Loops and Voids: A Perspective on Michael Schmidt’s Berlin Nach 1945

by Luuk van den Berg on Nov 13, 2020

Loops and Voids: A Perspective on Michael Schmidt’s Berlin Nach 1945

“Though the clues to what could be considered “absent” “voided” or “gone” are not to be entirely championed nor ignored, the work follows a circular format. It is an examination of place and home and the subject’s way of seeing the familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. This inquiry of Schmidt’s is adept if not deftly demonstrative.”

Written by Brad Feuerhelm
This article was published on American Suburb X

Post-war German photographers were masterful in rendering the psychological state between loss, absence and the utter destruction of their home environment after the Second World War. One of the key ways in which they exhibit these concepts is through the use of displaced landscapes and what I will refer to as “looped time”, which is exemplified in a state of muted anxiety in repetition. Michael Schmidt is one of many photographers whose work was conditioned by these propositions in which he transmitted anxiety from contemplation between occupation/identity and division/re-unification in his books Waffenruhe (1987), Ein-heit (1996), respectively. His work also operates in a quiet solitude that quantified loss, but also gave way to a deeper consideration of time, home and absence as seen in his book “Berlin Nach 1945” (2005).

Though ruins appear in some of his works, notably the fragments of Anhalter Station in his work Berlin Nach 45, it is not all about images of direct destruction or decay that Schmidt concentrates on. What is apparent is that his inherent interest, while examining the condition of loss and place in a post-war German photographic context, exempts the traditional modes of production that were focused on ruination and sublimity, eschewing them rather for a certain pathology based on what I see as a series of voids, which bear a distinct lack of punctuating photographic affect of a definable and destructed object of decay (ruin or war memorial) that could overtly objectify his way of communicating. Instead, he preferred a method of moving towards a pure and subjective narrative of what has been loosely associated with the term “aftermath photography”.

Point of Event.

Aftermath photographs are photographic images made of tragic events after the moment and not during. They capitalize on a state of event shock within proximity to the time shortly after a tragedy manifests when high levels of anxiety and trauma are still fresh in an attempt to communicate or process an evaluation of the event, a reportage. In Schmidt’s use of voids, the condition and its lack of shock value define an almost intolerable solitude in his work, which is categorically defined within the agenda of post-war German photography. In the absence of momentary shock lies the presence or the void as a thingness or device of employ, which carries the event itself towards metaphor long after its impact. In consideration of what “Post-War” is to German photography and Schmidt himself, it is important to note that there can be no absolute aftermath as the political situation and the division of community enlarged (pun intended) a wound that could not close under occupation, therefore leaving the moment of needed closure left in a cycle in which anxiety and trauma become looped and cyclical over decades of time surpassing the effect of “late” or “Aftermath”.

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Michael Schmidt - Berlin nach 45
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