert, director and producer of For All Mankind, a 1989 Award-winning documentary about NASA's Apollo program. The film maker charts the successful and unsuccessful episodes that make the history of the transport system that propels Earth-bound humans into low orbit. Some of the anecdotes he shares are dramatic, others are slightly laughable such as the Coke-Pepsi taste test that took place on board of the Challenger in 1985 to determine which beverage taste more like itself in zero gravity. Coke won, Reinert explains, because they manufactured a zero-gravity soda can. Pepsi didn't bother.
A third text is the rather short and moving account by former astronaut Mark Kelly of the few moments before the take off of STS-134 (one of the very last missions of NASA's Space Shuttle program) on May 16, 2011.
A final text at the back of the book brings an answer to the question i've been asking myself while flipping through the pages. How does he make it? How can he get so close to the spectacular liftoffs?
Dan Winters was one of only a handful of photographers to whom NASA gave close-range access to photograph the last launches of Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour. "Close-range" shouldn't be taken too literally though. When they launch, space shuttles are surrounded by an evacuation zone that stretched up to three miles (almost 5 km) in all directions.
The cameras had to be remotely activated. The day before lift-off, Winters places them, up to 9 at a time, around the launchpad, the closest located 700 feet (213 m) from the shuttle itself. Winters calculates the type of photo to shoot according to shuttle's path, he sets the frame, checks the focus point, attaches to the cameras custom-made electronic triggers that are sensitive to sound and fire at five frames per second in response to the rockets igniting. He also has to use sandbags to minimize camera shake, and cover the equipment with plastic to protect it from the rain.
If there's one person who might finally get me interested in the NASA adventures, it's Dan Winters. Pity the Space Shuttle was retired from service two years ago.