Collection Regard „Berlin-Mitte Mai-1987“ November 2011 – May 2012

Berlin-Mitte Mai 1979 | Early photographs by Hans Martin Sewcz

The Collection Regard once again opens the door on a unique period in the history of Berlin. Now Collection Regard showcases the early photographs
of  Hans Martin Sewcz from 1973 -1981. The exhibition is athoughtful presentation by collector Marc Barbey of another photographer eminently worthy of re-evaluation.
Antonio Panetta, the Collection’s artistic director, also curated this exhibition.

An important segment of the works on show were shot in May 1979 with a Russian Horizon camera in the Spandau Quarter in the Mitte district of Berlin. The 120° field of view panorama photographs immerse the viewer in a time that has long since faded from memory.

The horizons of  Hans Martin Sewcz:
As a 20-year-old student in 1975, Sewcz moved into an apartment in Tucholskystrasse
in the Berlin of the former communist East Germany. He kept the apartment during his studies at the Leipzig Academy of Visual Arts. Sewcz was fascinated by the Spandau Quarter’s “unintentional authenticity”; the dilapidated pre-war buildings, the large swathes of fallow ground, the massive firewalls and the dark brick buildings. His district was all the more intriguing precisely because it couldn’t boast the imposing Soviet constructions lining the Karl Marx Allee or Alexanderplatz. The quarter had been earmarked for an overhaul, but the renovation only happened after German reunification and then, in a manner completely different to that which had been envisaged in the communist era.

For this reason, Sewcz’s photographs are like fragments or artifacts. He himself says that his work at the time seesawed “between the poles of aversion and identification”. He was also intrigued by the then prevalent atmosphere that “enabled creating photographs between the mystical and the abstract.” Besides impressive panorama pictures, Hans Martin Sewcz’s oeuvre includes portraits (such as the portrait of renowned German actor and activist Ulrich Mühe), early “Street Photography” and his “Architecture Portraits” of the Spandau Quarter with the former Scheunenviertel.

The “Berlin-Mitte Mai 1979″ exhibition places Hans Martin Sewcz’s early Berlin photographs alongside the work of photographer Will McBride and excerpts from the DEFA film “Berlin Auguststrasse” (1979) from director and film researcher Günther Jordan.

Hans Martin Sewcz was born in Halle an der Saale in 1955 in the then communist East Germany. He began consciously using photography as a means of expression at the age of 18 and earned his degree in photography from 1975-1981 in Leipzig. In 1988, just over a year before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Sewcz was granted his exit visa from the GDR after a 4 year long application process. He turned to conceptional art, produced installations and movies. Today, his work can be seen in the Deutsche Historische Museum, in the German parliament and in the Neue Berliner Kunstverein as well as in the photography collection of the Berlinische Galerie.

Sewcz’s focus was always on every day life. His early oeuvre comprises portraits, street photography and detailed views of stone covered surfaces. His pictures are communicative, subtle and resonate with the poetry of the unintentional. During the 1980s, he tightened his focus and shot more directly, evincing a similarity to the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Helen Levitt, Helga Paris, and Gabriele and Helmut Nothelfer.

His “Self-portrait with Agnes B. in front of Gorbachev Limousines” is part of a series that came about during the young CPSU leader Gorbachev’s visit to East Berlin in 1987. Sewcz enlarged parts of the contact so that even the perforation remains visible. Working with sequences he effects an almost cinematographic look which is ultimately broken up by its own fragmentation.

Sewcz reflection on the city of Berlin – in periods of stasis as well as rapid change – is the leitmotif that underscores his entire photographic journey. His early work attains an even deeper significance in light of all that Berlin is today.

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