Museum Folkwang
  • Chronological insights into the Photography Collection – Contemporary photography since the 1980ies

  • From the end of the 1970s, private and public institutions in Germany were increasingly active in collecting and exhibiting photography. Steadily growing possibilities for exhibiting, publishing and selling independent of specific contract work has had a fundamental effect on numerous artists’ way of working of since the 1980’s.

    Photo Concept Art

    At the beginning of the 1980’s, the legacy of Concept Art was still tangible. Artists like Hans-Peter Feldmann turned to photography as the ideal medium to undermine authorship, style and a cult of genius. Feldmann thus directed his interest at everyday imagery such as amateur photography, postcards, newspaper photos and posters, which he brought together in extensive series. If he picks up a camera himself, he pays little attention to photographic parameters such as focus and tonality. Ken Ohara had another approach: The more than 500 anonymous portraits in the photo-book ›One‹ from 1970 are distinguished by a strict reduction of the image to the face, and even lighting. Individual characteristics of those portrayed on the streets of New York are almost lost in a uniform conception of the image. A 50 piece series from this project was bought for the Photographic Collection.


    Print and format received renewed attention from the mid-1980’s at the latest. If you compare Bernd and Hilla Becher’s small format serial black and white photographs with the large format color photographs which their students later made, the change in generation becomes obvious. What they have in common is a documentary, descriptive starting point which implies unvarying conditions for the photograph. This form is apparent in the sober depiction in the 40 small format portraits made by Thomas Ruff at the beginning of the 1980’s around the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, or in the urban photographs of Thomas Struth and the objective photography of Patrick Tosani.


    Examples of photographs which drop objective strictness in favor of an emotional perception can be found in the work of Michael Schmidt. Starting point of his work ›Waffenruhe‹ is the tangible conflict in the divided city of Berlin. His cropped black and white photographs of a place he knows well transforms his subjective approach into experienced reality. Similarly strongly influenced by his own experience is Paul Graham’s photographic work on unemployment in Great Britain. His presence in the image is visible in the distorted perspective and low angle of shot which – in the position of those waiting – indicates social reality. Works in the Collection by William Eggleston, Stephan Shore and Joel Sternfeld also provide indications of their influence on German photographers such as Gosbert Adler and Joachim Brohm.

    Documentary Photography

    Thanks to the Wüstenrot Stiftung, which in cooperation with the Museum Folkwang has awarded grants for contemporary documentary photography since 1994, the Photographic Collection has an extensive lot of contemporary documentary photography which reflects current forms of occupation with socio-political issues. Points in common can be found in, for example, comparing Tobias Zielony’s way of working with that of Paul Graham’s. Both react to the question of how political themes can be ethically depicted with images different from classical reportage, avoiding the usual media clichés.

    Staged Photography

    Parallel to staged documentary work, such as Rinke Dijkstra’s series on women and their newborn children, artists such as Cindy Sherman and Thomas Demand developed a reflective approach to photographic images in the context of the mass media. Both speak to a collective visual memory in their works. However, Demand’s life-sized reconstructions from paper and cardboard can be traced back to existing images while viewers of Shermann’s ›Film Stills‹ may think they recognize stills from well-known films, although no direct connection exists.
    An epoch-making change in the production and reception of photography came with the rise of digital computer technology. Once again, the theory of photography as analogue became the focus of debate on photography. Although well aware that the production of photographs had always been tied to numerous techniques which modified reality, especially journalists raised concerns about the new possibilities of politically motivated manipulation of photographic images.
  • Exh_Title_S: Chronological insights into the Photography Collection – Contemporary photography since the 1980ies
  • Exh_Id: 476
  • Exh_Comment_S (Verantw): Department of Photography
  • Exh_SpareNField01_N (Verantw ID): 184
Felina. 8 Wochen, aus der Arbeit: 100 Jahre
Maria Victoria. 100 Jahre, aus der Arbeit: 100 Jahre
Haus Nr. 11, I
Maschine 0946
Cuillère "D"
aus der Serie: Berlin nach 1945
Julie, Den Haag, Netherlands, February 29, 1994
Saskia, Harderwijk, Netherlands, March 16, 1994