Michael Schmidt was born in Berlin in 1945 after the end of World War II, and his work would remain inextricably linked to an exploration of his city’s social context. Between 1949 and 1955, he moved to East Germany twice, but escaped back to West Berlin before the Wall was erected in 1961. A self-taught photographer, he began taking pictures in 1965, when he was 20 years old. In 1976, he co-founded the Werkstatt für Photographie (Workshop for Photography) at the Volkhoschschule (Adult Education Center), a school that played a critical role in Berlin becoming a transatlantic forum of exchange between European and American photographers.
Schmidt’s landmark photographic projects in MoMA’s collection—Berlin-Wedding (1976–78), Berlin nach 1945 (Berlin after 1945) (1980), Waffenruhe (Ceasefire) (1985–87), and Ein-heit (U-ni-ty) (1991–94)—demonstrate not only his sustained interest in Berlin as a subject but also his engagement with the weight of German identity in modern history. Ein-heit, his most ambitious project, was made in response to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the subsequent reunification of East and West Germany. It comprises 163 images: some were taken by Schmidt in a factual, descriptive style, and others he re-photographed from newspapers, propaganda journals, history books, and other communication and mass media sources. In an effort to articulate the difficulties of constructing images of historical memory in Germany, he combined contemporary and archival pictures of mass demonstrations, historic sites, emblems, monuments, and both anonymous and notorious people into a poignant study of German society in the aftermath of World War II. Drawing on the rich traditions of picture archives and the photo-essay, Schmidt presents history not as a progressive sequence of events but as a decentered, simultaneous narration. He prompts viewers to consider the limits of historical representation, leaving it up to them to determine whether a given image was taken in East or West Germany, prior to or after World War II, or during division or since reunification.
Introduction by Roxana Marcoci, Senior Curator, Department of Photography, 2016
208: After the Wall
The Shaping of New Visions: Photography, Film, Photobook
Apr 16, 2012–Apr 21, 2013
Photography Collection: Rotation 4
Dec 15, 2006–Jul 16, 2007
Contemporary: Inaugural Installation
Nov 20, 2004–Jul 11, 2005
Photography: Inaugural Installation
Nov 20, 2004–Jun 6, 2005
- Michael Schmidt has online.
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