Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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Humanism in China

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After the final lunchtime karaoke battles I went on for more cultural excitement. Apart from meeting a dead rat on my way, I went to the Museum für Fotografie with Mona.

They had two exhibitions running. The first of which was 中国人本, aka Humanism in China, a collection of more than 500 photos from China. The exhibition came like this from china with the photos being made by more than 250 people. They were arranged by different subjects covering many areas of daily lives. Happy people – like in the exhibition’s cool poster photo of a guy who just won the lottery and carries a huge stack of banknotes – and ill people. People working and people playing. Cities and little villages. Misery and beauty.

The wide range of subjects that is covered really gives you an impression of the country. I don’t know much about China, particularly continental China. And you often get the impression that it’s the place where all the cheap clothes and plastic toys come from. Which may be true. But we are also talking about a billion people with all the details that implies. And the exhibition tries to show them.

If anything, the sheer quantity of photos was a problem. Most of them were black and white prints a bit less than A3 in size and them being hung in a tight grid with three rows on the walls of a number of rooms. Quite overwhelming and certainly leading me to forget a many of them. Most of them were good photographs and a few were really great. Catalogue: [Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

The other exhibition on show was named Men, War and Peace with works by three photographers: Helmut Newton, James Nachtwey and David LaChapelle.

Newton’s photos were strong and steady as expected. I really like the way in which they are unexciting. It was also amusing to see life-size photographs of our two previous chancellors side by side. They also head an extra room with photos from some fun project Newton did: Equip a camera with a timer and shoot models at regular intervals so they can essentially decide what happens. I found the results – presented as enlarged contact prints – rather unimpressive.

I think war photographer James Nachtwey is rather well known. Obviously his photos cannot and should not be pleasing with the tragedy that lead to their existence. But still I didn’t like the photography too much.

To me it looked like too much of a show-off in many places. Photos which – as many things do these days – aim more at showing us how cool, technically proficient or capable of handling tragedy the photographer is rather than just documenting. To me they looked more like a work of a poser in most places than the work of someone who mainly aims at documenting. [Long winded arguments on how this is bad, clever, just for the good of those suffering can for sure be added here but I neither think it’s a terribly good thing to do, nor that it particularly great art.] I’ll also note that most photos will just look more elaborate and dramatic by virtue of being presented as a 1,50m×1m print.

The last exhibition was with photos by David La Chapelle. We saw some of his works as examples for modern photography in our photo course. The images are very artificially colourful and posed. There’s also a bias towards celebrity photos. All in all not really my type of thing and nothing I’d put up on my walls – if only because of my dislike of trashy colours and Eminem. But still those photos seem to be made with a sense of humour and some of them even work for me. (I quite liked one called ‘Intervention’ from 2003 which even shared its name with an Arcade Fire song – the one on the right here with little The Coral posters in the image)

After that, I went on for drinks in the sun at one of those artificial beaches they install at the Spree in summer, taking some photos – also of the Palast der Republik which looks as if its deconstruction is progressing. We went for pizza afterwards at I Due Forni where they make absolutely fantastic pizza and the place has good vibes and big crowds in there. I think they must have made it to the Lonely Planet or something – at least many people there looked like that kind of tourist. But that – or any – listing is absolutely deserved because the food was just right.

Finally we went to Dr. Pong again for some fun and table tennis. Unfortunately one of my eye and its contact lens started hating each other quite violently at that stage and we had to go home so I could take them out.

May 19, 2007, 1:50

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