[aeroplanes over Berlin] [Deutsch] Deutsche Version

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The exhibition "End and Beginning" explores the medium of photography. What are its limitations and possibilities in the face of such a crucial historical event as the end of World War II fifty years ago? It is a common belief that photographs are accurate visual documents or illustrations of history. But no matter what their originators had once hoped, photography cannot provide genuinely objective representations of reality. Photographs are indeed artistic creations designed by individual personalities. Their aesthetic and moral intentions are no less a part of the photographs than the fragments of reality they contain.

The exhibition shows various photographic perspectives and reactions to the end of the war. On the one hand, we find pictures by the victors, men and women who entered the country with the Allied armies in order to document the liberation and what remained of Germany after the defeat of the Nazi rule. Their photos were commissioned by media concerns and news agencies for the purpose of informing the public in their respective countries.

Some of the pictures exhibited here - distributed by the millions - have become icons of the "zero hour". They have left their mark on the collective visual image of the end of the war, up until the present day. This is most vividly evident in pictures of liberated concentration camps. The heart-wrenching images which are reminiscent of the great European art tradition that shows the atrocities of war which are from the "Desastres de la Guerra" to "Guernica". American and British photographers portray the suffering of victims of the Nazi regime. However, the attempt to find adequate images to express the inconceivable horror exposes the limits of photography. George Rodger drew his own conclusions from this circumstance. Appalled by the fact that when he was photographing the mountains of human bodies in Bergen-Belsen he was thinking primarily about good composition, he decided never again to take pictures of war.

Soviet photographers, themselves members of the armed forces, accompanied the advance of the Red Army, campaign after campaign, from the victory at Stalingrad to the conquest of Berlin. In dramatic pictures, the struggle of the Soviet soldiers was portrayed as a heroic epic, culminating in the capture of the Reichstag in Berlin, which was the symbol of the "Third Reich" for the Red Army.

But the defeated, the occupied and the liberated of Germany also recorded the events in pictures. Photographers who up until then had specialized in such diverse subjects as animals, architecture, dance, portraiture or sociocritical reportage now, in the face of the catastrophe, arrived at a common subject: the destruction of the big German cities, the downfall of a culture that had developed over the course of centuries. Working for the most part without any particular assignment, German photographers collected evidence in the ruins of their cities. Their images reflect sorrow at the loss of humand life and material destruction, but they are also open to the aesthetic fascination of the different manifestations of destruction: "material pictures", romantic scenes of devastation or surrealistic scenarios of rubble.

The professional photographers' view of the war is supplemented by a section of pictures by amateurs. Despite a ban on photographing and the requisition of cameras by the Allies, there was evidently no stopping the people from documenting the historical moment for their own private album. Here too, the center of interest was destruction: monuments in ruins, statues, cathedrals and other objects that had been built to endure the test of time. Family pictures take on special meaning: portraits of the homecoming soldiers confirm and reinforce their deliverance from chaos, as if to say: "We escaped by the skin of our teeth". Pictures of young couples and children bear witness to the continuity of the human life cycle in the midst of a world fallen into disarray.

A similar virtual photo exhibition exists for "Time Unveiled".

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